2017-06-11: A Beautiful Song

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==================================<* CHALLENGE - The Yawning Gate of Non-Perception *>==================================
|Type: Entry       |Dungeon Ability: Wits      |Challenge Rating: 1          |
-----------------------------------------------< Challenge Information: >-----------------------------------------------
 You ascend up the mountain range and witness the only known entranceway into
 Rujm el-Hiri, slipping through an open grand archway of stone into one of
 the dolmen that surround the site. A low thrum echoes throughout the solemn
 chamber. It sounds like a chorus, sung from an ancient language most should
 not know. Yet, an echo of meaning emanates at the back of your mind, as if
 your subconscious curiously understands it, intuitively:

 'Seeker of the Key,
 The solitude of the stone-sea
 Protects Her from human vanity.
 Couched in steel, so late the pyres.
 The starless sky holds no applause.'

 A pedestal of stone rings sits atop the altar, mirroring the structure of
 the Ruin proper: a series of enormous concentric ring passages. The true
 path forward would only be permitted by discovering the trick to these
 rings.
=Dungeon Conditions: Stupify==================================================
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

Rujm el-Hiri, a ruin that sits at the very height of a mountain range difficult to ascend has found interest within it renewed as of late. The Baskar locals refer to it as the "Singing Ruins," but the trek up these mountains is sure to leave most any who would make the climb out of breath.

The actual sight of it would be sure to rob what's left of it. Breathtaking in its timelessness, the outside of these ruins seem almost untouched by the elements - as though it were held in place by time itself. Simultaneously beautiful...

...and wrong.

The megalith towers before those who would scale the mountain range to stand before it now, a monument to a great many who lived here in ages past. Through the archeway of stone into the dolmen, those who would intrude are met with a low thrumming that seems to echo through the entire chamber.

Are those words?

Are they familiar?

One Ethius Hesiod, that strange Drifter of interest who seems to live (almost) entirely through loitering outside of the perimeter of ruins of interest and then affixing himself to any parties that come on by, finds himself contemplating a shiny metallic-looking stone held in his left hand. He doesn't seem choosy about what company he keeps.

He is far less interesting than the pedestal of stone rings atop the altar in front of the gathered, itself taking after the structure of the ruin itself: a series of enormous concentric ring passages. What is the way through, from here?

The low sounds... singing? Continues. The words should be unintelligible, but some flowery language of understanding coalesces within their subconsciousness.

<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

Virginia has been lurking in the shadows ever since Lahan. Rather deeply endowed with the Malevolence that has tainted her soul ever since she went to the Hollows with Maya, she now works as an agent of Crucible, though she's been rather scarce... up until now.

It is up here, at this faraway place where those forgotten are laid to rest that she makes her reappearance. The cold, crisp air of the mountain ranges seem to not bother her too much, and for all intents and purposes, right now...

She just seems like a very ordinary young woman, albeit one with white hair and a striking dress of eye-catching dark colours and white ribbons, not at all suited for exploration into a Ruin, let alone one that seems to echo with such an extraordinary reverb of the past.

Her transformation has not changed the impetus in which she is led to Ruins: Dreams.

"Why did you take me here?" she muses to herself, to no one in particular. She places a hand to her forehead. "Hmm. How curious..." She can't help but step towards the central chamber and look around with a natural curiosity and nonchallance that more seems to befit a girl looking at a shopfront than a careful Drifter checking out what could be a life or death trap. "And who's singing...?"

She's deep in thought.

DG: Virginia Maxwell has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Yawning Gate of Non-Perception.
<Pose Tracker> Kourin has posed.

Kourin is here for one reason and one reason alone: now that she is not on the payroll of Althena's Guard, she needs money to survive. Indeed, this seems to be a holy site, and desecrating it sits poorly with her--on the other hand, this is the only kind of work she's likely to be able to get, with the bounty on her head. She's learned since she came to Filgaia that while many of the Drifters here appear to be fairly mercenary, neither do they necessarily ask a lot of prying questions. At least, not until they've got to know you.

Spirit is here for one reason and one reason alone: he is a Good Boy who stays with his Mistress because she needs him to be a Good Boy.

The singing causes Kourin to cock her head to one side. Perhaps this place is not a holy site--or perhaps traversing its challenges was an act of reverence. "It sounds like a riddle, or a clue to be solved..." she says thoughtfully, staring at the rings on the altar and repeating the words of the song softly under her breath.

DG: Kourin has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Yawning Gate of Non-Perception.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah has been doing everything she can to get out of the vicinity of Adlehyde. There's not much here for her anymore.

She found herself here by dint of joining up with an adventure party, perhaps vainly hoping that she can meet someone who's got plans to leave so that she can figure out where all the excitement will go next. For now, though, the excitement's here, at the crest of a hard-to-ascend mountain. Neriah's already breathing a bit heavy by the time the group reaches the place; she took her jacket off and stowed it to try and at least direct some airflow across herself. It helped, a bit.

The towering megalith leaves her folding her arms under the curve of her chest, a small frown tugging at her lips as she regards that vast stone ring atop the alta. The murmured thrum of some arcane song ripples in her ears.

It annoys her, somehow. It should probably unnerve her. It doesn't.

"Sometimes I think the ancients built stuff like this with the express intent of screwing with random explorers thousands of years later," she mutters as she traces her hands across the altar.

She pauses as her right hand touches the altar, knitting her brows and biting down to her bottom lip. And then -

And then an ordinary young woman in a poofy dress appears. Neriah brings her lips together in a tight line. "Someone who thinks they're clever," she murmurs as she attempts to manipulate one of the rings, trying to figure out how they work.

DG: Neriah Parringer has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Yawning Gate of Non-Perception.
<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

The reason Loren, in the guise of his surface-dweller alter ego Thomas Blackwell, is even on site is so simple it's almost laughable: a report had come in about another supposed Zeboim ruin located on the borders of the Adlehyde region.

It was probably nothing, but since he would be in the approximate area while he was en route to destination, the medic had felt it would cost him nothing but a few dull hours while he ran an external analysis of the site. It shouldn't be hard to determine if there was anything to this or not and then report back.

But...

"Odd..." 'Thomas' mutters, while still a distance from the ruins. He shades his eyes against the sunlight, gazing at the circular megalithic structure. Already, something seems a little off; it's already not at all what he expected. He'd planned to run a survey from around here, but...

Pulling a rectangular device from his pocket, he quickly taps out a message then returns it from whence it came. He'll need to take a closer look.

...Something's definitely wrong. Something's singing, somewhere, the medic realizes, freezing briefly once just inside the altar room. He might briefly be a bit of a barrier to anyone following up from behind. It shouldn't be intelligible -- that's what his ears are telling him. But yet, he can understand it. "What...? ...Singing?" he asks aloud and then and only then appears to remember himself and get out of the way.

And apparently, as the perfectly ordinary medical student steps into the altar room, he notices he's not the only one. Complication, or opportunity? In silence, 'Thomas's' blue eyes slide from person to person -- a girl who looks like she lost her way coming here, a young woman and her dog, another young woman with a scarf and hat -- before finally coming to rest on the man busily investigating the stone altar itself. Recognition lights in his gaze, and slowly, he steps around the altar.

It's him. Of all the luck, indeed. Redirecting his attention to the altar, 'Thomas' touches a hand to his glasses and expends a brief burst of etheric power, eyeing the structure for anything that stands out about it. "The rings... maybe if manipulated..."

At no point has he actually introduced himself or explained why he's here.

DG: Loren Voss has used his Tool Etheric Lenses toward his party's challenge, The Yawning Gate of Non-Perception.
<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

Some things never change with Virginia, Malevolence or not.

The moment she spots Spirit, she spreads her arms to either side and goes--

"Ooo doggie!"

+_+

"Is that your dog??" Virginia looks excited as she leans down and tries to pat him on the head, yeyyyyyyy.

<Pose Tracker> Kourin has posed.

Kourin should be used to people coming in to greet SPirit, but she still jumps in surprise. "Ah--yes. His name is Spirit..." she says.

Spirit accepts head pats happily after sniffing Virginia's hand and licking it once.

<Pose Tracker> Layna Manydays has posed.

For all her experience as a Captain of the seas, Layna Manydays had little actual experience when it came to the exploration of dungeons. In fact, she could count the amount of times she'd delved into them on one hand. So, when she heard about a ruin that had been just recently unsealed, Layna decided it was a perfect opportunity to get some experience in a new location that was less-explored.

She stands there now in front of the device formed of many rings, looking for all the world like a pirate straight out of a storybook. Her coat and her hair flow in the breeze...

...Which is...somehow present right now...?

Let's not think too much about this, she's clearly not thinking too much about the rather odd assortment of allies she's working with today.

She's silent for a time, until, finally, she speaks.

"You know..." She says, glancing over toward Neriah and Loren - or, rather, Thomas'.

"If it were me making this...well, I'd use a little bit of misdirection, aye?" She comments, turning her gaze back onto the device.

"Take this, for example. Turning these rings...well, they'd just trigger a trap-door or something, see? The real thing...would be down here..." She leans down, studying the base for anything that might look usable.

DG: Layna Manydays has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Yawning Gate of Non-Perception.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

Both 'Thomas' and Ethius, at the exact same time, reach for their specialized lenses. 'Thomas,' on his face. Ethius, from an eyeglass he sticks under the poncho when not in use. Even the way they tap their fingers are the same - well, after Ethius goes through the usual Symbological process of casting to bring electrical energy through the lens, casting a soft glow as he brings it up to one eye.

He appears to have stashed away that stone he was holding, at some point.

"Yes... it would appear they are connected, in some form," this much is obvious to anyone, as his free hand - his right - points out to where they seem to connect. The Spectral Lens is good at figuring out the 'what' and 'where,' if not so much the 'how' or 'why.'

He has not questioned the presence of 'Thomas.' The high-spirited young woman that seems improperly prepared for this, however, sees a turn of his head. The general silhouette and demeanor is familiar, but... not? He returns his attention to the immediate task at hand while Virginia enjoys the company of Kourin's companion.

"An astute observation," he adds to Layna's contribution, "there does also appear to be a connection from there." Together, they seem to have all the general pieces of the structure's mechanism, but can they figure out what is the way forward, as Neriah attempts to adjust one of the rings?

The singing continues, undisturbed by the actions of those who have gathered.

DG: Ethius Hesiod has used his Tool Spectral Lens toward his party's challenge, The Yawning Gate of Non-Perception.
DG: The party led by Ethius Hesiod has passed this challenge! The party gained 12 exploration! If anyone needs to use party management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

It takes some time among them to come to a consensus about whether it is safe to manipulate the rings or not. Try as they might, a search doesn't seem to turn up any obvious signs of a trap door - the process of elimination leaves the rings themselves. Numerous configurations are attempted, until they come across a solution as defined by the yawning sound of moving stone - the rings are meant to be flattened until all are level. The connection between mechanisms makes sense, after the fact - through the rings, through the pedestal, and then through the way inward.

Usually, there is a rush of air from the outside that would greet them, but to stand at the newly opened entrance, there is a chilling stillness that awaits them - a sense that taking a step inside would be violating a stasis imposed upon the very reality that awaits them.

DG: Virginia Maxwell has drawn a new Challenge.
=============<* CHALLENGE - The Ash River of Silent Sentiments *>=============
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Brute     |Challenge Rating: 1          |
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 An astonishing sight awaits you here -- there is a free-flowing stream of
 what appears to be ash, leading from a top chamber and flowing down a
 ritualistic crevasse made to resemble a symbolic river of sorts. The song
 yet continues:

 'Seeker of the Key,
 Reflect upon the river.
 It is neither a river of water, nor yet a river of fire.
 It flows through the skies and the Worlds - a river of silence.'

 To wade against the river would require great personal strength, lest one be
 swept away to an ashen grave. Or perhaps, the loosened blocks of stone could
 serve as a temporary dam against the flow of ash?'
=Dungeon Conditions: Weaken===================================================
<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

Virginia places a finger to her lip and says, "Ooh, you're quite the clever bunch, aren't you?" She perks up and claps her hands, cheerfully waving her arms like she just don't care. "I'm really glad you're all here~!"

Just further inside, the air seems to take a shift towards a truly ancient sort, but the ruin does not seem to want for light -- an ambient kind of shine seems to illuminate the way bereft of torches and other kinds of tools needed. Is it an ancient contraption, or something else?

Before long, however, the Drifters come upon a large chamber which appears to have a kind of ritual significance -- large streams of what appear to be pure ash are flowing with a fluidity that make it seem more like water, a baffling contradiction and impossibility, channeled from an ornately carved top container of stone that flows into a spiraling river that seems to bear the same semblance of the concentric rings of before.

"... mmm," Virginia squints as she steps along. "That's not something I wanna swim in," she puts her hands behind her back.

