2018-01-01: Unholy Soil

From Dream Chasers
Jump to: navigation, search


=========================<* Baskar Sacred Grounds *>==========================
====================<* CHALLENGE - Slumbering Roadblock *>====================
|Type: Entry       |Dungeon Ability: Brute     |Challenge Rating: 3          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 Not all things react to Malevolence the same way. Many animals turn wild and  
 frenzied. Others, well... others just dig in their heels. Or maybe take a     
 nice nap to sleep it off. Maybe that's why this giant sand sloth (it's a      
 thing now, deal with it) is currently in your way, sprawled inelegantly in    
 front of the lone entrance into the Baskar grounds, snoring contentedly.      
 Maybe it is recuperating from its spiritual trauma via serene and profound    
 meditation. Maybe it's just a big ass sloth in lazing directly in your way.   
                                                                               
 The world may never know its simple but tremendous mysteries, but you should  
 probably try to deal with it all the same.                                    
=Dungeon Conditions: Bad Luck=================================================
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

Not all things react to Malevolence in the same way.

Some Drifters seem immune to it, their senses unattuned in a way that seems stubborn if bordering on the ignorant. Others embrace it, harkening to a darkness within themselves, a black reflection that they enjoy. And others...

...

Others are harmed by it, finding it wounding to the spirit and the body both, as is the case for Riesenlied -- and that's why she's here, because she cannot ignore the sensation of Malevolence that she can feel from a distance away. Gathering others with her, she's ventured forth to see if this is a case like the Hollow once more; she needs to discover the truth for herself.

She's not alone this time -- an old acquaintance is with her, bobbling up and down, a fat Dragon (don't call her a lizard) about a foot tall, black and red and bobbly all over. "Oi oi... what is that?" Odjn mumbles.

"Um--" Riesenlied tilts her head, peering down towards the giant sloth blocking the entrance to the grounds. "It's a sloth of some kind, but... ...it is in our way..."

"Maybe I should sing a song to it! Or, wait, maybe that'll put it into deeper sleep..."

There's a frown from Riesenlied, but it seems like Odjn gave her an idea. She does draw the feathered flute from her pouch and plays a soft, melodic tune...

DG: Riesenlied has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Slumbering Roadblock.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Not all things react to Malevolence the same way. Neriah Parringer tends to react to it the way she reacts to most sources of overpowering darkness: Her hand tends to hurt and her heart tends to race, and her powers tend to run away with her.

She can't let that happen this time, she resolves. No matter how hard it is. No matter how hard going on living is after the way those women a couple of weeks ago humiliated her.

Quietly stepping out from behind some sort of votive column, the girl begins to move towards Riesenlied and her companion. Neriah's not in her Excavator's gear today. She swore it off in favour of something simple. Tank top, short, high boots, gloves. Her shovel hangs over her shoulder and her pistol hangs at her waist.

When she does look up at Riese, it's to nod quietly. "Hi," she says.

It'd be simple enough were Neriah not visibly a mess. The deep shadows under her eyes suggest she hasn't slept in a long time. She's even without her usual dark makeup. For its absence, she seems somehow much smaller and more frail.

"Don't worry. I'm not here to hurt you," she says, her voice low and tired, yet with resignation to it. Drawing the shovel from over her shoulder, she steps off to one side of the sleeping creature and sets to work digging.

She seems to just be trying to dig another entrance by carving out a crawl-hole under the nearby wall.

DG: Neriah Parringer has used her Tool Trusty Shovel toward her party's challenge, Slumbering Roadblock.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

The rumors in the Baskar lands were...disturbing, to say the least. The Caravan Kinship traveled through those lands from time to time, and knew some of the people, and so Jacqueline was understandably concerned when symptoms similar to those seen in Port Timney developed. When Riesenlied asked for her assistance investigating, Jacqueline readily agreed.

It was good to see Odjn again, as well...and also present is someone else Jacqueline hadn't seen in a while.

"Oh, Neriah! It's good to see you!" Jacqueline says...then hesitates, looking at her more closely. It looked like she'd been through a lot, and those words to Riesenlied...

Jacqueline looks between the two of them, wondering if she had maybe missed something.

She turns her attention to the area's entrance...which is currently occupied by a rather large sloth. Climbing over it clearly isn't an option, and she's hesitant to harm it when it's doing nothing but sleeping there...

"Yes, give that a try..." Jacqueline says with a nod toward Riesenlied, then heads over toward where Neriah is trying to carve out a new tunnel. Jacqueline fishes through her bags and holds out a potion - a small, red bottle, brimming with energizing nutrients.

"Here. Perhaps this might help?" She offers.

Jacqueline can also contribute some earth magic to the effort, if necessary.

DG: Jacqueline Barber has used her Tool Brewte Force toward her party's challenge, Slumbering Roadblock.
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

For Noeline, the idea of Malevolence encroaching on the Baskar holy grounds is-- certainly worrying, if perhaps not exactly overridingly critical when compared to the matter of the statues. She's not sure what the relationship between Malevolence and the Guardians is, exactly-- but her own experience suggests that even if the Guardians have the ability to tear it out of people, it's still worth being significantly wary of any major accumulation of the stuff.

It's also worth being significantly wary of any major accumulation of Valmar's power, which is a new and exciting prospect she's yet to really get to grips with - especially when Wayside has more than enough problems on its plate already. Carefully, the twintailed demon steps up to Riesenlied's other side, surveying the large creature as it lolls and rolls in its sleep, and her gaze flicks briefly towards Neriah's promise not to hurt them, the quiet glance of someone evaluating a situation.

For a moment, she considers a quip - but then seems to think better of it, softly huffing under her breath as she looks back to the gate. "... far be it from us to stop anyone leaping out of the frying pan and into the fire, hm?" she comments lightly as she picks at her hair, then gestures forwards as she sends one of her spherical little ARMs forwards and towards the sloth.

The little device doesn't really seem like it can provide a great deal of help given its size, and yet-- something in its bearings seems more confident than it's been in the past, as Trouble abruptly wings forward to challenge the creature with the equivalent of a headbutt. ... perhaps it's the papier mache cucco frill that Janey and Mikaia have attached to it at some point...?