She perks up. "I have just the thing, though!" She lifts her Tindercrest, and concentrates -- for a moment, black flame engulfs some of the blocks overhead and forcibly detonates, starting to dam the mighty throughput of the river.

"Just like they said in Drifter School, Lift Rocks, Solve Puzzle!"

... Drifter School might not be something that exists.

DG: Virginia Maxwell has used her Tool Tindercrest toward her party's challenge, The Ash River of Silent Sentiments.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah's hat is distinctive, it's true, even though it's the same kind of hat many Excavators wear. Hers is just grey.

She does give Thomas a quizzical look, a small frown tugging at her lips. Then she gives Ethius a simple nod before sliding her hands over the rings, adjusting them slightly -

Neriah pauses. Her right hand tenses a little, and she frowns. The way opens - and that song teases at her senses. Closing her right hand, she rubs her palm with her left, glancing to one side, then the other. Her nostrils flare with a short outrush of breath. "Okay," she murmurs to herself, mentally bracing for whatever comes next.

It feels wrong, somehow.

Slipping on through, she breathes in, then out, widening her eyes at the sight of the ash river. Quickly she covers her surprise, biting firmly down to her lower lip. "Nobody better push me in. I only like drowning on Wednesdays," she deadpans, trying to throw at least /some/ levity into the situation.

In her mind, it lands flat. She winces and looks towards the ceiling, huffing anxiously.

Gloved hands seize her shovel, pulling it from its loop on her backpack. As Virginia attempts to blast out some of the blocks, Neriah carefully begins to climb up onto a larger stone, angling the shovel and beginning to chip at a couple of those boulders with the shovel, aiming to knock them down into the ash stream and block it up. The steely tang of the shovel against the rock rings through the cavern.

Midway through her work, she winces and pauses, looking down at her hand again. She resumes her work, but her cheeks are a little more pale.

DG: Neriah Parringer has used her Tool Trusty Shovel toward her party's challenge, The Ash River of Silent Sentiments.

<Pose Tracker> Layna Manydays has posed.

"Well, that's not something you see everyday? Careful there, me hearties, might be a little hard to fish you outta that stream, aye?" Layna warns, though there's a slight chuckle that indicates she's not taking this entirely seriously.

While Virginia uses that unusual black flame, and Neriah gets to work with her shovel, Layna...

Layna reaches into a coat and pulls out a bottle of unidentified liquid. She undoes the top and takes a swig.

So...that must mean it was safe to drink, right?

"Anyone care for a drink while you work? The river may be parched, but that don't mean we have to be, aye?" Yet again, she chuckles at her own joke.

DG: Layna Manydays has used her Tool Quartermaster's Stash toward her party's challenge, The Ash River of Silent Sentiments.
<Pose Tracker> Kourin has posed.

Spirit wants to swim! Spirit likes water! But Spirit is a Good Boy and waits for Mistress to tell him it's okay.

Kourin's not telling Spirit it's okay to swim. Mostly, she's having serious concerns about whether what her companions are doing is desecration or the expected behavior. She's not particularly good at this sort of thing, either way--she's not strong enough to fight the current and not very eager to desecrate. Instead, she focuses more on the song, again hoping that it might provide some other clue to their dilemma.

It doesn't seem to be coming together for her. This isn't a Wits challenge!

DG: Kourin has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Ash River of Silent Sentiments.
<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

Odd. Loren would have sworn that was the same motion as him, just now.

A new challenger arrives. 'Thomas' turns, facing Layna. "...Hm." His gaze returns to the altar. "...Now that you mention it, it could be possible. Perhaps someone should volunteer to manipulate the rings?" He gestures outwards, mock-magnanimous. Translation: definitely not him. Luckily, it seems that they have just the volunteer.

Glancing down at the floor, paranoia pitches upwards for the medic a moment, particularly as there comes the sound of rock on rock. He takes a step back. But rather than the floor dropping out beneath them, an entrance opens. Taking one look at his apparent partners for this expedition, Loren considers his options. ...No, he can't lose out on this opportunity to track the mage. He follows.

Water, Loren's brain supplies almost immediately. As his gaze tracks the flow -- and as the song resonates outwards through his mind, itself prompting a brief twitch by one of his eyes -- he quickly realizes his error. "A river of ash," the alleged medical student comments, furrowing his brow. "That shouldn't be possible. For ash to flow freely, there would have to be some source... and this certainly isn't an active volcano."

He glances over at Neriah. As deadpan as ever, 'Thomas' comments, "Fortunately for you, it isn't Wednesday."

He's definitely not fording this river. Which leaves the blocks, as that /incredibly cheerful/ pale-haired girl blasts one with black (!?) flame, and as the other one takes a shovel to attempt to pry one free.

"...Drifter School." He sounds doubtful. A glance is cast Layna's way. It /is/ dry in here. "Hand it here," he says, before taking a hit of what he thinks is water.

It's not water. He's also not used to /drinking/ alcohol, and thus immediately performs an impressive spit-take before shakily handing the flask back. ...Ugh," is his only comment, before turning to immediately redirect his sudden embarassment into moving one of the blocks. He puts his back into one of the blocks. Or so it seems.

What he /really/ does, while putting on his best show of a struggle, is tap a miniscule amount of ether. Earth has always been the element manifestation/control he's worked best with, so it shouldn't take much to push at the rock underneath the block to shove it free.

DG: Loren Voss has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward his party's challenge, The Ash River of Silent Sentiments.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

Reflect upon the river.

The strange Symbologist with the half-masked face regards the ashen falls with a stoicism that belies what particle matter must be flying into everyone's eyes, as though numb to the cheeriness and the morbid jokes. He is unblinking before the very river and its noted scientific improbability by 'Thomas,' as others around him cheerfully or pragmatically discuss however they will deal with this latest obstruction as the song continues.

It is neither a river of water, nor yet a river of fire.

His footwear - even the lower ends of his pants - are noticeably caked in soot. This is a man who appears to wade through it on a daily basis, accumulating so much of it underfoot. Ash... the fine remains of someones, or somethings, burnt into near-nothingness, with only the black dust as a memory that any of it ever existed beforehand. With no evidence of what it might have been before, it only remains something to be forgotten in a breeze that does not keep score.

It flows through the skies and the Worlds - a river of silence.

Stone blocks collapse. A shovel chips boulders into footholds that would allow them to cross, as Ethius stands unmoving before the ash river that casts no sound in its rapid movement. He brings a hand to his forehead, as though some greater thought has chosen to intrude at an inopportune time - whatever it is, he doesn't speak of it to the rest. He walks past the offer of an alcholic beverage.

There seems to be some underlying refusal to look away from the ash, or contemplate what it might have been before its transformation. Through the dammed ash river, he elects to wade through it - as if entirely allowing for it to wash around and about him.

Fortunately, he's carrying that quarterstaff of his in his left hand as something of a walking stick, so there's something for someone to grab onto if this apparent suicidal idiocy looks like it's going to lead into just that.

His path, regardless, appears to involve the ash that he is now surrounded by.

He might be exactly as eerie a presence as the rest of this place - does he know more than he has been letting on?

DG: Ethius Hesiod has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward his party's challenge, The Ash River of Silent Sentiments.
DG: The party led by Ethius Hesiod has passed this challenge! The party gained 12 exploration! If anyone needs to use party management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

The Tindercrest explodes against the blocks, sending some of them to land down upon the ashen river. It isn't enough, but it visibly starts to halt the roaring course of the mind-bending flow of the river of soot and dust.

The echo in Neriah's mind is not enough for her to push with her shovel, chipping at the boulders... closer, closer... and then with a satisfying 'clang!', there's a rumble, and the boulder rolls down and starts to wedge more of a dam with which the group can ford through in the end.

Spirit does not go for a swim! It is perhaps a good thing, because we wouldn't want an ash-filled Spirit, would we? Kourin considers the song... a river of silence? Perhaps the only true way to silence this river would be to stem the flow... but what does stemming the flow of a natural cycle do, and what is its implication to the contraptions of this temple?

An ashen stream, so gaily and great,

Meant to glass the opulent...

But it is Layna who provides the heartiest aid of all: good ol' pirate grog. Or at least, this narrator must assume it's some kind of fine pirate beverage. The kind that makes the sails blow in the wind and the cannons firing and the boots a-knockin'.

Perhaps it is that liquid courage, then, that allows Loren to effectively tap into his inner ether and heave the block and cause even more of a dammage into the flow of the stream. With an impressive thud, he moves a block such that it looks rather safe...

It is here that echoes die,

upon a reverbless stream with no end...

But Ethius knows that, so thoroughly entrenched in the weakened ash. It flows through his feet, gripping at it, trying to crush and take him under, but he perserves. Is this the work of a fool who does not know his place in the great spiral, or someone who knows exactly where he stands? Stand, within the ashen stream...

Before long, the combined efforts of the group have made for enough of a stopgap that they're able to proceed to where there is another pathway, along a great and ancient arch surrounded by two braziers.

DG: Neriah Parringer has drawn a new Challenge.
=================<* CHALLENGE - The Sandmill of Shifting Ages *>=================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Brute     |Challenge Rating: 1          |
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >----------------------------
 A curious contraption awaits you in this great chamber, composed of a
 naturally flowing stream of sand that continually turns a great stone mill.
 Judging from how the architecture of the device is arranged, it's likely
 that a large portion of the Ruins is powered by the energy released from
 this motion.

 'Seeker of the Key,
 Pity not the pygmy of little dreams;
 It sends hope to peasants and Kings alike.
 As the tides of sand consume all,
 Only the inscrutable shall remain.'

 Hopping up here isn't so much a problem so much as the sand that continually
 drags you back. You'll need power, not speed, to perform the climb up past
 the mill to the archway ahead.
=Dungeon Conditions: Weaken===================================================
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

"I'm not that thirsty. Besides, I've got a flask full of rat poison if I really want to drink on the job," Neriah says, nodding to Layna gravely. Then she chips at the rocks again.

She does give Thomas a sidelong glance. She's not quite sure what to make of him, or why he's here. She, at least, had introduced herself to the rest of the party on the way up the mountain; this guy, she doesn't actually know.

She jams her shovel against the rock again, trying to concentrate on the work. It's hard with that strange echo in her thoughts. It entices her - and yet, it repels her at the same time. Even as the boulder crumbles into the ash stream, she aches, somehow. She shakes out her right arm, biting down to her bottom lip, then skipping across the boulder and over to the other side of the stream. She looks back - stares at Ethius as he just walks into the ashflow.

He makes it nevertheless. Neriah presses her lips together. "...Let's keep going," she says. Her voice is lower, with a pinched, anxious edge to it that those who've travelled with her before may not recognize in her.

Dipping through another ancient megalithic arch, Neriah takes the first step into the room beyond. This time it is not ash flowing, but sand, gushing like water down from somewhere up above, churning against a vast mill. The stone mill groans, creaking as sand spills past it, cascading down the smoothed-off rock face and spilling away into a stream - and yet, far above, light can be seen. Light that one can only reach by climbing through the thundering sandfall.

Neriah closes her right hand. Something inside her wants to curl up in a tight ball for some reason.

"I don't like this," she grumbles as she takes her shovel in both hands and wades into the sandstream. Sand buffers her, washing across her bare legs and into her boots. Huffing with effort, she swings her shovel into the sand, carving out a few shallow pits ahead of herself - and she plants her foot into one of them, then the next one.

She's digging out little footholds in the hopes of making the climb easier, even against the stream.

DG: Neriah Parringer has used her Tool Trusty Shovel toward her party's challenge, The Sandmill of Shifting Ages.
<Pose Tracker> Kourin has posed.

Kourin frowns and struggles through the sand, unable again to offer assistance, still seemingly bewitched by the songs. Spirit does his best to keep up as well. Neither one is much for conversation, not that they'd be heard over the noise. Kourin's not as shy as she once was, but she's still quiet.

DG: Kourin has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Sandmill of Shifting Ages.
<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

Virginia looks at Layna with a cheerful little grin, saying, "Hmm... you shouldn't be offering alcohol to the underage, should you? I'd like to be a bit naughty, but... eeh!" She waves her hand, giggling. Somehow, there's just something that's a little offputting about her demeanor. Perhaps it is how detached she seems to be to the danger that no doubt surrounds her, as if she's just so ever slightly out of sync with her reality.

She watches Ethius just walk towards the river with a little whistle again. "Brave."

She puts her hand to Neriah's shoulder and say, "Something wrong, miss? Don't worry, I've got this!" She stares up towards the sandstream and hums. "Geez, more work, huh...? Leave it to Ginny! It'll be easier to climb up if we just stop this silly thing!"

'Ginny', huh? She pumps at her hands and concentrates on the Tindercrest again. It feels a little odd, a little warped... her eyes glimmer for a moment--

--and she sends a huge torrent of that inky black flame that races through the centre of the stone mill, which grinds and... slows down, its mechanisms not working as efficiently as before. She throws a double thumbs up, looking cheeky as she sticks her tongue out playfully. "Done~!"

DG: Virginia Maxwell has used her Tool Tindercrest toward her party's challenge, The Sandmill of Shifting Ages.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

Ethius walks through to the other side of the ash flow. He has gathered more soot underfoot. For as long as he walks, it would seem his path will accumulate much of it. The stoic, nearly stone-faced gaze that never wavers under the pressure that drags underfoot to claim him might be striking.

"I do not reject the ash underfoot," is his response to those who seem impressed with this reckless feat. He does not clarify what he means by this. He is but a mere Seeker of the Key, as addressed by the song - as the song addresses everyone.

He does not yet question, internally, what the Key is. His curiosity beckons to him further.

As the sand begins to push him back forcefully as he stands waist-deep, the strange cheerful girl unleashes a Tindercrest to try and stem the flow - but there is still much sand in the way.

He begins to chant anew. The tattoos visible upon his forearms glow with a light, casting patterns in light about the ground nearby as he thrusts his free hand forward to the shout of a spell that has the word 'dust' in it, but finer details are lost to the shifting noise of the pooling sand that would attempt to coax them back down - and drown within it.

An additional burst of dust fans out, trying to split a wedge around himself and redirect the flow, allowing everyone as good a foothold as he can manage to form. It is temporary, at best - and a losing battle if one lingers.

"I would only look forward," so Ethius says in that same, even conversational tone that shows little excitement, nor fatigue, as the closest thing he can give to encouragement.

He does not blink away any of the sand or dust that should irritate the eyes. It would appear this sorcerer shows a great amount of comfort within the element of earth - or, to a more finer detail, the very concept of dust itself.

He offers a free hand to anyone who struggles with attempting to climb up the stack of sand whose flow will yet stand to resume with renewed ferocity - and inevitability, which is a kind gesture... but he doesn't look any of them in the eye.

There is a noted lack of warmth and trust - it seems a gesture that serves a purpose among those with a shared interest for the time being, and little more.

DG: Ethius Hesiod has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward his party's challenge, The Sandmill of Shifting Ages.
<Pose Tracker> Layna Manydays has posed.

Layna laughs heartily as Loren spit-takes in response to his swig of her flask.

"Well, it was worth a try, weren't it, lad?" She says with a grin, and to Neriah...

"Well, suit yourself, lass." She replies with a shrug and a raised eyebrow.

Virginia gets chuckle at her manner of refusal, though Layna's eyes linger on her cautiously for a moment as she downs the rest of the bottle. Only now does Layna seem to be noticing something somewhat off about here."Plenty of adult supervision here, lass. But if you say no...might as well remove the temptation, aye?"

The empty bottle is placed back into her coat. Even she isn't going to litter in a place like this.

Some question whether or not this decision was prompted by concerned reviewboards, but if one checks the scripts one can see that it had been planned for all along.

And so, Layna continues, sending a frown towards the next obstacle in their pathway.

"...Aye." Layna says, sending Neriah a nod of agreement.

This time, Layna doesn't bring the flask out again, for fear of getting sand swept up into the drink.

She can't really provide any further aid - she can only try to forge ahead using the footholds that Virginia, Ethius, and Neriah were providing.

DG: Layna Manydays has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Sandmill of Shifting Ages.
<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

Layna's cheerful comment only earns her a decidedly sour look from Loren. His pride may be a little wounded.

Many of the other Drifters here seem reasonably upbeat -- they at least talk among themselves. His target, though... Loren's gaze -- as he 'shoves' at his block of choice -- lingers on Ethius as he walks on ahead without a word, without so much as an acknowledgement. As, in the same moment Loren's block goes tumlbing in to help dam the river, the mage strides on ahead. Loren follows. But where Ethius' passage across the river goes relatively unimpeded, the medic stumbles, reaching blindly for a handhold. One that might be presented in the form of the staff Ethius holds.

A little more ash-covered than he would like, 'Thomas' still makes his way across. Taking a moment to brush the ash off -- not that it does much good -- he hurries on after the rest (likely bringing up the rear).

Was all of this merely buried at one point? Or is the source something far more unnatural? He'd really like to write it all off, but something still nags at the edges of his senses.

And there, again, are the strands of that poetry. Again, more cryptic statements about a key, echoes, ash... sand.

Blue eyes watch the sandfall in silence. This doesn't make sense. And thus, the medic does not like this. Deep in the pit of his stomach, a tendril of anxiety unwinds itself, all the worse for not being prompted by any concrete source. ...Other than the singing that hasn't stopped, that is.

Reaching out, he catches a handful of sand in an open hand, watching it as he allows most of it to sift through his fingers. Here, the 'medical student' hangs back behind the rest for a moment, digging deep in his bag for -- as the clinking predicts -- an empty bottle. Carefully, he pours it in. Maybe the lab can do something with this.

And then, the epitome of the average medical student straightens and puts his hand against the stone wall. For a moment, his consciousness fuzzes out, sinking deep into the rock with just a hint of a polysynaesthetic snap of ether. With his free hand, he gestures vaguely, in rough imitation of a surface-dwelling spellcaster. A wedge of rock jerks out of the nearby wall in his attempt to forcefully redirect the flow out of the way, perhaps easily joining in with Ethius, Neriah, and Virginia's own attempts to create a path. He exhales, refocusing himself. "Maybe that will help," 'Thomas' states simply, before moving ahead to haul himself up. He'll take Ethius' hand when offered, looking up as if to meet the man's own gaze.

"You're accomplished at sorcery, aren't you."

DG: Loren Voss has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward his party's challenge, The Sandmill of Shifting Ages.
DG: The party led by Ethius Hesiod has failed this challenge! The party gained 2 exploration! If anyone needs to use party management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah blinks as Virginia's hand touches her shoulder. She looks back at the woman. "I-I'm alright," she murmurs with a faint smile - and then the black flame flies.

Neriah's lower lip drops about half an inch. She gasps, but swallows anything further, staring at Virginia with something resembling awe.

No, it's more than awe. It's a spark of admiration - almost hope.

Then a rush of sand comes spraying down the sandfall and she has to close her mouth to keep from choking on it. With obvious effort, she grimaces and digs her shovel in, continuing to scrape out footholds and claw her way up the stream towards the mill and the doorway beyond. Eventually she has to stop and pull her scarf up over her nose and mouth. Grimacing, she powers up the stream with as much effort as she can muster, but it feels exactly like the impossible uphill battle that it should be.

And in fact it does prove almost impossible. The sandmill creaks and groans, and it simply pushes back even those who use the footholds. The climb up is exhausting and laborious. Neriah makes it to the top first, and then only because she's able to dig her shovel into creases in the rock and hold on when the sandflow gets particularly strong, clinging to the rock and gritting her teeth behind her scarf. Finally, though, she's able to claw past the churning mill, up to the great arch in the rockface near it - and she slings her arm over the edge, pulling herself up with a tired groan.

"After this I'm never going to the beach again," she grouses.

DG: Loren Voss has drawn a new Challenge.
==============<* CHALLENGE - The Archbridge of Clamoring Waves *>===============
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Combat    |Challenge Rating: 2          |
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >---------------------------
 An enormous stone bridge of remarkable architecture lost to Filgaia's modern
 standards bridges your path to the next chamber, possessed of biting cold
 winds that appear to have come from nowhere. There is an eerie aura present
 as the song continues:

 'Seeker of the Key,
 Over the mirrors meant to glass the opulent,
 Cold currents have threaded, turning to tidal lyres.
 The sea is a grotesque, indifferent claimant.'

 From within the darkness of the thrashing waves underneath, however, black
 glowing butterflies rise and start to swarm the bridgeway, dancing in
 impossibly elaborate patterns. They have a foul presence, one of death
 magic. Sneaking past them will be all but impossible with how numerous they
 are.
=Dungeon Conditions: Wound====================================================
<Pose Tracker> Kourin has posed.

Well, this at least Kourin can deal with. Butterflies, deadly death butterflies of doom, are /definitely/ not holy. She pulls a small blue sphere out from under the shapeless poncho she is wearing, then hurls it at the butterflies.

It's a very rare butterfly indeed that can fly with iced wings, after all.

Kourin's rimebomb is followed fairly quickly by first one, then another ice spell--she has the bombs to get things underway while she prepares the spells, obviously.

"Grotesque is right," she says. "Butterflies are supposed to be things of beauty, not this foul darkness!"

DG: Kourin has used her Tool Rimebomb toward her party's challenge, The Archbridge of Clamoring Waves.
<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

Maybe he placed it incorrectly or just misjudged the flow (fluid dynamics is a devil of a thing), but somehow the diversion he created does /not/ seem to be functioning as intended. Even if he gets a hand up, the going is treacherous and terrible.

Also Loren gets a face full of sand, requiring some spitting and coughing once he ascends over the edge. He regrets everything.

From the tipped-over windmill, the ascent is difficult, breaking off into small but helpful ledges before a tunnel plunges through the rock. Ahead, at an angle completely twisted around from the orientation of the windmill, runs a long stone bridge. Each block fits together with precision that even the finest mason in Filgaia today could not match -- even a hair wouldn't be able to be between them. Despite the ages, this bridge stands firm, showing only the slightest of wear and tear. Perhaps if it had not been buried so long, the stone might even gleam bright, as fine as the day it was constructed.

The song yet continues, low and resonant.

And a wind, carrying hints of ice in its bite, slowly begins to roll over the archbridge. Something dark roils below, but is it ash or is it water?

Any consideration of the depths will have to wait. Something's wrong -- a glow, there, under the bridge?

They swarm. Pouring up from the depths the black butterflies stream out, trailing an infrablack shine in the wake of their fluttering wings. One after the other, they dip their wings, a palpable threat of deadly magic yet uncast ringing in the air.

"...Stay on your guard," 'Thomas' says, falling back into a defensive posture. One hand dips into his bag, drawing out a vial from his kit. Just a sol, but it could be of use if things go south.

DG: Loren Voss has used his Tool Solarian Medical Kit toward his party's challenge, The Archbridge of Clamoring Waves.
<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

Virginia's eyes widen for a moment... and then her cheerful demeanor turns into a bit of a scowl. It's not her butterfly. These butterflies... are but mere, imperfect copies of the butterfly of her dreams. She won't be fooled. She doesn't even seem to flinch to the cold as she runs along with the group, spreading her arms to either side of her.

"... dance, you lovable little things! Dance into the path of my flames! Ahahahahaha!" she exclaims, manic with glee.

There's another flash from her eyes, and a brief reverb of laughter as she makes fire dance -- the black flames that have been with her thus far start to darkly swarm the bridge's pathways and scorch at the butterflies that try to draw too near.

She... she might be a bit bad at staying on her guard. But at least she's creating a distraction!

DG: Virginia Maxwell has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Archbridge of Clamoring Waves.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah takes a second to shake sand out of her boots. All the while, that eerie song whispers to her. "Oh, blow it out your aft entrance," she mutters into the gloom as she slides her boots back on and tightens them, then pulls her scarf down from over her mouth and forces herself to proceed onward. It's not easy with that aura hanging in the air.

And yet, somehow, it is easier - and also harder. She slips into the darkness with ease, but something still haunts her - an overpowering sense that something is wrong. Very wrong. "I don't know what this is," she murmurs. "I wish I knew who was singing."

Butterflies come swarming out of the darkness. Neriah recoils visibly, her cheeks pale as she dips her hand to her hip and whips out her pistol - a slender, chromed number with an unconventional-looking firing mechanism. There's a crack and a hiss of steam escaping as she squeezes off a shot at one of the fluttering creatures, then another. She's aiming high, trying to shoot over her companions' heads and pick the midnight butterflies out of the air, but she's not aiming perfectly - they're small targets and she's shooting a little off the mark.

She can't concentrate. Her shooting hand hurts. Her gloved fingers clutch the grip of the pistol hard enough that she could crush it if she were physically stronger.

"I don't know what this is," she whispers again, though it's half-lost in the sound of her pistol firing. "Why does it--"

DG: Neriah Parringer has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Archbridge of Clamoring Waves.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

It's hard to get a look at the man's eyes. There's something inherently evasive about the man whose hand 'Thomas' accepts in assistance, as the white-haired Symbologist tries to secure a foothold upwards. He doesn't seem all that friendly, but yet, not all that hostile? He just appears to be... there. A pair of hands, a pair of eyes, and inadvertedly slowing both of their ascents as the sand gushes anew to reset whatever progress was made. Whatever answer he has to being accomplished at sorcery - if there is one - is lost to the tide.

It is as the song says - they may yet climb out and continue, but one day, the tides of sand consume all, and only the inscrutable shall remain. Even one so steeped in the very concept of dust has to pay heed to this metaphorical truth.

When the group gets a rhythm going, Ethius remains equally willing to try and help hoist 'Thomas' up with him, or be hoisted himself. It is a gruelling and exhausting process.

They move onward.