"To be quiet honest," Noeline chuckles to Odjn as she watches, "That might even work. If our other dealings with this sort of thing are any indication, they may be rather-- capricious."

DG: Noeline has used her Tool Trouble toward her party's challenge, Slumbering Roadblock.
=========================<* Baskar Sacred Grounds *>==========================
====================<* CHALLENGE - Slumbering Roadblock *>====================
|Type: Entry       |Dungeon Ability: Brute     |Challenge Rating: 3          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 Not all things react to Malevolence the same way. Many animals turn wild and  
 frenzied. Others, well... others just dig in their heels. Or maybe take a     
 nice nap to sleep it off. Maybe that's why this giant sand sloth (it's a      
 thing now, deal with it) is currently in your way, sprawled inelegantly in    
 front of the lone entrance into the Baskar grounds, snoring contentedly.      
 Maybe it is recuperating from its spiritual trauma via serene and profound    
 meditation. Maybe it's just a big ass sloth in lazing directly in your way.   
                                                                               
 The world may never know its simple but tremendous mysteries, but you should  
 probably try to deal with it all the same.                                    
=Dungeon Conditions: Bad Luck=================================================
====================<* Baskar Sacred Grounds - Round 1 *>=====================
======================< Results - Slumbering Roadblock >======================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Riesenlied                          0 --(5)--> 5                   Pass
Force                               0   Brute   Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Neriah Parringer                    0 --(5)--> 5                   Pass
Trusty Shovel                       2   Brute   Effects: Strengthen           
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jacqueline Barber                   0 --(10)--> 10                 Fail
Brewte Force                        1   Brute   Effects: Fanfare and Strengthe
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Noeline                             0 --(5)--> 5                   Pass
Trouble                             2   Brute   Effects: Strengthen           
----------------------------------< Party >-----------------------------------
Leader: Riesenlied                  0 --(15)--> 15                 Pass
Conditions: Bad Luck(2)
Effects: Strengthen(1)
==============================< Dream Chasers >===============================
DG: The party led by Riesenlied has passed this challenge! The party gained 15 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> Riesenlied has posed.

There's an astonished look on Riesenlied's face as she gazes towards the Excavator that's appeared before her. "Neriah...?!" She cups her mouth for a moment, and says, "You don't look well... what happened, after your friends took you?" She'd meant to track them down, but she wasn't able to find her friends...

"Mikaia is worried about you... I'm worried about you," Riese expresses.

Neriah starts digging, and that shovel does a lot of work in a short amount of time! Unfortunately, the ground starts to give way as the sloth stirs to the tune of Riesenlied's melody...

...which causes it to roll forward-- and causes it to whap the Brewte Force out of Jacqueline's hand!

"Watch out!" Odjn exclaims in surprise.

It fliiiiies, boinks across Trouble's forehead, and then lands in the sloth's mouth.

... ...

The sloth suddenly springs up, full of energy! It stomps around, and then charges off into the distance! Tired? Lacking energy? Come see your local alchemist at the CaraKin for solutions today!

Brewte Force (tm), for solutions straight from the Source!

DG: Neriah Parringer has drawn a new Challenge.
===========================<* Baskar Sacred Grounds *>============================
=======================<* CHALLENGE - A Drop in the Well *>=======================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Wits      |Challenge Rating: 2          | 
----------------------------< Challenge Information: >----------------------------
 There is no way forward here. Only an altar. Within the altar, a bowl full    
 of trembling, blackened water. An inscription on the altar reads simply,      
 'DESPAIR IS THE SNAKE THAT CONSUMES ITS OWN TAIL' and, just beneath the       
 well-like bowl: 'EAT THYSELF.' The blackened water seems to respond to        
 negative thoughts, secret confessions, past failings, seeming to DEMAND       
 them... or demand to be consumed. To drink it is to relive the deepest of     
 downward spirals, your greatest shortcomings, those things you dare not       
 admit are hopeless. Either way will make the very landscape shift and part    
 to open a way forward. Will you consume, or be consumed? Or will you find     
 your own way?                                                                 
=Dungeon Conditions: Overwhelm================================================
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

For all that Neriah deserves the reception she's had recently, part of her is quietly happy that at least Jay Barber still treats her like she's a human being. She looks up from her digging, blushing a little. "...Thanks, Jay," she murmurs with a faint smile as she reaches for the potion --

Only for it to get thumped away and into the hand of the giant sloth. Neriah blinks a couple of times as the massive thing suddenly springs up and dashes off into the moonlight. "...That happened," she says, scratching her head.

Shouldering her shovel, Neriah moves to walk beside Riese, her shoulders hunched forward a little. Looking her friend in the eye is a challenge, after what happened. "...I went and hid in the desert for awhile. I didn't think anyone would care anymore, after I tried to steal a Statue," she admits, voice quiet. "It's like Matilda said. And the woman with the bird. And Ida."

She sets her jaw. "...They're right about me. I'm just a whiny monster and I deserve to be summarily executed."

Perhaps it is no small coincidence that Neriah stops before an altar full of trembling, blackened water. The surface of the water shivers with every word she speaks, rippling unpleasantly within that carved bowl. A trace reflection from its surface brings it to the girl's attention. Biting her lower lip, she turns towards the bowl, drawing the excavator's lens from her belt and squinting into it. It's some sort of magic; that much she can tell. Finally lowering the lens, she bows her head, moving to rest her hands to either side of the bowl.

"Maybe my fate is to always just be a horrible person who pushes away anyone who cares about me," she murmurs as she looks down into the water and lifts it slowly. The ripples in the water grow more urgent. Something within her aches - her right hand does. Even the other three, however, will feel it - the insistence of the water.

An ominous feeling - yet one the mind is unable to look away from. Compelling one, if not to sip the despair from the water itself... to pour the despair into it.

It somehow seems to grow darker the longer Neriah stands near it.

DG: Neriah Parringer has used her Tool Excavator's Lens toward her party's challenge, A Drop in the Well.
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

Riesenlied shakes her head, as she huffs to express, "You aren't a monster, and you aren't whiny. You're stronger than that. Don't think that way..."

Riesenlied's gaze is set upon the surface of the black water, however, and where she looks--

--the frozen corpse stares back at her, her ear-to-ear grin everpresent. Hiiii--

There's a startled gasp from the blonde Hyadean as she reels back, but where there appears to be nothing, she's reeling as if something had just emerged from the water.