Ethius finds his stride solidly broken by the chilled wind that runs through, raising a forearm before the wind howls as part of an accompanying chorus of the song that sings to its captive, traveling audience.

Then, there are butterflies... there is Virginia's cheerful demand that the black butterflies all become ash to her sorcery, and Kourin moves to clear the way with a firebomb.

"I am unaware, myself," he concurs with Neriah, casting that near-unchanging gaze upon the cackling young girl near the both of them. A hand goes for one of the satchels at his belt - he has two such satchels - as he considers the butterflies' movement, and sensory abilities. Normally, he would provide a smoke cover to allow them to run through... but something tells him this would not deter the ominous black butterflies.

The sand is dumped from the satchel, its character and make probably not of much interest - though 'Thomas' might note that it's tightly packed and clumped together. It would seem as though it were put together under pressure, and ready to expand and burst to some... unknown mechanism, possibly sorcerous in nature.

For everyone else, Ethius waves the open satchel - itself now a decently-sized bag - to try and swing into the butterflies to catch a bunch, repeating the process several times across a long stride, and then toss the satchel away. It is not the normal way such is utilized, but that's the means he has available to try and clear out some of the crowd and give them better ease of movement as he attempts to take point in the aftermath of Virginia's and Kourin's offensives, beckoning 'Thomas' and the rest forward through whatever path he was able to make.

DG: Ethius Hesiod has used his Tool Powder Grenade toward his party's challenge, The Archbridge of Clamoring Waves.
<Pose Tracker> Layna Manydays has posed.

It is with some difficulty that Layna finally makes it to solid ground. She brushes sand off of her coat, and removes her hat and pushes it inward to release the stream of sand that got caught in it before fixing it, swinging it in the air a couple of times to make sure it was completely free of sand and placing it back atop her head.

She moves to follow the others across the bridge. She notes the cold, but her coat fortunately does well to protect her from it.

But undoubtedly, it would not protect her from the swarm of glowing wing insects that appear from the darkness. She doesn't need to touch the butterflies to know that punching them in the face is...probably not a good idea! And infeasible, considering their size and distance from her.

"Don't think too much of it, lass! Don't let it get to you!" Layna says, glancing towards Neriah.

She looks over the swarm of butterflies, taking in their positioning.

She pauses for a moment and starts chanting, invoking a burst of wind that seeks to overwhelm the butterflies and knock them out of the sky. This wasn't how she normally used her Sorcery, but it was the only option available to her at the moment.

DG: Layna Manydays has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Archbridge of Clamoring Waves.
DG: The party led by Ethius Hesiod has failed this challenge! The party gained 14 exploration! If anyone needs to use party management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

The best description that Loren has of Ethius, for now, is that the still-nameless-to-him man is an absolute cipher. He can't get a feel for him or what drives him at all. Helpful, but almost as if he were a tool rather than a person.

The attempt is valiant. Virginia lets loose with manic glee as she releases wave after wave of dark fire at the horde of foul insects. More than a few are fried, their bodies reduced to ash which settles lightly across the bridge. Neriah meanwhile opts to open fire directly; a few of them are clumped so closely together that she does in fact nail some in spite of their size, their bodies exploding into dark light.

Ethius opts for a less direct approach, playing butterfly collector with his satchel to catch a few more of the swooping insects in his bag. Well timed, because some of the others immediately let loose with a dark volley which instead catch the bag as it's tossed over the side. Ever so slightly, 'Thomas' wrinkles his forehead. He would have sworn that the sand in the back, a moment ago, hadn't behaved as physics would predict under normal conditions.

A torrent of wind from Layna sweeps another cluster up into a helpfully disoriented group as others are sent reeling over the edge and downwards again, which provides the perfect target for Kourin's rimebomb. The blast freezes the cluster solid in midair, which immediately obeys the demands of gravity and smashes heavily onto the edge of the bridge, leaving only frosty powder.

But...

There are just too many of them. Ever more of the darkly glowing butterflies float up from the depths of the bridge -- and a casual look over the edge will reveal a most unfortunate truth:

The whole expanse of the apparent waters below are /covered/ with the things, pinpricks of a most unnaturally brilliant black glowing against the shadows beneath. More are rising. And one after another, the survivors dip and roll their wings, releasing volley after volley of death-laced magic.

'Thomas' sees the tide turning. "--Run!" he shouts, tossing the sol towards the person nearest to him. He won't get across unscathed, but scathed is still better than dead.

DG: Layna Manydays has drawn a new Challenge.
============<* CHALLENGE - The Lilting Corridor of Mystic Flame *>============
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Agility   |Challenge Rating: 1          |
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 The song echoes as a chorus would, soft and eerie in the background. The air
 feels swelteringly hot here, as curtains upon curtains of stone have
 breathed bouquets of flame towards the passage ahead.

 'Seeker of the Key,
 Listen, as the curtain rises.
 We alight in paradise, a false Eden.
 Will you burn with a life far too long?'

 It will take a very crafty or quick approach to get past this corridor... or
 is there some other secret mechanism that those that have come before you
 intended? Is it all as they intend, or is there resistance against a
 crumbling effigy to the deceased?
=Dungeon Conditions: Injure===================================================
<Pose Tracker> Layna Manydays has posed.

"Aye! It is with some difficulty that our intrepid heroes(?) make it across the bridge of dancing death. Whereas there they were assailed by an icy wind, the chamber it led to was much too hot. The drastic swing in temperature alone would likely be enough to exhaust anyone who had no methods of regulating their own.

The source of the heat becomes apparent as they continue down the corridor - great gouts of flame shoot from between the stones, hindering progress.

"Well, this is just fantastic, ain't it...?" Layna mutters. She studies the flames ahead, attempting to determine a possible rhythm that would allow her to escape as unsinged as possible. But...

"Alright...open your ears a bit, me hearties. The flames seem to be timed to the song. Listen close and you oughta get through fine, aye?" With that, she breaks into a run.

She doesn't know if it's intentional, that the flames are timed to the song...but it does make it easier to keep the timing of the flames in mind.

DG: Layna Manydays has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Lilting Corridor of Mystic Flame.
<Pose Tracker> Kourin has posed.

Kourin hesitates. "Let me try..." she says, then casts an ice patch onto the ground--quickly evaporated. "That's...that's very hot. Spirit...keep up." With that, the former Guardswoman rushes forward, humming the song to help with the rhythm of her motions. Spirit does not get hurt, he is a Good Dog and can keep to safety!

DG: Kourin has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Lilting Corridor of Mystic Flame.
<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

"Comiiing," Virginia calls out after Loren like she's just been called for supper, running alongside the rest of the crew as she winks again to Neriah. "And don't let this place get to you! Just tune it all out... or show it who's boss, that's what I reckon you should do!"

There's a pause, as she stares towards the flame chamber that's got her staring agog. She listens to Layna, and scuffs at her heels for a moment as she muses, "That seems entirely like too much work and thinking..."

She tries it for a little bit -- stepping forward gaily with a spin in her motion, but as she missteps, she goes, "Whoops!" and whips out her Galecrest, a powerful storm of wind suddenly spiralling around her... which... has the particularly beneficial effect of sidelining the flames for a while. "Well, hurry through! Don't get tossed off!"

DG: Virginia Maxwell has used her Tool Galecrest toward her party's challenge, The Lilting Corridor of Mystic Flame.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah stares at Virginia again. That little spark of hope has given away to bafflement and uncertainty.

She can hit some of the butterflies, but not all of them. They flutter around her; dark magic ripples around her. Most of it doesn't actually hit her.

It doesn't need to. Neriah gasps, a sound choked off in the back of her throat as she lurches back, catching herself with one hand against the wall. Something pounds in her chest. Her heart thuds erratically. "No, stop it," she manages to squeak out before she covers her head with both hands and runs onward as fast as she can, racing over the bridge and hunkering down in the hopes of avoiding more of it.

She squeezes her eyes closed. Her right hand sears pain through her senses. It's nearly blinding. She can feel something there and she does not want that sensation right now. "No no no no no," she pleads in a voice that's barely a whisper, tears beginning to bead at the outer corners of her eyes. As she crosses the bridge, she nearly veers into a wall, shoulder glancing against it; she wobbles unevenly, finally lowering her arms. Her pistol hangs from her left hand, right one clenching and unclenching.

Layna says something but Neriah, pale and looking horribly, utterly drawn, barely hears it. The billowing flames cast uneven shadows across her face, her features briefly illuminated starkly and then shadowed ruddily again, darkness swallowing her eyes up when the light hits her just the right way, then passing again.

Will you burn with a life far too long?

"I didn't ask for this," she answers the song, her voice weak and very small. She clutches one hand to her chest, trying to figure out what the timing of the flames is, but they somehow feel like the least of her problems now.

She ducks her head and begins to run through, stumbling a little out the gate but speeding up as she races towards the end of the fire pattern. Her heart thuds in her chest. It feels like she's trying to run up a mountain.

DG: Neriah Parringer has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Lilting Corridor of Mystic Flame.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

Ethius narrowly avoids a brush with death expressed through sorcery. Of the lot, he might have been the one that went in too deep, the one who came closest to being taken into oblivion by the black butterfly swarm.

Even to these stresses, his expression seems... mostly unchanged. There is haste in his movement, but he doesn't look that much more disturbed, nor frightened, for it. Is he familiar with staring death in the face, to look into that face of oblivion? What has this man seen, in his years...?

He comes with the rest to the next chamber, weathering the sudden change in temperature with nary but the flexing of fingers.

He doesn't seem all too hindered by the heat, outwardly, as the strange song goes into another of its vague, menacing passages as applicable to their situation. Will they burn with a life far too long...? Though beads of sweat seem to form on his forehead, he - once again - seems undisturbed by the human discomforts that come with being in prolonged exposure to great heat though he is unquestionably suffering them.

He removes his poncho to set upon Spirit - admittedly uninvited - to protect them from the lick of flames on behalf of Kourin as the duo moves to run through. There's a better look at some of the tattoos on his upper arms - even some around his neck, or what's visible of it! More Symbology, but the crests... still don't seem to match any of the known patterns of the region.

He turns a gaze to the pale, frightened Neriah, whom mutters words of seeming resignation. He thinks to offer a hand to her to help her run through the flames, but she takes off before he can offer - not that those eyes of his seem any softer, any kinder for the gesture.

Virginia moves to blow away the flames, sidelining them. Ethius raises his free hand and chants anew, the lights of his forearms giving away his intents as he moves forward...

With a sweep of his hand, he sprays fine granular dust in a wide angle as he moves through the song in timing, and yet seems to feel compelled to try and jam some of the boquets of flame as to allow himself - and anyone else, if they have to double back - a more generous window to try and traverse this, at consequence of losing some speed himself.

DG: Ethius Hesiod has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward his party's challenge, The Lilting Corridor of Mystic Flame.
<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

Virginia will get a look as Loren bolts for it. It's the sort of look that sort of nonverbaly asks, 'what's wrong with you?' /Lambs/.

It's hot in here. Almost as bad as Bledavik. Dragging a hand across his forehead, 'Thomas' can't help but groan. "Ugh... what's going on with this place?" Exhaling a weighty sigh, he sets his gaze firmly on the curtain of flames ahead. Someone else might frown. 'Thomas' doesn't, but the look he gives the flames is just as good.

Just as a test, he expends a small bit of icy ether where he hands towards the back of the group. It immediately sublimates into steam in his hand. So much for that thought, but then water ether was never his main focus.

"Timed to the song? ...Wonderful." As he bends his ears, it seems that Layna is indeed right -- the rhythm matches. "Burn with a life too long indeed..." Closing his eyes and touching a finger to the edge of his glasses as he concentrates, Loren instead focuses his attention on one place: himself, his own body.

He'll have to jump for it, unfortunately, but that doesn't mean he has to do it without preparing his body for potential injury. Another, more substantial explusion of ether later, he makes his way ahead to the gout of flame.

Gathering his bag into his arms, he's taken somewhat aback -- to judge by the way he starts -- as Virginia casts the flames aflutter. And as his target makes another display of sorcerous power, dust floating in the air. There's no time to gawk though. Shaking his head then, 'Thomas' closes his eyes, steels himself, and makes that fateful dash-and-leap.

DG: Loren Voss has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward his party's challenge, The Lilting Corridor of Mystic Flame.
DG: The party led by Ethius Hesiod has passed this challenge! The party gained 27 exploration! If anyone needs to use party management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
<Pose Tracker> Layna Manydays has posed.

Layna is about to make a retort to Virginia's comment about work, when the girl simply creates a strong whirlwind that helps keep the flames at bay.

"Well. Fancy that." Layna says, somewhat impressed and holding onto her hat with one hand to keep it from flying away.

Virginia's whirlwind combined with Ethius's dust clogging some of the vents allows the party members who had elected to simply run through get through...

Well, not unscathed, exactly, but they haven't been burnt to a crisp, and wasn't that the important thing?