"Why... why have you come here? Why now?" Riesenlied questions.

Odjn frowns and bobbles up and down beside her companion, exclaiming, "Oi, Riese! This is no time to be wiggin' out! This place's tryin' to get to you!"

"O-Odjn..." Riesenlied murmurs softly.

"You've been actin' real weird since the Temple... don't think I haven't noticed," Odjn lectures. "And you're real skinny now. You're basically a twig!"

She reaches to her little winged companion, sucking a breath as she murmurs, "I have to confront this--"

"Not alone you don't, y'big dummy! Tell her, Jay!" Odjn complains, and turns to float towards the bowl. "Let people help y'out for once, instead of this stupid martyrin' hobby of yours!"

"W-wait, Odjn!"

"Licorice Kool-aid, here I coooooome--" Glug, glug, glug--

An ancient altar overflows with fresh blood, an earnest plea echoing throughout the lands. The twilit skies tremble. Crimson streaks of lightning tear across the clouds. The winged creature breaks free of its shackles, its cry resonating across the sky, striking awe into the hearts of those who hear it...

--"Odjn... Odjn...!" Riesenlied begs, as she holds the Tear to her chest, trying to reach for her companion.

"... don't... don't..." Odjn stammers from where she's wilted on the altar itself.

"Odjn?!" Riese whimpers.

"Don't harsh my buzz, Riese...... woah..." Odjn slumps deeper and rolls over.

DG: Riesenlied has used her Tool Dragon's Tear toward her party's challenge, A Drop in the Well.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

"A-ah!" Jacqueline lets out a slight yelp as the sloth whacks the bottle out of her hand, and her eyes watch the bottle as it makes its trip around, eventually landing in the sloth's mouth.

Jacqueline stares, dumbfounded.

...That particular batch was far more effective than she expected it to be...

"Sorry about that..." Jacqueline says, glancing back to Neriah.

They continue walking...and her eyes snap to Neriah as the other woman speaks.

"T-they said that? That's awful! You don't deserve that!" Jacqueline says, shocked. "It's not true! You're not a horrible person! You're-"

One hand reaches for Neriah's shoulder....but then Jacqueline stops, her eyes locked onto the altar, and the bowl contained upon it.

She stands there, frozen, her breathing going short.

That's right...

If anyone here is 'horrible', it's...

She faintly hears a voice saying her name, but... that image of Adlehyde in flames from that awful mindscape burns itself into her mind again. Of finding herself tied to the Memorial Tree, while her home burns around her...

I...

I could've...

I should've...

An image of one of her dearest and most precious friends, invoking a great power at the cost of her life force, for her sake...

Before this can progress any further Odjn barges in, taking the bowl upon herself.

Jacqueline falls backward onto the ground, catching herself by instinct. She still stares ahead, eyes wide, breath short, and body shaking.

DG: Jacqueline Barber has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, A Drop in the Well.
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

Their progress ends all too abruptly - and Noeline stares for a moment in mild disbelief at the featureless wall at which their progress ends, the altar sat forebodingly in front of it as if to welcome them. "... I hardly think this is part of the original design of the place," she mutters quietly under her breath, but for all her bravado she's more than happy to let Neriah go forth first, watching silently as the woman laments her position and adds to the oppressive atmosphere around them.

Fortunately, she has other things to focus on right at this moment - and lightly steps forward with an amused and quiet chuckle, patting Riesenlied on the arm. "... she has a point, you know," she notes softly to the horned woman, watching as Odjn rockets forwards. "It really is quite the hobby you have. ... at least allow us to help from time to time, hm?" she teases, the noise of it small and lost in the silence of the altar

... still... she might tease, but simply looking at the bowl tickles the back of her mind, as if Duras Drum were prickling at the thought of being anywhere near that fluid. Slowly, her expression fades as she steps carefully up to the somewhat drained bowl, much of her humour falling away as she lets out another sigh. A hand goes to Jacqueline's shoulder, resting there in a rare show of contact as she closes her eyes.

"Regrets and mistakes are only natural," she decides after a moment, her voice held steady as she curls into a cocksure grin. "If I am supposed to fall to my knees and apologize for having them, you will be a long while waiting. I have far more important promises to keep, and Filgaia has had more than enough time spent dwelling in the past while the present decays."

Her gaze doesn't waver - even if she doesn't have a lot to direct it at bar featureless stone.

DG: Noeline has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, A Drop in the Well.
===========================<* Baskar Sacred Grounds *>============================
=======================<* CHALLENGE - A Drop in the Well *>=======================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Wits      |Challenge Rating: 2          | 
----------------------------< Challenge Information: >----------------------------
 There is no way forward here. Only an altar. Within the altar, a bowl full    
 of trembling, blackened water. An inscription on the altar reads simply,      
 'DESPAIR IS THE SNAKE THAT CONSUMES ITS OWN TAIL' and, just beneath the       
 well-like bowl: 'EAT THYSELF.' The blackened water seems to respond to        
 negative thoughts, secret confessions, past failings, seeming to DEMAND       
 them... or demand to be consumed. To drink it is to relive the deepest of     
 downward spirals, your greatest shortcomings, those things you dare not       
 admit are hopeless. Either way will make the very landscape shift and part    
 to open a way forward. Will you consume, or be consumed? Or will you find     
 your own way?                                                                 
=Dungeon Conditions: Overwhelm================================================
======================<* Baskar Sacred Grounds - Round 2 *>=======================
=========================< Results - A Drop in the Well >=========================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Riesenlied                          5 --(5)--> 10                  Pass
Dragon's Tear                       1   Wits    Effects: Cleanse              
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Neriah Parringer                    5 --(5)--> 10                  Pass
Excavator's Lens                    2   Wits    Effects: Enlighten            
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jacqueline Barber                   10 --(5)--> 15                 Pass
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC                
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Noeline                             5 --(5)--> 10                  Pass
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------< Party >-------------------------------------
Leader: Riesenlied                  15 --(20)--> 35                Pass
Conditions: Bad Luck(1)|Overwhelm
Effects: Cleanse|Enlighten(1)
================================< Dream Chasers >=================================
DG: The party led by Riesenlied has passed this challenge! The party gained 20 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.

The face staring back at Neriah from the surface of the water is not, in fact, one face. Riesenlied might be able to see hints of it, receptive as she is to the moods and thoughts of others.

A pair of deeply-sunken eyes staring up at her from within the lined face of a middle-aged man, his hair shot with silver. A thousand fires burn behind eyes as pale and blue as Neriah's own.

Your fate is to walk far from the light, yet see clearly.

Neriah widens her eyes. The water ripples. The face within it distorts as rippling darkness pours through it. It's no longer a human face now; it contorts into multiple faces, some with multiple eyes and multiple maws and the gills of a fish or the eyes of an insect or the fangs of a lion or the talons of a crow or the wings of a bat. A thousand chains crisscross those faces. Up from the water, a reaper-like figure begins to rise, though only Neriah and Riese can see it clearly.

Neriah's heart thuds against her rib cage. Each pulse of blood through her veins sends a shooting pain through her palm. Gradually, her pupils begin to shrink down to small points.

And then Odjn spares the rest of them a world of hurt by chugging the waters of absolute despair.

The pain in Neriah's hand abruptly ceases. Stumbling back, she drops to her knees beside Jacqueline, her eyes wide and dazed.

"Wh-what happened," she asks unsteadily.

DG: Jacqueline Barber has drawn a new Challenge.
=========================<* Baskar Sacred Grounds *>==========================
==========================<* CHALLENGE - Cave In *>===========================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Agility   |Challenge Rating: 2          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 The foundations of these grounds are not exactly stable. Something is         
 winding its way through this place, causing irregularities and weakness.      
 Which might explain why everything seems to spontaneously start to crumble    
 above you, as if the very ceiling had given up. Chunks of debris start to     
 fall, threatening to bury you in its hopelessness. Better start running!      
=Dungeon Conditions: Tire=====================================================
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

There's a hand on her shoulder. This thought breaks through that which weighs on her mind and Jacqueline looks to the side...and when she does, she's surprised to see Noeline there. It was not the sort of gesture she expected from her, so she stares at her for a moment before nodding her thanks and trying to get to her feet.

"I...I don't know..." Jacqueline murmurs, shutting her eyes tight and shaking her head, as if trying to shake away those thoughts from before. She doesn't know what Neriah went through...but she can imagine what it must have been like, from her own experience. She glances to the altar, then, where Odjn lies.

"...Is...is she alright...?" She asks, concerned.

But, they have to proceed. It is very carefully that Jacqueline progresses forward...but as she moves forward, she can feel it.

This corridor...it isn't safe. There's something there, something she can't see, but it's presence can be felt, in the way the walls crack and shift.

Jacqueline moves quickly, drawing a Crest and invoking an earth pillar that shoots upward. It supports the ceiling...but it won't last long.

"Move! This place is falling apart!" Jacqueline warns. With that she breaks into a run. Behind her, her earth pillar crumbles, succumbing to that same something as the ceiling itself begins to crumble and fall dangerously down...

DG: Jacqueline Barber has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Cave In.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

"I... I hope so," Neriah murmurs back to Jacqueline. She climbs back to her feet with obvious effort.

The pressure of all this raw Malevolence continues to gnaw at her. Soon enough, the throbbing pain in her hand is back. A tiny voice in her thoughts continues to urge her to embrace her monster.

Neriah squeezes her eyes closed for a moment and forces it down. She can't listen to the voice anymore. Too many bad things happen when she does.

When she opens her eyes again, it's as the sound of something cracking reaches her ears. Chunks of debris begin to tumble down. She widens her eyes.

Jacqueline's earthen pillar helps, for what it is, but the time to get moving is now and Neriah seems to realize it as well as anyone. Bursting forward as fast as she possibly can, the dark-haired girl darts past the pillar and begins to run. Exhausted and plagued by her inner ghost though she is, fight-or-flight response doesn't usually sleep, and right now she's in full-bore flight mode.

Then a thought occurs to her.

"Riese!!" she shouts as she turns back, looking over her shoulder with wide eyes to ensure the person who's been nicer to her than just about anyone is alright. She'll double back if necessary to speed the reformed Metal Demon along...!

DG: Neriah Parringer has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Cave In.
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

Riesenlied gazes rather alarmedly as she stares once more upon the face of that creased, middle-aged man. The one she'd seen in Kislev when she battled the Manifestation that had come from within Neriah. "... don't give him power over you," Riese encourages... yet as the face contorts and turns into a nightmarish manifestation-- she can't help but shake her head.

"I-- who is that...?"

The ground begins to tremble, as she gasps and scoops up Odjn in her arms and yelps as she stumbles to one knee. "J-just keep going! We'll be okay!" She is trying to hurry, but the ground's shaking is definitely slowing her down a lot... not to mention the Malevolence, which continues to tear away at her.

"Noeline...!" she requests once more.

DG: Riesenlied has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Cave In.
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

Noeline doesn't say anything in reply to Jacqueline, at least - which perhaps makes her comfort a rather cold one, and the expression on her face says that she knows it. Still, it's there, and offered without comment as the path ahead of them opens up and allows them a way onwards.

Besides, her values are perhaps a little off when compared to anyone else. The strained creaking that echoes from the ceiling above them - a prelude to crumbling stone and the groaning of broken support pillars - is a certain kind of a relief. Clear and present dangers, those she can deal with a lot more easily and simply than ambigious feelings and spiritual challenges; it takes her only a moment to hop up onto a familiar perch on top of Strife, the little ARM beeping urgently as it begins to fire its engines and rocket forwards.

"I have her!" she calls out to Jacqueline as she sweeps Riesenlied up into her arms; the momentum is a little tricky to get used to, and she nearly pitches to one side before correcting her balance and pulling Riesenlied more firmly into her grasp. "Hold on tightly!"