"If I didn't know any better...I'd say they didn't want us here, aye?" Layna jokes, trying to lighten the situation up a little.

Still, whatever state they're in, the end of the corridor approaches fast, revealing what lay beyond...

DG: Kourin has drawn a new Challenge.
==========================<* CHALLENGE - The World-Stage of Intertwining Fates *>===========================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Combat    |Challenge Rating: 1          |
-----------------------------------------< Challenge Information: >-----------------------------------------
 An eerie room stands before you, looking much like a grand amplitheatre
 frozen in time. Curtains and tapestries whose weave have been ravaged by the
 sands of time once suggest a grand proscenium, upon which the illustration
 of ages past lay. The song yet continues to echo:

 Think 'Seeker of the Key,
 The faceless master calls.
 The Wheel's world-stage is set to play our fates.
 Will we one day be reborn?'

 Statues dressed in unsettling clothing, bizarre as they are nonsensical,
 stand firm, as if actors frozen forevermore in time. The exit to the
 antechamber is sealed. Before long, however, you spot a few black
 butterflies that sail through the air and descend into the statues. They
 unsettlingly hunch over, as if their spines were broken, and begin limping
 towards you. They are armed with strange prop-weapons, but they look far too
 real for this to be any mock duel...
=Dungeon Conditions: Injure===================================================
<Pose Tracker> Kourin has posed.

"Perhaps we shouldn't be here, then" Kourin says, hesitantly. She's clearly decided that Althena's ban on singing must have somehow been misinterpreted, at this point, but this place...it's getting to her.

It's definitely getting to her.

"More butterflies," she says, pulling forth another of the blue spheres from beneath her poncho--but the butterflies instead possess the statues, or manikins, or whatever they are.

"This...may be bad," she says, tossing the orb anyway--this time at the feet of the advancing statues--and drawing her rapier. They may have stone flesh, but as long as they're going to be attacking with weapons, Kourin's going to have one hand doing defensive parries with the rapier and the other firing magical blasts of ice.

DG: Kourin has used her Tool Rimebomb toward her party's challenge, The World-Stage of Intertwining Fates.
<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

Virginia hops over the broken seats of the amplitheatre, with a little smile on her face. "I've seen this kind of play before," she murmurs, then spreads her arms out once more as she looks on with a measure of glee towards the macabre dancing-puppets, the marionettes that so clumsily jitter towards them with their prop-weapons. She sweeps her feet and twirls, and summons forth another sweltering channel of flame.

"A play in three acts, as written by Virginia Maxwell!

Spoilers: Everyone dies."

True to her promise, she directs the channel so that they spiral in an arc overhead, and scatters like a rain of black flame set to simply consume all in its path.

DG: Virginia Maxwell has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The World-Stage of Intertwining Fates.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

"No... no, no, it doesn't... it doesn't want me here," Neriah manages, lifting her eyes to Layna. They're quite wide.

She's not sure she wants to go on any further - especially not as the party slips into the next room and she catches sight of those statues. They're all wrong, somehow. Normally that wouldn't bother her.

This time it does. Maybe it's something else, though. An oppressive sense that seems to want to wrap itself around her heart and squeeze. The young woman recoils, cringing visibly and pulling herself up against a wall. Her hand gropes for her pistol, jammed haphazardly into her belt.

She can't quite find it right away. Instead her right hand twitches. Her fingers grope at nothing. "Something -- something --" she manages to babble, her voice still small and very much afraid. She can't finish the sentence.

Grasping fingers clutch her gun, finally. It's some small comfort. A return to normalcy. With a flash of chrome, she whips it out and strides forward, inhaling and trying not to think about how much she hurts. She takes aim at one of the shambling statues, momentarily realizing that a gun isn't going to do much against something made out of rock.

She takes a couple of shots anyway, high-powered bullets aimed to try and chip some facial features off of one of the stone people. Swallowing a surge of fear, she sprints forward, then leaps and swings her legs forward. With a choked cry, she launches herself at the shuffling puppet-statue, aiming to slam her heels into the thing's damaged face and dropkick it into a wall!

DG: Neriah Parringer has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The World-Stage of Intertwining Fates.
<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

Loren has faith and makes a daring leap--

And promptly feels the heat. EVERYTHING IS BAD

At least a hurried patting out of the places where his clothes have caught on fire helps. Damn, and he'd been reasonably fond of this coat. Which is now pretty well scorched. He'll need to bill a replacement later.

Straightening his charred coat with whatever dignity he can command, 'Thomas' trails after the others.

He glances Layna's way. Something doesn't want them here, huh... "...An interesting observation," he comments, pushing his glasses up his nose.

It bothers him.

Especially since the song continues on.

The hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. 'Play their fates'. If someone could make a sour face while barely twitching their lips, this would be it. "...Ridiculous," 'Thomas' comments aloud, before he catches sight of the descending butterflies. "--Over there--"

Whoever created this place has a dark, dark sense of humor. If he weren't caught in the middle of it, he might even appreciate it. Play their fates, indeed. Dipping a hand into his bag, Loren pulls out--

Well, it does look like those blades are sharp, even if they're made to look like props. He pulls out a roll of completely ordinary bandages as he hangs towards the back and watches carefully.

DG: Loren Voss has used his Tool Solarian Medical Kit toward his party's challenge, The World-Stage of Intertwining Fates.
<Pose Tracker> Layna Manydays has posed.

"Too late to back out now, lass. Unless you want to leave empty-handed?" Layna replies, glancing towards Kourin with a smirk. Layna, for one, had no intention of doing so - that wasn't the pirate way.

Still...

The sight of the opponents before her does make her grimace slightly. The way they moved was grotesque and though they don't stop her, they do give her pause for just a moment.

Still, it isn't long before she recover and draws her bladed gauntlets from their bag.

She sends Neriah a sympathetic glance.

"It'll be alright, lass. Just keep moving, we'll-"

She is interrupted by Virginia's...unusual and somewhat off-putting recitation.

There was something a little off about that girl.

She charges in to fight at melee range, though she keeps an eye on Loren, just in case one of them tries to go for him. If he wanted to stay on the backlines, she wasn't going to tell him otherwise.

DG: Layna Manydays has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The World-Stage of Intertwining Fates.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

"I will not turn my back to this so readily." Ethius responds to Kourin's hesitation as he retrieves his poncho. He can feel the sting of singed flesh about his upper back - something acknowledged only with closed eyes for a time being as he dons it anew, obscuring the appearance of his neck and some ratio of his upper arms. "I cannot accommodate the wishes of our unseen, omnipresent choir this day."

The butterflies appear again, and for a time he thinks to grab the other satchel and consider whether or not to sacrifice its contents and the satchel itself... but they disappear into the strange statues, who themselves come to life and attack.

"Miss Virginia," he speaks as he takes a step back for spacing purposes as she prepares her fell fiery spells, "you appear to be most accustomed to these environs." Is... is it possible that even he has his limits as to how much disturbing cheer he could stomach, in pursuit of whatever he is after here? His voice hasn't broken stride, but he's taken the time to note the severity of her flippant, carefree air.

His eyes follow Neriah's movements as she struggles to hold her courage together, to work out the angles in which it is his responsibility to assist in clearing the way.

The statues close in, brandishing their weapons. One close to him nearly spears him through with a five-bladed scythe of some strange design that cannot possibly be practical.

Uncertain of their make, Ethius gets to chanting anew once more. Raising his right arm shoots a new pain through his upper back, courtesy of the burning he only narrowly avoided a short time ago - he stumbles on a syllable, saving it with a slurring as to not have to discard the spell. As he sweeps an arm out, it is not clear to the eye at first as to what it accomplishes.

Another flash of heat befalls two of the statues coming towards him, threatening to turn their rock-flesh underneath the strange clothes molten, itself looking ready to consume the cloth in the burning flesh if he can maintain the concentration to allow this heat to take.

The Symbologist calls upon this unbearable heat as to try and melt and fuse the joints of these awakened statues into paralysis - and maybe harmlessness, as he stands to melt priceless history into worthless, nondescript smoldering stone.

He risks splitting his focus to help Layla as she charges into the fight, attempting to slow the approach of another rushing at her from her flank with another heat-based bit of Symbology - the chanting on this one is shorter, to the point.

DG: Ethius Hesiod has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward his party's challenge, The World-Stage of Intertwining Fates.
DG: The party led by Ethius Hesiod has passed this challenge! The party gained 22 exploration! If anyone needs to use party management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
<Pose Tracker> Kourin has posed.

Kourin's glad she's not the only one freaked out by this place. She might not even be the only one freaked out by Virginia, at this point! Either way, with black fire and ice and gunfire and other divers violens, the statues are soon shattered and destroyed wholly. "Wh--what could be next...do you think..." she asks, worried, the melodies of the place still starting to make her brain mush.

DG: Ethius Hesiod has drawn a new Challenge.
===================================<* CHALLENGE - The Great Hall of Soul's Repose *>====================================
|Type: Climax      |Dungeon Ability: Combat    |Challenge Rating: 2          |
-----------------------------------------------< Challenge Information: >-----------------------------------------------
 This great room bears the semblance of an ancient hall. Braziers, tapestries
 and shelving further suggest a residential purpose, complete with a great
 table that could house a feast for dozens. However, eeriest is is the
 uncomfortable stillness that permeates this otherwise huge chamber, as if
 the house has had its Time robbed from it: Poor, macabre imitations of
 citizens hang in place around the table, frozen in place.

 'Seeker of the Key,
 Jewels of joy ensnare the sensous mind.
 Yet a tide has set from the Sea of Silence.
 Only when quietude has swept the cities clean,
 Shall the Wheel crumble into soot-ash.'

 A sickly, faint feeling permeates the air. The light fades, absorbed by the
 immanent black aura of a gigantic black butterfly ascending from the
 darkness below. It lets out an eerie, sorrowful noise, perching upon one of
 the macabre imitations... and the statue turns into no more than dust.
 Whether this creature is a guardian or an intruder to this time-stilled
 place is unknown: the only thing you know is that it is a dire threat to
 you.
=Dungeon Conditions: Maim=====================================================
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

Ethius does not come out of that encounter unscathed - a pointy bit has stabbed into one of his shoulders by the time they've all made their way through their stage fright. A Heal Berry and its juices are expended as he presses it against the wound, moving along with the rest past the amplitheater, through the crowds... through a hallway that may well be the night sky unto itself, with how still and frozen the air is. What light is visible seems to glint off the ceiling like the stars of the cold, uncaring cosmos, their stars continuing their unceasing processes as they spin and churn towards their own oblivion, as they all gather towards a hall that once had many traverse it.

Braziers, tapestries, and shelving - it all suggests this place was once lived in. A large table, fit for a large-scale feast, stands untouched by the ravages of the outdoors, or human hands.

...

Are those people? Scattered, their corpses - or are they just statues? - appear intact all about the table. Their flesh is there, but their life is not. They are all suspended. Not one of them appear to have been taken in any state of mirth, or celebration. Sadness. Fear. Anger.

The chorus grows a bit louder, a bit more threatening, as a wave of sickness strikes all of them. The light dims to darkness, all absorbed by the figure of something large from above. The anti-light splits into four measured spheres, coming together in a pattern resembling butterfly wings. There is no material to fill in the rest of the butterfly anatomy, as it descends upon the most important-looking figure at the opposite end of the table.

The... noise?... that escapes it is overwhelming, a sorrowful voice seeming to be heard by the very soul, rather than the ears, that shakes at the resolve of all those who would dare draw breath, and live.

The figure it perches on crumbles into ash, as its wings of darkness take flight. Flecks of the void shed from every flap of its 'wings.'

Ethius wastes no time. The second satchel is grabbed. The light of his sorcery violates the darkness, as the satchel is hurled towards the beast - decorating it in its more visible sand and dust.

"Do everything in your power to keep this adversary visible," Ethius warns, voice unshaken by the dread that grips at his soul, "I know not what the 'Key' we have been seeking may yet be..."

He slams the butt of the quarterstaff against the hall floor.

"...But I will not be deterred."

DG: Ethius Hesiod has used his Tool Powder Grenade toward his party's challenge, The Great Hall of Soul's Repose.
<Pose Tracker> Kourin has posed.

Kourin scowls--she's out of Rimebombs. They take a fair amount of her time and effort to prepare, after all. Fortunately, her rapier is already in hand, and while she's getting very tired, she's still got more left in her than many of her allies. "I shall try to slow it, or at least pin it down," she cries, firing a lance of ice at the giant butterfly to try to corral it to a more advantageous position.

She is pointedly NOT thinking about the rest of their surroundings. Tunnel vision is the key to keeping sane in the face of the unthinkably occult.

DG: Kourin has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Great Hall of Soul's Repose.
<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

At the conclusion of their combat, Virginia looks towards Ethius as she whips about, placing her hands to her chest again. "Mmm, what can I say? I just feel very at home in some way here..." She looks again at Neriah as she charges on ahead and lets out a whistle, stepping closer towards the struggling girl with a nonchallance that almost borders on /rude/.