DG: Noeline has used her Tool Strife toward her party's challenge, Cave In.
=========================<* Baskar Sacred Grounds *>==========================
==========================<* CHALLENGE - Cave In *>===========================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Agility   |Challenge Rating: 2          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 The foundations of these grounds are not exactly stable. Something is         
 winding its way through this place, causing irregularities and weakness.      
 Which might explain why everything seems to spontaneously start to crumble    
 above you, as if the very ceiling had given up. Chunks of debris start to     
 fall, threatening to bury you in its hopelessness. Better start running!      
=Dungeon Conditions: Tire=====================================================
====================<* Baskar Sacred Grounds - Round 3 *>=====================
============================< Results - Cave In >=============================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Riesenlied                          10 --(10)--> 20                Fail
Rush                                0   Agility Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Neriah Parringer                    10 --(5)--> 15                 Pass
Rush                                0   Agility Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jacqueline Barber                   15 --(10)--> 25                Fail
Rush                                0   Agility Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Noeline                             10 --(5)--> 15                 Pass
Strife                              1   Agility Effects: Cleanse              
----------------------------------< Party >-----------------------------------
Leader: Riesenlied                  35 --(20)--> 55                Pass
Conditions: Tire(2)
Effects: Cleanse
==============================< Dream Chasers >===============================
DG: The party led by Riesenlied has passed this challenge! The party gained 20 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> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline starts running forward, but Neriah's call grabs her attention.

Riesenlied...!!

Jacqueline slows down, staring behind her in fear. Riesenlied was lagging behind them, and while carrying Odjn she couldn't catch up quickly...

...Fortunately, however, Noeline was there, swooping in with Strife and scooping her up, pulling her safely out of danger.

It's Neriah who mades to make it to sturdy, stable ground first, followed by Noeline and Riesenlied.

But Jacqueline...

She knows she's not going to make it like this. She shuts her eyes tight, grits her teeth and invokes her Crest again. Behind her an earth pillar shoots out from the ground, slamming into her back and sending her flying forward as the corridor behind them finally collapses.

Jacqueline lands with a wince next to the others and hauls herself to her feet a bit gingerly.

"...Is everyone alright...?" She asks, glancing around.

DG: Noeline has drawn a new Challenge.
=========================<* Baskar Sacred Grounds *>==========================
=======================<* CHALLENGE - Shifting Sands *>=======================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Brute     |Challenge Rating: 2          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 Isn't it just the worst when you're taking a nice, leisurely stroll through   
 potentially cursed ruins and you suddenly find yourself in a sandtrap? No?    
 Never have that happen to you? Well, now you have a fun story to tell your    
 friends and family, because you've currently found yourself stepping into an  
 entire pit of quicksand trying to drag you down into the depths of its        
 liquefied soil! Hurray! That is, if you manage to survive it. That might be   
 a thing to prioritize over thinking up the brilliant stinger to your future   
 anecdote. Here's hoping you're not the type prone to panic!                   
=Dungeon Conditions: Exhaust==================================================
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

The ceiling isn't the only thing to be collapsing around them, it seems. Bare moments after diving through the last of the rubble and stone crashing down to block their path, a second network of purple cracks and rivulets race through the structure once more - except this time, it's not the ceiling above that threatens to break apart under the creeping influence, but the floor beneath them instead.

There is an almighty crack as something critical gives way, and abruptly the group's footing fails, torn from under them as a localized earthquake seems to rip through the ruins. Desperately, Noeline tries to stay balanced on Strife, to ride out the shockwave - but a falling pillar knocks the ARM to one side with an electronic squeal of pain, and it's all the twintailed demon can do to hang onto Riese as they fall amidst dust and chipped blocks of stone.

For all that the situation looks hopeless, their landing is... oddly soft, cushioned by fine sand. An instant passes, and perhaps you might dare to think you're safe - but the quiet hiss in the air immediately sets Noeline to attention, and the demon swears under her breath as she flings an arm upwards, as if to reach back up the way she fell.

"--spread yourselves out! Find something to hang onto on the walls, if you can! Or better, a rope!" she orders urgently, her tone clipped and rapid as she clings to Riesenlied with one hand. "--Trouble, will you hurry up!"

There's a confused whistle from above, and the ARM manages to bobble down in the direction of the group's fall, moving towards them-- evidently slower than Noeline would like. Her large crimson scythe abruptly melts out into her hand, apparently formed from within her - and then it liquifies again, reaching up oddly to wrap around the ARM in a very strange grasp of living metal. "--pull up, damn it!"

DG: Noeline has used her Tool Trouble toward her party's challenge, Shifting Sands.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

"But," Neriah calls, her eyes wide - but Noeline's got Riesenlied well in hand.

Besides - there's someone else here who has been kind to her. As Jacqueline goes down, Neriah darts in; the dark-haired girl throws Jay's arm over her shoulder and does her best to haul her past the worst of the crumbling, before they both land beside the other.

Taking a moment to collect herself, Neriah moves to fall in beside Riesenlied. The woman's questions leave her pressing her lips together. "I don't know who it is," she admits, her voice quiet. "All I know is he's Number One. There are seven people I see in my dreams... my mom is Number Seven. He's the only one who's actively scary, though...."

She can say no more before the ground gives way. With a yelp, Neriah flails, her arms pinwheeling - until she lands in soft sand.

A little too soft.

s Noeline shouts urgently, Neriah... doesn't do anything. She straightens herself a little, letting the sand suck her down bit by bit.

And then she starts taking things off.

"Lighten yourselves," she says crisply, chucking her excavator's lens towards the nearest patch of solid ground. Her backpack follows, then her gun belt. "Don't move your legs. Let the sand harden around you before you try to move."

The first thing she does is begin to move her upper body back and forth, working a gap open in the sand around her upper body, but not her lower. Only then does she begin to clear quicksand away with short sweeps of her shovel, moving to extract her legs. And then, in shockingly short time, she's free.

Diligently, she sets to work digging at the others. "The more you panic, the more you create air pockets that make it suck you down," explains the professional Excavator.

DG: Neriah Parringer has used her Tool Trusty Shovel toward her party's challenge, Shifting Sands.
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

Riesenlied looks on with concern towards Jacqueline and Neriah as the former has to harm herself through inventive propelling via earth pillar... but ultimately lets out a relieved sigh as the ceiling crashes behind them safely, with no one pinned beneath.

She looks rather haggard, worn from the way the malevolent power slowly saps at her energy. It is a fool's errand for her to have come here, but...

"Number One..." Riesenlied murmurs, committing that name to her memory. "He was the one who pushed back at me... at that time..."