"We're nearly there, I'm sure! Let's just stay positive, mmkay?" says the girl who just ordered those unsettling marionettes to go /die/ just one moment ago. She places a hand on her shoulder, patting it.

They step through towards the great hall, her expression seemingly just--

Glowing.

Whatever fear and annoyance was gripping her is utterly gone, and she just seems to be so thoroughly entranced in the mire of death that awaits her. She stares towards the great butterfly and whispers, placing her hand to her face and staring inbetween her fingertips, "You adorable, adorable thing..."

Her head slumps to one side. Her hair hides her eyes.

Her smile is wicked.

"You disgust me."

Again, with that mood whiplash -- bouncing from cheerfulness to outright malice, as she shifts her stance to one side and extends her arms to either side, mandalas of what could only imaginably be sorcerous power ringing her wrists. She draws a pattern, steps about in one fell swoop, and creates a large gaping void below the butterfly.

"Die for me, please."

A baffling array of spires, spears, swords and other sharp implements erupt in a singular, towering spike to gouge the creature from below, at that command.

DG: Virginia Maxwell has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Great Hall of Soul's Repose.
<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

'Thomas' certainly might seem like he's just an ordinary medical student, if potentially one who dabbles in Symbology to judge by earlier magical displays. He doesn't seem to display much in the way of combat expertise as he hangs back, out of the way of immediate danger. Though of course, that begs the question of just /why/ he's come here. Scholarly curiosity, perhaps?

Hanging back also gives him a good vantage point for his allies' abilities, just as before. For the most part it seems to be 'as before' -- he does take note of with mild interest Kourin's ice blasts -- but this time--

This time, Ethius invokes heat. Loren's mind flickers back to the engagement in Adlehyde -- or the part he had directly noticed, with Diablo -- and he has a moment to wonder about this display of force vis a vis that display.

For right now, his only aim is to observe. He needs to know more about the mage, but directly approaching him with the questions he'd like to ask will only gain him more attention than he needs. It might even tip his hand. An indirect approach, in fact, may be better.

Loren's gaze shifts, lingering on the female contingent of their current crew. None of them seem as if they know Ethius, but... the mage's just called one of them by name. 'Virginia'. Hmm. He might have just gotten a potential lead.

And then he realizes -- snapped back from his thoughtful reverie in the back -- that one of the statues has made a push and is making a go for him with blade drawn. A little too late, he takes up a defensive stance, raising an arm as if it were a shield. If Layna intervenes it might be all that keeps him from taking a hit. Though, for a moment, that stance was a little /too/ good for someone who looks like they'd be more at home in a lecture hall.

Trailing after the mage and the rest, he presses on ahead after, regardless of his outcome in the skirmish. Blue eyes track across the contents of the ampitheatre. Slowly, 'Thomas's' brow crinkles, deepening the more he looks across the contents of the room. "...Statues?" he asks, blinking once. No, they're not statues, are they--

And his stomach pitches as suredly as if he'd been trapped on a boat in a storm. The less-than-emotive 'medical student' grimaces, reaching over to brace himself against a nearby pillar. The song in his head is rising. It keens, like a mourner at a wake. One eye half-shuts, and with an exertion of will, 'Thomas' forces himself to stand up straight. That thing, in the middle of the room...

The heart of it all. He's sure of that.

"Cover me," 'Thomas' states to whoever's nearest, once more digging deep into his bag of medical supplies.

Keep it visible? Luckily, there's one thing he's got that fits the bill. It's an unorthodox use of antiseptic powder, though.

'Thomas' hurls the tin of power overhand at the creature after briefly checking the container's heft. He's had practice in the art of throwing even irregularly weighted objects, to judge by his poise.

DG: Loren Voss has used his Tool Solarian Medical Kit toward his party's challenge, The Great Hall of Soul's Repose.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah delivers her dropkick and kicks the statue into the wall, smashing it - but she also lands awkwardly, her shoulder slamming into the ground with a painful jerk. She winces, rolling onto her other side and touching the injured shoulder delicately. It takes her a minute to push back to her feet.

Soon enough, she's moving after the group, her heels clicking on the stones with a distinct echo. She tucks her pistol back into her belt and bustles along - into yet another still chamber, macabre mannequins stuck in time and unmoving, like dolls in a god's dollhouse. Neriah presses her lips together.

The feeling that comes over her as that sorrowing butterfly descends is unspeakable. Gagging, she staggers backwards. Her right hand aches. She clutches her right wrist in her left hand. As Virginia pats her on the shoulder, it seems to help; she lifts her head, her hat sitting askew, eyes wide and wild.

"No... it's... it's not at home," she whispers back to Virginia. "It's not positive. It feels right but it feels wrong. It's the wrong kind of... the wrong kind fo everything... to...."

Trailing off, she stares as the woman unleashes her sorcerous power. That sense of something wrong washes over her.

She draws in a breath; lifts her shoulders. Then brings her right hand forward. Focuses; her fingers curl, twitching, held out like a claw.

She snaps her head forward - and she shrieks in pain.

Her teeth click together. Muscles trembling and clenching as though she's bearing an unbelievable pain, she clutches her left hand to her chest. Around her right palm, dark light arcs, like black lightning bolts. She gasps, an agonized, tearing sound, breathing in heavily, eyes wide and fixed on the butterfly. Again black lightning crackles from around her palm before it collapses back into her, as though something sucked it back in. She lurches to the side a step with a horrible retching sound, as though she's barely stopping herself from vomiting.

She breathes in, once. Lightning flickers again.

Then she screams again. It's a long, sobbing, tortured wail of a sound - and it comes with a double echo, then another one. The lightning sings, and shadow blooms around her in immense waves, enfolding her like a coil. The sound of it is a horror in and of itself. It feels like it should be deafening, but it is somehow as if a tornado were taking place just /outside/ human hearing range, only a bassy, grinding rumble of anxiety-inducing infrasound ripping at the senses, rattling nerves and visions.

Neriah vanishes from view for a moment as the magic envelops her. A pair of pale sparks dance within the pillar of luminous black before it untwists itself into countless coils of black magic, exploding out towards the death butterfly, tearing and searing and burning and blasting and ripping and shredding and ravaging and ruining and obliterating and--

--And feeling wrong. Wrong in a way that the butterfly, that the ruin, does not.

DG: Neriah Parringer has used her Tool Manifestation toward her party's challenge, The Great Hall of Soul's Repose.
<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

Virginia can't help but lean back and place her fingertips in a spreading fashion over her face, the glint of her glowing eye towards Neriah as she unleashes her own measure of darness. She sucks in a breath, and can't help but feel overwhelmed and in awe. It feels wrong, and feeling wrong is good.

"Magnificent. Beautiful...! Don't you feel /much/ better letting it out...?" Virginia urges Neriah, before laughing for but one ringing moment.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

"N-no, it hurts," Neriah chokes over the unsound of the hurricane of something incredibly wrong that she's unleashed. She's lurching forward even as the magic does its work.

Something wet drips from the cuff of her right glove.

<Pose Tracker> Kourin has posed.

Kourin is reconsidering working with just any group that will have her regardless of bounty, is what Kourin is doing.

<Pose Tracker> Layna Manydays has posed.

As the blade crashes down toward Loren, Layna is there, arms crossed to intercept it with her shielded gauntlets.

"Steady on, lad." She says with a nod towards him before getting back into the fray.

Eventually the fight is done and they move on, into a rather ornate looking chamber...that is darkened as a great butterfly ascends.

Layna steps back and nods toward Ethius.

"Aye. We lose sight of this and we're dead." She says. For that reason...

Layna begins an incantation and invokes another whirlwind, sweeping up any of Loren or Ethius's powder that misses the mark into itself while also attempting to harry its wings to make flight more difficult.

That is all she can contribute right now, but-

Neriah's shriek pierces the darkness.

"Lass? Lass!? Hold on!" She says, inching her way towards where she heard Neriah last.

She didn't know what was happening, but...

"Are you insane!? Can't you tell she's in pain!?" She shouts towards Virginia, her ire raised.

DG: Layna Manydays has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Great Hall of Soul's Repose.
DG: The party led by Ethius Hesiod has failed this challenge! The party gained 0 exploration! If anyone needs to use party management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

"Is that so," Ethius responds to Virginia's apparent comfort - not that he has much better a leg to stand on. It's hard to shake some sense of disconnect between himself and his surroundings. He's physically there, in the same peril the lot of them are, but something seems to keep psychologically pulling him together. A mission? An obsession? Is there some kind of personal stake to him being here...? The environs are beyond hostile to those who remain animated.

They simply /do not belong here/. This is not a place for the living! Both Ethius and Virginia, in their own ways, have an unnatural calm to their being here - his steadfast inquisition towards the unknown and unexplainable, Virginia's unrestrained joy and pleasure in invoking macabre humor for their situation.

Kourin's frost helps give reflective accents to the body of the beast to better track its movement. The humble medical student 'Thomas' coats them in powder, which further helps with visibility, as Layna's whirlwind helps ensure that any stray particle matter sticks to where it is intended - but now comes the matter of actually dealing with this anti-life horror, as it takes flight and swoops towards them. Virginia steps up with a yawning void that brings forth numerous sharp implements that seek to stab into and hook into the seeming nothingness that the butterfly encompasses, as if intent to try and hold nothing in place - it seems that it might work?

Most eye-catching is what happens with Neriah. She shudders, she struggles, she twitches - she seems to be among those who seems to grasp the true severity if their situation. Simultaneously, she loses grasp of... something else.

"What is--" Ethius brings a forearm across his face as a tremendous evil resounds from Neriah's form, as if to shield his gaze - he is, at last, moved, as the screaming and wailing accentuates the lightning and shadow that flies out to strike into the butterfly, and maybe even to the hearts and souls of those gathered.

There are two powers beyond human comprehension at play, and it is only by the grace of some other unforseen power that the butterfly and Neriah's... presence... appear at odds with one another.

Neriah's power exceeds even the grasp of the intended adversary. The butterfly ceases to be an issue - instead, it is the collateral of this presence that brings the most danger to the party. Immaculate stonework buckles, shatters, and collapses all around them. The lot of them will be battered, viciously, by stray debris.

Ethius, battered, chants a spell anew as he lowers his forearm away from his head. The lights and sounds of Symbology don't quite find a place to intrude upon the impressive display of power before them.

He dares intrude upon the wrong power with some of his own, directing a bolt of electricity into the space that Neriah occupies, as if intending to forcefully calm her down through tasing her - if his power can break through.

Wordlessly, this is an invitation for the rest to come help and intervene at once.

<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

The hall that they are in begins to rupture and fall, and indeed, some of the debris moves to strike her -- but even struck, she doesn't seem to stop with that smile of hers, as she recalls the power that she's used and channels it in the form of a solid black wall that interposes between the Drifter's lightning and Neriah herself.

"... now now, you can't just force a girl like that," she urges, glancing back towards Neriah, stepping closer to her and kneeling down, even amidst the remnants of the emanations of wrongness that spill from her. For a moment, it almost seems like she's going to do something drastic--

--but then she just hugs her.

"This entire place... it's vile, isn't it?" she murmurs. "It tears away at you in a way you can't quite express. That song... it's bothersome, isn't it? Let Ginny help you. Just stay calm and let me help..."

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah can hear Layna calling out to her. She clenches her teeth and whimpers pitifully.

As quickly as they came, the tendrils of black magic seem to whirl back towards Neriah - but before they can, Ethius steps up and just blasts her one. Neriah lifts her head just in time to realize that something bright just happened.

She's in far too much pain to do anything about it. The lignting blast slams through her and throws her off her feet, sending her hurtling back to slam through a piece of stone statuery. Chunks of masonry fracture around her as she hurtles through the statue and hits the ground in a smouldering, unmoving heap.

It doesn't do anything to the dark magic. It rages around the butterfly for a couple more seconds before the dark tendrils suck themselves back into Neriah's body. She twitches violently a few times but doesn't move for a long moment.

A pool of blood is beginning to form around her right elbow, another one around where her mouth is. Smoke wafts off her, and the scent of roasted flesh can be picked up.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah can hear Layna calling out to her. She clenches her teeth and whimpers pitifully.

As quickly as they came, the tendrils of black magic seem to whirl back towards Neriah - but before they can, Ethius steps up and just blasts her one. Neriah lifts her head just in time to realize that something bright just happened.

Virginia takes care of it. Neriah blinks twice, not sure what just went down and in too much pain to figure it out. All she can do is lurch forward with a wet retching sound, stumbling and slouching to her knees as the dark magic retracts itself into her body. She twitches violently, spasming, before groaning and slouching to her hands and knees with deep, gulping breaths.

Then Virginia latches onto her.

Neriah hangs limp in the girl's embrace. Blood soaks her sleeve around the inside of her right elbow. She gasps for breath before managing a weak, "It's -- it's like it -- it's like it wants to kill me from the inside."

<Pose Tracker> Kourin has posed.

Kourin's nooooot happy about anything that's going on, nope nope nope.

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

As a calm - of some sort - starts to dawn upon the team in the ruined hall, Ethius stands with blood going down the side of his head. It's red, at least, the expected hues of humanity, to someone who coldly and decisively moved to knock out someone whose powers were rampaging completely out of control - he settles into that cold, unsettling distant calm that seems to characterize him so, as he watches the young woman whom playfully flirted with the macabre turn to a supportive, nurturing presence... of sorts.

Memories come back to her strange behavior at that manor that did not seem to belong in the place it was - her weird manner throughout as she helped guide the lot of them through. He can't quite put a finger on it - what was it, why was it? What was that just now?

He moves the quarterstaff to his off hand as he thrusts his left palm forward, as though in a ready posture in case something else were to pop up - would he truly be willing to try and blast a frightened, hurt, psychologically shaken young woman again?!

<Pose Tracker> Layna Manydays has posed.

Layna is battered and thrown off-course by the debris that is thrown up all around her. She looks up in time to see Ethius sending a bolt of lightning towards Neriah. It is thankfully intercepted by Virginia - though there's still something about her that Layna finds disturbing - but Layna still whirls Ethius.

She does intervene, though not with Neriah. Her bladed gauntlets have been placed back into their bags and she rushes up to him aggressively as he takes his posture once more. She lunges, but she doesn't try to punch him. Instead she grabs a handful of shirt and poncho and brings him forward roughly, slamming her head against his.

"What was that, ya great blaggard!?" She shouts, angrily.

She then pushes him back and points directly at him, seeming unfazed by this action.

"You're going to need to explain yourself, lad, or we're gonna have trouble." She hisses, fists clenched.

<Pose Tracker> Kourin has posed.

Kourin just stares at the chaos unfolding. "We...we should never have come to this place..."

<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

Loren had largely written off Neriah as just another Drifter. In an eyeblink, it becomes intensely apparent that he Should Not Have Done that.

"What--"

/Something/, ripping across his etheric senses as foul and rotted, tears out of the girl's body in an expanding coil of destruction as she screams in agony. Raising an arm in reflexive self-defense, 'Thomas's' entire focus is upon her for an instant. His own etheric talent surges within him, dancing for a moment in his nerves and bones, and in what might be mistaken for a Symbological protective art by anyone not well-versed in Symbology themselves, a crackling wall of light manifests briefly in the air around the 'medical student'.

The whole room seems to vibrate with the roar of the destructive wave, erasing the monstrous butterfly utterly. Which becomes very, very apparent as the stonework overhead begins to fall in a dangerous downpour of rock. And wave of negative energy isn't stopping. Loren almost, almost taps his now-flagging store of etheric energy once more, pulling up short only because it would most definitely cause a Problem for his cover story.

Why does he keep ending up entangled with young women wielding massive destructive power?

And Ethius does the practical thing and shuts down the immediate cause of the destruction. Namely, Neriah.

Almost at once it's enough to return the girl to normal as she clings to Virginia.

/Now/ 'Thomas' moves. Planting a hand on Ethius' shoulder, he makes to push the mage aside as he strides forward, pausing only long enough to give the man a look.

It's a problem, right now, if this turns to violence. He's sure most of the women would turn against the mage, and it would make things needlessly complicated. So.

"Calm down," he says to Ethius as he passes. "She's fine. Besides, we need to get out of here." He glances, upwards.

The ceiling's still coming down. Digging in his bag, he hands over a vial to Neriah. "Drink it."

It's a mental stabilizer.

DG: Virginia Maxwell has drawn a new Challenge.
===========<* CHALLENGE - The Eternal Vigil over Imminent Cycles *>===========
|Type: Final       |Dungeon Ability: Wits      |Challenge Rating: 1          |
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 A forlorn chamber of great size awaits past the great hall, its size fit for
 giants rather than humans. A massive stone throne is affixed upon the centre
 of the darkened chamber, bearing numerous effigies and fetishes of worship
 in ages past. Perhaps, it is the seat of the watcher of an eternal vigil.
 The song has reached its peak here, and is more audible than ever before.
 Those with particularly magical or spiritual natures can feel the powerful
 ebb and flow of its chant.

 'Seeker of the Key,
 Gaze thee upon the Ark of Ge Ramtos,
 Her sails wrought of the ashes of hope.
 Her heart is but olden dreams once dreamt by time.
 The Guardian's lament has made her tall,
 Charged of deathly innocence, rowed forth by people's fantasies.
 Her Eyes gaze ever eternal, upon the Princes of Old,
 The People who have Never Been...'

 A large altar stands before the giant stone throne, possessing lightly
 shimmering runes that seem to echo with lilting notes not altogether
 dissimilar to the chorus. Perhaps, it is finally time to sing back to the
 chorus...
=Dungeon Conditions: Tire=====================================================
<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

Virginia lets out a little huff as she nods at Loren, then looks to Neriah. "Oh, and do something about those wounds of hers, mm? You were using those bandages just earlier--" she gestures towards the bleeding wound on the Drifter's elbow.

She turns towards the rest of the group, grinning for a moment as she says, "Now I don't know about you, but I personally would like to at least come to the end so I can find whatever has been singing this song to me and--"

There's a sudden snap of her fingers.

She turns to Neriah again and helps her up, throwing her good arm around her shoulder. "You'd like that too, wouldn't you? Let's show this ruin that we aren't to be messed with."

And indeed, it isn't long before they come onto the chamber of enormous size, her eyes widening just for a moment. The altar upon the throne catches her eyes, with the shimmering runes, so she helps the poor girl over along with a gesture towards the rest of the group. "Mmm. Magical," she notes, pressing her finger towards one of them. It lets out a chime. "There must be a sequence of some kind that we can do this in..."

DG: Virginia Maxwell has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Eternal Vigil over Imminent Cycles.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah's still badly dazed, her right arm only now beginning to move.

As Loren gallops over with a vial of something, the girl draws in a shaking breath and reaches across Virginia to take the beaker. She downs it without so much as asking what it is.

Her eyelids droop ever so slightly. "Thanks," she manages thinly before beginning to stagger to her feet once more. Her hand moves to her elbow, though, as Virginia makes the suggestion. But as Virginia supports her, she sighs and leans into her a little, managing a wan smile as she walks along with the other girl - she doesn't know the real Virginia, and this new, dark version seems to be the one who supports her most here, aside from Layna.

She takes it, though the pirate captain does get a grateful smile from her. She steps into the vast chamber.

"But that's," she breathes as the song murmurs around her. Her hand moves to her heart; she trembles against Virginia, her muscles tightening a little again and her breath quickening. But it begins to subside; the vial Loren gave her helps, and she finally takes a shaky breath, letting it out more smoothly.

"There's been a... a tune to this, hasn't there," she murmurs, shifting under Virginia's arm a little. She steps up to the runes and taps another one of them. "I think... these two first, and then...."

DG: Neriah Parringer has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Eternal Vigil over Imminent Cycles.
<Pose Tracker> Kourin has posed.

Kourin can barely concentrate. The group is falling apart, there seems to be some kind of dark force at work within the party, the song just will not stop, and now...more. This.

Spirit whines quietly and licks his Mistress' hand.

"We're almost done, Spirit," she promises, though whether or not they will make it out of here intact is anyone's guess...and the denizens of this place may not be the biggest threat any longer.

"These...I can't figure it out..." she manages, rubbing her temples and sighing in a pained way.

DG: Kourin has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Eternal Vigil over Imminent Cycles.
<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

His attention focused upon Neriah, Ethius is grasped and subsequently given a head-to-head encounter with the Lunarian pirate captain that sees him careening on a crash course against the wall with a satisfying, echoing 'thud' that shatters one of the scattered statue-corpses into a dust whose character cannot be defined as either the dust of stone, nor the petrified flakes of flesh - it is simply decay, further reduced to the fine granular matter that all are fated to become in the passage of time.

A hand rests on his forehead, bloodied. As he rises, a hand rests on his shoulder to keep him seated, pushing him aside as the 'medical student' moves to Neriah's immediate aid. From under the raised hand, one eye stares out with that same dispassionate, detached character.

Layna does not get an explanation, as he rights himself up and follows the rest into the great chamber beyond the ruined, rocked out hall. He follows from the back, like something of a shadow - as if to make himself scarce as tempers flare. There is no apology, nothing.

His presence is noted again when there's the soft glow of that Spectral Lens from before, viewing... everything. What is there to view? He lowers the lens from his face before it dims, as though what he sees is not something he could easily work out.

The song is more audible. It permeates their very being. The chorus chants eternal, addressing the Seeker of the Key...

Ethius steps forward towards the large altar. His left hand, free, runs across the notes as he steps back into view as though nothing happened between them. Something... has his attention.

The quarterstaff rests between forearm and elbow, as his right hand seems to instinctively clutch something under the poncho. What is it?

He repeats the lyrics he hears aloud. They're the same ones they've been hearing. Seeker of the Key, Gaze thee upon... Her sails wrought... etc, etc.

The words fade in the psyches about the People who have Never...

Ethius says some additional words, with a quiet confidence and familiarity he should not. They are words that are not heard in the heads of those gathered, as he goes through the passages again.

Even with that tone of voice, he maintains some sort of musical pitch to it, which is very strange. He comes to the faded, forgotten lyric again, and once more repeats the words.

...Could he have read the runes?

Does this man know the tongue of this place?!

DG: Ethius Hesiod has used his Tool Spectral Lens toward his party's challenge, The Eternal Vigil over Imminent Cycles.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah's pretty reluctant to let Thomas take her glove off to treat her. She finally just accedes to it.

He has to go down pretty far. Her elbow is totally unhurt. In fact, her entire forearm is fine, save for a smear of blood that seems to have oozed down the inside of her limb. He'll find himself bandaging her palm. There's an irregularly-shaped cut there from which blood slowly trickles.

Neriah looks away from it and taps another of the note runes with her left hand.

Quiet eyes track after Ethius. How the man can be so calm all the time - and so able to read this runic crap - she has absolutely no idea. And yet....

<Pose Tracker> Layna Manydays has posed.

Layna eyes Ethius with a glare, still pointing directly at him. He doesn't respond, instead, he just moves. She folds her arms and lets out a noise of distaste. In place of him, Layna speaks.

"I don't tolerate behavior like that on my ship, lad, particularly not without an explanation. Unfortunately, we're not on my ship, and you're not on my crew.. But...if you.../ever/...do anything like that again, lad...I will send you to the Locker /personally./" She threatens and, with a swish of her coat Layna begrudgingly moves on.

She still feels compelled to sock Ethius in the face...but right now, the only thing to do is keep going. As she moves towards the next room, she sends Neriah a nod and a smile in response to the one she got. She still seems conflicted and angry, but none of it is directed at Neriah herself.

She's unusually quiet throughout the journey to the next room as she stews in her anger, and even as they look upon the puzzle. She undoes the telescope from her waist and uses it to study the walls, speaking only to mention anything useful that she might see.

DG: Layna Manydays has used her Tool Captain's Telescope toward her party's challenge, The Eternal Vigil over Imminent Cycles.
<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

That's quite the stare from the mage. What the Captain had warned him about, shortly after he'd begun assignment, comes back to him. Don't underestimate Lambs.

"...Of course." This time, he doesn't snark or snipe about it.

This is largely because he's taking advantage of the opening here to investigate Neriah, with an eye to her general condition. There's only so much he can take in at a glance of course, but he can at least pull a few quick vitals. Like pulse, as he takes her forearm. Approximate skin temperature. Check the look in her eyes. Reach out for any sense of ambient ether.

And quickly notice -- along with the brief and apparently startling awareness of a static sensation from her flesh -- there isn't any actual wound along her forearm at all.

The bandages, obligingly, come out next. It's her palm -- an inconsistently small shallow cut there -- that he ends up binding instead. Unfortunately, the antiseptic is currently scattered over the floor, over there, so he's just going to have to make do this way. 'Thomas' binds bandages well, and quickly, it seems. As expected of a student, perhaps.

Healing ether, alas, would give Loren away.Healing ether, alas, would give Loren away. And his energy expenditure is running low. He's been more careless with his usage than he should have been tonight. But desperation calls for desperation, though.

Once finished, he says again, with a glance upwards, "We should move. Unless you'd prefer to stay here for someone else to find?" The snark's back.

He'll make his own haste through the door ahead.

Once again, the song pitches into his brain. That creature from before wasn't the source of the song? Slowly, 'Thomas' exhales a low breath, staring at the throne ahead of him.

"Ge Ramtos," 'Thomas' murmurs, crinkling his forehead as he thinks. The name is /familiar/. Something relating to local folklore, something from Cultural, maybe. It should be in the documentation he received, somewhere, but...