Her eyes widen-- as the ground gives way, and Noeline orders them to spread out -- and Neriah has advice on how to deal with quicksand. She clutches Odjn a little tighter around her.

"... o-okay," she nods towards Neriah, trying to not panic and stir more air around her legs to let the sand harden around her. "Jacqueline, could you please create some earth to help us?"

For her own means, she draws that flute once more, playing a soft melodic tune of intricate nature...

... and the fluttering of wings can be heard in the distance, as garden-variety death chickens arrive with Riesenlied's summons! "Cucco, help us out!"

She holds onto the cucco's legs admiringly, waiting for Neriah to break at her sandy tomb -- then lets Cucco hoist her up once that's done...!

DG: Riesenlied has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Shifting Sands.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

"Th-thank you..." Jacqueline murmurs, looking up to Neriah with a grateful nod as she supports her. She doesn't have any time to dwell on what Neriah was saying to Riesenlied. As she tries to get to her feet the floor underneath her gives way, and Jacqueline finds herself falling into a lake of sand. It's a better landing than it could've been...or at least that was how it seemed at first, but she can suddenly feel a sensation, like the ground trying to pull her underneath...

"R-right...mustn't panic..." Jacqueline murmurs, glancing toward Neriah. She felt like she ended up in this situation often...but at least this time it wasn't mud.

Jacqueline takes a deep breath, carefully reaching into her bags and drawing out one of her potions. She takes a swig to keep up her strength before nodding toward Riesenlied.

"I'll try..." Jacqueline draws out another Crest and invokes it. Tendrils of earth rise up from outside of the sand pit and shoot downward, offering something to hold onto and climb out with. And if necessary, she could always use them to try and pull people out...

DG: Jacqueline Barber has used her Tool Brewte Force toward her party's challenge, Shifting Sands.
=========================<* Baskar Sacred Grounds *>==========================
=======================<* CHALLENGE - Shifting Sands *>=======================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Brute     |Challenge Rating: 2          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 Isn't it just the worst when you're taking a nice, leisurely stroll through   
 potentially cursed ruins and you suddenly find yourself in a sandtrap? No?    
 Never have that happen to you? Well, now you have a fun story to tell your    
 friends and family, because you've currently found yourself stepping into an  
 entire pit of quicksand trying to drag you down into the depths of its        
 liquefied soil! Hurray! That is, if you manage to survive it. That might be   
 a thing to prioritize over thinking up the brilliant stinger to your future   
 anecdote. Here's hoping you're not the type prone to panic!                   
=Dungeon Conditions: Exhaust==================================================
====================<* Baskar Sacred Grounds - Round 4 *>=====================
=========================< Results - Shifting Sands >=========================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Riesenlied                          20 --(5)--> 25                 Pass
Force                               0   Brute   Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Neriah Parringer                    15 --(5)--> 20                 Pass
Trusty Shovel                       2   Brute   Effects: Strengthen           
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jacqueline Barber                   25 --(5)--> 30                 Pass
Brewte Force                        1   Brute   Effects: Fanfare and Strengthe
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Noeline                             15 --(5)--> 20                 Pass
Trouble                             2   Brute   Effects: Strengthen           
----------------------------------< Party >-----------------------------------
Leader: Riesenlied                  55 --(20)--> 75                Pass
Conditions: Exhaust(1)
Effects: Strengthen(1)
==============================< Dream Chasers >===============================
DG: The party led by Riesenlied has passed this challenge! The party gained 20 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.
DG: Riesenlied has drawn a new Challenge.
=========================<* Baskar Sacred Grounds *>==========================
======================<* CHALLENGE - Despair of Life *>=======================
|Type: Final       |Dungeon Ability: Wits      |Challenge Rating: 4          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 There's something here, in the heart of the Baskar grounds. Pulsing illness   
 like the beat of a fetid heart. Malevolence both emanates and draws towards   
 it, a blood that grows thicker and more powerful every time that it flows     
 towards that thing in the distance. With how powerfully it seems to warp the  
 fabric of space, it is difficult to make out just what it could be within     
 this torrent... and it also seems disinclined to allow you near. Every pulse  
 grows stronger, more violent. Every outpouring of Malevolence seems directed  
 against you, digging talons deep into your soul, dredging up every regret     
 you have ever experienced. Give up. Why are you still here? You can't win.    
 Everything you do is pointless. You are a twinkle in an oblivious and         
 uncaring existence. Give in. Surrender. Isn't it nicer to not try?            
 Surrender. GIVE UP.                                                           
                                                                               
 And ever-stronger it goes, creating a battleground out of your soul you will  
 have to wage bloody war against in order to get to where you want to be.      
=Dungeon Conditions: Suffer, Vault============================================
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

The little ARM's engines whine, and ever so slowly, Noeline begins to extricate herself out of the immediate pit they're in, their downwards motion stymied by the pod's slowly climbing momentum; she keeps an arm around Riesenlied as well, and while that obviously taxes the little white sphere Noeline has clung her extremely makeshift grappling hook onto, it's enough to lift them out of immediate danger, pulling them slowly clear to a neutral position.

It's also enough to give them time to take in Neriah's advice properly, and let the Excavator get to work on freeing their legs; the first instant she can, Noeline pulls her legs up, drawing them out of the sand as she curls up higher. The invocation of Jacqueline's crest sets the sandtrap quivering with odd motion, as the rivulets of sinking sand are suddenly forced to worm their way around several solid pillars; it's on one of these that Noeline plants her feet, hefting herself back up to her full height--

--just in time to watch with a distinctly uncertain glance as a number of cuccos, somehow drawn down into this hellish landscape, suddenly emerge to assist Riesenlied with her own ascent. "I realize that people call them malevolent creatures, but I'm not terrifically satisfied with that as an explanation for their being here, you realize," she mutters to herself.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

Finally, the four make it to the centre clearing upon the grounds that once were used as a ritual of a kind. There is a massive wooden gate here that once held reverence to a Guardian, but it has become so faded and diminished that it remains little more than a barren effigy... perhaps a reminder that even those that sustain the world are not eternal.

Yet, it is also here, in the den of the forgotten, that the sustenance that holds that which creates such woe is strongest. Upon the altar is a black-light shimmer, emanating outward with a wanton and fetid cruelty. The object -- the something that rests at the heart of the altar twists and warps at everything it can, poring against every fabric of your being...