It's not as if he can check right now.

"A sequence, is it? Matching the song..." Luckily, it only takes a miniscule amount of ether to activate the piece of Solarian tech he wears. He touches a hand to the glasses, looking for all the world as if he's just readjusting their sit on his face. Meanwhile, what he can see...

Even through the dust of the ages, the stone under the runes shows signs disturbance. He can even, after a moment, start to puzzle out the order. "That one next," he says, pointing at another as Neriah makes her own guess. "...It feels right," he adds, a little lamely.

And then, he just turns, directing the full level of his attention on Ethius. Did that... mage just...

Read that aloud?

DG: Loren Voss has used his Tool Etheric Lenses toward his party's challenge, The Eternal Vigil over Imminent Cycles.
DG: You have overcome the dungeon's trials! This run is a success!
DG: The party led by Ethius Hesiod has successfully explored Rujm el-Hiri!
======================<* CHALLENGE - Soul of the Lost *>======================
|Type: Discovery   |Dungeon Ability: Discovery |Challenge Rating: 1          |
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 As you unseal the throne and descend past the open gateway, the
 overwhelmingly striking sight of a ruined city that's been lost to the ages
 catches your attention. A city of a civilisation lost long ago, consumed by
 hubris and inviting the frightening touch of the black butterfly... just
 what could have really happened here?

 As you turn towards the town plaza, you see a sorry sight -- one of the
 macabre imitations of humans is hunched over the town well, clearly having
 met a horrible end at the petrified butterfly sitting atop him, long ago.
 More curiously, however, is the shimmering, solid mineral-like flame that
 has coalesced above him. It has the exact echo and feeling of a something
 spiritual, yet solid and frozen in time. What... could this possibly be?

 Unfortunately, further access is impossible at the moment - more and more of
 those big, black butterflies patrol the area, and to fight such a great
 number of death-wielding monstrosities is, at best, folly. You'll need some
 other kind of tool or approach, and greater strength, to venture deeper into
 the lost city...
=Dungeon Conditions: Treasure=================================================
<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

The group examine the runes rather thoroughly -- with experimentation, it's clear to see that there is a sequence to these, in a way that corresponds to the concentric rings that they've seen before. Greater or smaller, but ultimately part of a whole... Layna spots some hints along the walls -- corresponding information that seem to have direct semblance to the runes in turn, as Ethius interprets. But... just what could it mean? He understands the language of the ancients, but it is a song, with a context that is at best vague...

... but it seems telling. The giant throne before them has mechanical segments to it, and it would seem that once upon a time, something sat upon it. Something massive... a Golem? It certainly could be something that the Technology Hunter could follow up on.

And for Loren, through his Lenses, he certainly can identify it just as well as anyone -- there are telltale marks that indicate a hangar-like structure, albeit one designed for a seated position, of a kind similar to the ones in use back at base... but much, much older, of a design not corresponding to modern takes on Gear storage.

Most intriguing.

Past the throne and through the gateway, though, the most overwhelming sight awaits them all -- it is a paradox, an overhang that awaits before them opens onto a ruined city that's been lost to the ages. The crumbling remains of what was once a proud civilisation, consumed by hubris and touched by the butterfly... the questions just now mount themselves, further and further.

Close to where they can access, along a plaza, they come across the macabre remains of what might once have been a man... and the shimmering frozen flame of a soul that has coalesced above him. To those that are spiritually resonant, it has the reverb of what a person's spirit would have. It's pure, unsullied by all the unsettling Death that has permeated around this area.

"... oh, now this..." Virginia can't help but be drawn to it. "Is very fascinating, but this is where our journey ends, it seems." She gestures towards the other butterflies that wander in the background, and states, "I rather think we are not equipped to get past them at present, but..."

She smirks just for a moment and says, "There is a beautiful echo of suffering inside this soul..."

<Pose Tracker> Kourin has posed.

"At first I thought...I thought this might be a holy place...but this place is not holy. Not at all. We should not be here. We should disturb this place no further." Kourin is not used to sounding decisive. She still doesn't.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Once Thomas has bandaged her up, Neriah closes her hand again, as though she wants to keep the extent of her injury to herself. She slides her bloody sleeve down over her forearm. Her glove hands from her opposite hand.

With little knowledge of Gears or machinery, Neriah simply takes the giant throne room as a giant throne room, and she continues on through the gateway, keeping pace with Virginia. Something about the other woman makes her feel better. Her arms cross around her midsection as she beholds the crumbling ruin beyond and below. Drawing in a soft hiss of breath, she closes her teeth around her bottom lip. "No, I... don't think I could handle any more midnight butterflies," she murmurs, staring at the frozen flame. It feels like a person to her.

For all that this place seems to have unnerved her, this... doesn't. It impresses her. But she slowly steps towards the shimmering flame, looking up at it with her lips slightly apart. Her arms uncross, hands clasping in front of her.

"Could this be what a person's soul looks like," she breathes, her eyes growing wide with awe.

<Pose Tracker> Layna Manydays has posed.

Layna looks sadly upon this ruined civilization. What happened here, so very long ago? Were those butterflies the creatures that emptied this place of life?

Her eyes eventually spot the mass of butterflies that block the way forward.

Honestly...even if she were properly equipped to move on, in her present mood she was in no condition to go forward. Perhaps it is a blessing that they were blocking their path.

She is eventually drawn to the strange, shimmering flame that has the others' attention as well.

"What's this, then?" She asks, looking upon it. She doesn't feel the resonance that others might. Instead, to her it looks like some kind of gem...or maybe just some miscellaneous mineral.

"So...question is, me hearties...what shall we do with it?" She asks, looking around at the others. It seemed to be here and up for the taking, after all.

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

Though he fights through a headache brought about by further head trauma, the draining adrenaline that comes with such close proximity to a heart-stopping power (twice), and the violent disapproval of the otherworldly Captain, the Technology Hunter quietly internalizes his fightings as he weathers the storm of her lectures, her threats, her sincere desire that she will end him should he pull something of that nature ever again.

There are more pressing matters than his own imminent mortality being used against him, it would seem. A scholarly lust for knowledge? A lowly thirst of greed? It is hard to tell, when so little of his emotion shows through as he steps into the way beyond the throne.

What they see... other words already written suffice to describe it. For the part of the Technology Hunter...

He moves before Virginia with an outstretched quarterstaff, as if to bar her from reaching her hands out towards the frozen soul, that beautiful echo of suffering.

He eyes it, for a time. Whatever it is, whatever it must be... this flame-like thing, frozen in suspended animation before the statue-corpse. Few look like they wish to chance drawing the wrath of further black butterflies among them - there seems to be an agreement that this is where they turn back, as the rare living intruders to a land frozen into stasis.

They may yet walk away with life in their bodies, years left - decades - to live, love, and enjoy existence before they, too, join the dust they have walked through, over, and among.

"Miss Kourin," Ethius speaks up. He doesn't look the soul-fire directly for long. His gloved hands are caked in blood, and soot. They are dirtied with the lingering legacy of suffering and decay.

"Would you be willing to take this into safekeeping?" He asks of the young defector of Althena's Guard. Why her, of all people?!

<Pose Tracker> Kourin has posed.

Kourin balks, stepping backward. "Me? I...yes...I will." The things she has seen here will haunt her, but given what this treasure may represent...

"I suppose if we do not simply leave it undisturbed...but, others would come, then, wouldn't they..."

The fact that it is described as being full of suffering is disconcerting...but so is the idea of allowing someone who describes that suffering as 'beautiful' to take possession of this artifact.

<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

A Gear, Loren realizes with sudden clarity as he looks at the 'throne' again. It was meant for a Gear. It doesn't match any technology he's immediately familiar with, but the similarities jump out of him all at once the moment he takes the structure as a gestalt and detaches himself from his expectations. Slowly, he exhales a breath, then averts his gaze.

...The Drifters shouldn't recognize it. Best not to draw attention to it.

And file a report once he leaves. Research might want to look at this, if they can spare a team under current regional status.

At least the Gear that might have used it isn't here to be found.

And then the gateway opens.

'Thomas' lingers again towards the back, taking time to investigate the surrounding walls and other miscellanea as he follows the rest of their makeshift expedition crew out to what seems to be a plaza. Slightly, his blue eyes widen, as if in astonishment of what he sees from their vantage point.

Emperor. It's an entire frozen city.

"Incredible," he can't help but murmur, breaking his silence. Approaching the remains, 'Thomas' momentarily glances at the glittering gemlike flame, and makes a quick but calculating assessment of his odds as the Drifters discuss what the object is and what they should do with it.

Assessment: Not good. Though it pains him to let it go into the hands of these Lambs, the tactical advantage he has here in terms of information to be gathered outweighs the potential what... ever that thing is.

And Loren can't risk letting his target become aware of what he is.

"Do as you please," thus is Thomas' response, complete with a wave of the hand. "I'm more interested in what happened here," he says, gesturing at the remains the gem hovers above. "I wonder if the dismemberment occured prior to or after the moment of death..." Shaking his head, he trails off.

Besides, he knows now the name of the young woman who might just be taking it with her. If command wants to retrieve it, it shouldn't be hard.

So for now, 'Thomas' to all the world focuses on investigating the person's remains, meanwhile listening carefully as the Drifters continue to chatter.

<Pose Tracker> Virginia Maxwell has posed.

"Well, at its crudest, it's probably worth a lot of money to the right buyer," Virginia has to admit, as she looks at Neriah glancing towards the soul with a glint in her eye. "But that'd be a waste. A proper Sorcerer or some other kind of mage would be able to make good use of this, I imagine..."

She places her hand to her finger, laughing for a moment at Ethius. "Well, aren't you the perfect gentleman? Rather think you've been quite the hit at this party, hmm?" She stares at Layna for a moment. "Do whatever you will with it, I care not. Fascinating as it is, it /is/ the soul of a single departed, after all."

Her head simply tilts to one side. Her smile just seems wider and wider, more twisted than ever, the corners of her lips creased with a wickedness.

"There are /plenty/ more roaming surface-side where that came from."

Then, it is gone. Back towards pleasantness, she towards Neriah amiably and gives her another quick, brief hug, saying, "We should meet again sometime, from one girl to another. Let's talk about the sweet little things, like cookies, and tea, and Darkness, till the hours pass away."

She hops up towards the side of a building, and finally, the wellspring of Malevolence finally erupts rather nakedly around her. "Be well, everyone! This has been fun! Byeee~!"

Then she teleports away in the fashion only a good villain from her era of RPG should: By having her model be stretched vertically until she's not there anymore.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

"I don't know... I've never seen this," Neriah murmurs back to Thomas. "I've never even dreamed something like this."

She crosses her arms again, looking back towards Ethius, a certain wariness in her gaze. Before she can say anything else, though, Virginia flounces over and gives her a hug. It surprises her; she does bring a hand up to squeeze the woman's shoulder, blushing softly. "S-sure," she agrees. "I... I like cookies and tea."

Virginia vanishes in a pixelated flicker of Malevolence. Neriah straightens a little as the girl poofs away.

Once she's gone, she exhales and leans against the nearest wall. This has been a long day.

<Pose Tracker> Layna Manydays has posed.

Layna frowns toward Ethius as he suggest they hand the find over towards Kourin. But...she didn't have anything against her, so she couldn't really complain.

"Fine. I have no quarrel with this." She says.

'Virginia' doesn't seem to either...particularly from the way she vanishes suddenly.

Layna raises an eyebrow at that...but even if she wanted to question it, the only person worth questioning about it was no longer in the room.

"If you're taking it, take it, lass, but do it quick. I wager staying here for much longer may be hazardous to our health, aye?" She says. Who knew when the butterflies might take notice of them?

She glances toward Neriah with a concerned look. She'd drawn the attention of something dangerous, it seems...Layna could only hope she'd be alright.

<Pose Tracker> Ethius Hesiod has posed.

When the PURPLE happens, Ethius brings a hand to his forehead. For a moment, he sees a flashof that scene, in the forest. That giggling, out-of-place young woman that he fought to... save? Retrieve? Why? He didn't know her prior to that expedition he set out with the man titled the Shepherd, Sorey, among others.

He points a palm out towards where the evil atmosphere disperses, as though preparing another Symbological spell just in case, but she disappears before a need arises.

"It is time we depart," he decides after a few poignant moments pass in wake of this Virginia's exit. What, still no apology to the reeling young woman, or acknowledgment that in no uncertain terms that the Captain will have his ass if he pulls what he did tonight, again? A hand still goes to his head - blood continues to seep from his forehead.

"I appreciate your cooperation... and your discretion." He states. "I shall take up the rear on the way out."

It gives him ample chance to address the statue-like corpses with an unexplained, sudden desire to destroy them, unless stopped - to return each and every one of them along the way to dust, without further explanation.

Ethius would once again walk a path covered in ash and dust underfoot.