Riesenlied is perhaps the first to drop to her knees, clutching Odjn ever more tenderly. The rending blade of Malevolence is especially harmful, as she gasps and starts to choke for a moment...

Yet...

A shine comes from within the heart of the Dragon's Tear, as she struggles past the pain and the anxiety--

--even as every single visible tendril tries to wear away at the very things that make her her...

... even as Nasrin continues to frown at her, the frozen cross shattered in the distance. She shakes her head... even as Riesenlied weakly rises to her feet.

You cannot look away forever.

"... many a time my circumstance has led me to question our existence ..."

She stamps her misshapen, Draconic foot as she continues to pull herself up, teeth gritted with an exertion of effort.

"We are beaten, downtrodden, cast away.

'Tainted' in every sense of the word...

To be treated no better than gutter trash."

Odjn's ears flicker a little as she starts to stir from her drug-induced coma.

"Yet in wandering out here, I have come to realise a thing.

This world of ours is old, fragile and hurting...

And it is the hand of no one person's to fix."

She concentrates harder, and raises the Tear aloft -- and a shimmering banner flies in the wind, made of ethereal cloth, to push against the toxic presence.

"In my travels here in Ignas, I am more emboldened to the task...

To push against that despair that enshrouds the scattered.

My tools are compassion, understanding and collaboration...

And in that faith I will see that our new world is realised!"

The banner's aura starts to explode in a large radius, a feeling of peace and softness that seeks to counter the permeating sensation of vileness... will it be enough?

DG: Riesenlied has used her Tool Dragon's Tear toward her party's challenge, Despair of Life.
<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

At least this time Neriah wore tight enough shorts to prevent sand infiltration. It's not fun.

Enough gets up her shirt that by the time shedigs her friends out as best she can, Neriah is obligated to pull the hem of her tank top out and shake it aggressively, grumbling as sand particles tumble out of it and to the ground. "Damn it, it's in my boots, too," she mutters, but thinks better of unbuckling them and shaking them out. For one thing, they're too tall to make that convenient; for another, time seems to be of the essence, and she's tired.

The ambient Malevolence is slowly wearing down. And there's more ahead, pulsing like a fever heartbeat through Neriah's temples.

She can feel blood beading through the creases of her right palm, smeared into her hand by her tight leather glove. Closing her hand, she tries to bury the pain.

As Riesenlied falls, it seems like Neriah notices nothing. The world outside of herself closes around her as she stares ahead, into that roiling vortex of raw, overpowering despair.

I deserve to be summarily executed.

I'll never be more than a monster.

Why even try?

Tilting her head back, Neriah holds her arms out at her sides - and those around her can feel it. A deep, sickening feeling that mingles with the pall of Malevolence in the air. The darkness of this place and Neriah's power are not the same. But they tangle together; the latter feeds from the former.

Blooming out of Neriah's body, coils of darkness begin to spill. They don't go far; just writhing around her, as if threatening to swallow her. Her pupils have dilated out of existence; as her hair streams around her face, beginning to go pale from the tips on outward, her eyes have become simple, hollow pools of white, growing almost terrifyingly wide. Her lips begin to part. Something is about to happen again.

She inhales. The urge wants to bubble out of her like a silent scream. The urge to destroy everything. To spill the blood of everyone who has ever wronged her.

Her lips move stiffly - and what emerges is not a scream. It's a whisper, in three layered voices. One of them is impossibly deep, rumbling from the depths of some impossible chasm.

" R i e s e , " she rumbles.

" J a y ."

" M i k a i a ."

" M I K A I A . "

The darkness rumbling around Neriah shakes the earth - but even as it feasts on that absolute despair, gobbling up Malevolence like a vast vacuum... it struggles to claim her completely. Her pupils come back into focus for a second, then fade out again, then appear. The girl trembles, muscles straining as some part of her - some tiny, atrophied ray of hope - struggles to prevent what she has allowed too many times. Struggles to prevent the monster from swallowing her and emerging into this world.

" N O , " she shrieks. "NOT. THIS. TIME."

DG: Neriah Parringer has used her Tool Excavator's Lens toward her party's challenge, Despair of Life.
<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

Carefully, Noeline steps down towards the altar, her eyes fixed upon it; she's at Riesenlied's side as she does so, pacing slowly in the direction of the centrepiece, when the first wave of malevolent power abruptly washes over her. As if in response, the air around her suddenly flickers and burnts into a quick black flame, not the dim eldritch light of Malevolence but the power of the Hades Guardian manifesting abruptly around her.

It seems easier, comes easier than it has in the past. Noeline's not honestly certain whether it's her own familiarity with the Medium, or Duras Drum's relationship to her having perhaps a little more respect in it than previously, or perhaps just a protective moment from the Guardian. Either way, it isn't exactly the time to ask, because she'd rather not jeopardize the safety the corona around her provides.

It still hurts, mind you. The flames tear at her body, which isn't quite as accepting of the Guardian's power as she herself is; she winces and grits her teeth as she watches Riesenlied fall to her knees, and Neriah's scream of defiance, and slowly summons her scythe back to her hands.

The black flame flickers along its edge - and with a sweep of the blade, she's sent a thin line of power forwards, the pull of it seeming to drag the aura of the Dragon's Tear forwards to provide them with a path forwards.

DG: Noeline has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Despair of Life.
<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Jacqueline breathes a sigh of relief when they're finally free of the quicksand. She offers Neriah a thankful smile, glad that she was there to provide them some helpful pointers on the matter.

She pulls herself to her feet and moves on. She gives the gate a passing glance. But as they progress...she can feel it. A Malevolence, deeper, darker, and more terrible than any she has ever felt, reaching out to her, seeking to bury itself deep in her heart and very soul, to rip out every shred of happiness and replace it with despair. It weighs down on her, forcing her to her knees, like an impossible weight had been added to her shoulders...

...What could she possibly hope to accomplish? She wasn't anything special. Anyone else put in her position could do the same things she had. She was surrounding by strong people, who could do amazing things...

And what was she?

In the grand scheme of things, she might as well be nothing more than a child playing with a chemistry set and a deck of cards.

It didn't have to be her. She never really understood why people looked up to her...she didn't deserve it. She just followed the guidelines and things happened. They looked up to her...but when people really needed her, she failed them.

She would continue to fail them.

It would be better if she stopped trying...

And suddenly, she hears her name.

Jacqueline stares upward, her unfocused eyes eventually landing on Neriah, who is struggling desperately against that which roils within her.

...Maybe...maybe there was something, however small it was, she offer after all...

"N-Neriah..." Jacqueline murmurs, her voice weak. "I...I believe in you..."

DG: Jacqueline Barber has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Despair of Life.
=========================<* Baskar Sacred Grounds *>==========================
======================<* CHALLENGE - Despair of Life *>=======================
|Type: Final       |Dungeon Ability: Wits      |Challenge Rating: 4          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 There's something here, in the heart of the Baskar grounds. Pulsing illness   
 like the beat of a fetid heart. Malevolence both emanates and draws towards   
 it, a blood that grows thicker and more powerful every time that it flows     
 towards that thing in the distance. With how powerfully it seems to warp the  
 fabric of space, it is difficult to make out just what it could be within     
 this torrent... and it also seems disinclined to allow you near. Every pulse  
 grows stronger, more violent. Every outpouring of Malevolence seems directed  
 against you, digging talons deep into your soul, dredging up every regret     
 you have ever experienced. Give up. Why are you still here? You can't win.    
 Everything you do is pointless. You are a twinkle in an oblivious and         
 uncaring existence. Give in. Surrender. Isn't it nicer to not try?            
 Surrender. GIVE UP.                                                           
                                                                               
 And ever-stronger it goes, creating a battleground out of your soul you will  
 have to wage bloody war against in order to get to where you want to be.      
=Dungeon Conditions: Suffer, Vault============================================
====================<* Baskar Sacred Grounds - Round 5 *>=====================
========================< Results - Despair of Life >=========================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Riesenlied                          25 --(5)--> 30                 Pass
Dragon's Tear                       1   Wits    Effects: Cleanse              
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Neriah Parringer                    20 --(5)--> 25                 Pass
Excavator's Lens                    2   Wits    Effects: Enlighten            
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jacqueline Barber                   30 --(10)--> 40                Fail
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC                
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Noeline                             20 --(10)--> 30                Fail
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC                
----------------------------------< Party >-----------------------------------
Leader: Riesenlied                  75 --(35)--> 110               Pass
Conditions: Suffer(1)|Vault(1)
Effects: Cleanse|Enlighten(1)
==============================< Dream Chasers >===============================
DG: You have overcome the dungeon's trials! This run is a success!
DG: The party led by Riesenlied has successfully explored Baskar Sacred Grounds!
=========================<* Baskar Sacred Grounds *>==========================
=========================<* CHALLENGE - Anomalous *>==========================
|Type: Discovery   |Dungeon Ability: Conclusion|Challenge Rating: 1          | 
--------------------------< Challenge Information: >--------------------------
 It's there. There, perched upon an altar. An orb. Perfectly spherical,        
 crystalline. A black and blue and violet swirl clouds the glassy surface of   
 this strange, large gem, glowing with an ebb like the steady beat of a        
 heart. And every pulse spews Malevolence through the air like a glut of       
 lifeblood. But it's not just that: as the Malevolence spreads and             
 intensifies through the air, through the land, the crystal seems to draw      
 that impurity back -in- like it was breathing in air. Like a sponge creating  
 more water for itself to absorb. It rises in the air, space twisting and      
 turning. Everything around it feels like molasses. And within the morass of   
 its presence, emotional imprints feed visions. Visions of a small village, a  
 forgotten hamlet on the fringes of society. A name.                           
                                                                               
 'Wehaca'                                                                      
                                                                               
 And then it is gone within a bloated twist of corruption, leaving only        
 meager remnants of the twisted impurity behind.                               
=Dungeon Conditions: Treasure=================================================
<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

Each Drifter gathered here stands their ground, in the battlefield of their very own soul.

Neriah stands against everything that threatens to tear out of her, to mingle with the pull of Malevolence that intoxicates within the air. She holds close to those that have cared for her, taking those names into her as guideposts in the dark.

Her ray of hope shines, like a lighthouse, as Noeline stares deep into herself. Into the impossibility that she is, a Guardian-blessed Hyadean, a contradiction on both sides. In this moment, despite their strained and conflicted relationship, the Guardian of Illusion lends credence with flame that shields her from the poison of Malevolence.

That wreathing flame pushes back, as Jacqueline Barber dwells on that which she could not stop. Like a force of nature, the Metal Demons set themselves upon her hometown, and she wishes she could have stopped a hurricane. Yet within that despair, in her grief over her inability to find her own identity, she discovers the strength that she lends to others.

And the banner continues to fly, as the last strains of Malevolence begin to fade away-- sucked back as if it were some kind of substance that could be withdrawn from air.

The visions of a small village, forgotten to all but the very few that dwell there, is seen.

'Wehaca'

And then it is gone, the sensation gone as fast as it came before...

The Tear begins to falter, its light palpitating as Riesenlied's power wanes. "... everyone... is everyone-- all right?" she asks.

Odjn turns and twists to murmur, "... the buzz went away..."

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah's right hand clutches her excavator's lens like a talisman as she strains to fight back the all-consuming darkness within her, even in the face of the streams of despair billowing through the sacred grounds. It takes everything she can possibly muster - but the lens helps to ground her. Joins with the thoughts of friends who have shown her kindness even when she didn't deserve it. I DON'T DESERVE IT. But it's worth living for. Joins with the thought of a room in a village she has not slept in in too many nights. THEY DON'T WANT ME. Riesenlied missed me. So did....

In her mind's eye, a small girl reaches out for a hug. There are big, shining eyes and a smile.

A soft word of encouragement from a friend.

The writhing darkness recoils in on itself. Neriah's hair settles back down around her face. With a gasp - in one voice, her own - she sags forward, nearly falling to her knees as she regains control of herself abruptly. The pain in her hand continues to pulse madly, but she can focus; her pupils fade back into view, rapidly growing to their normal size.

'Wehaca'

The name means nothing to her, but she hears it, closing her eyes and curling her arms around herself. As the Malevolence begins to fade, it gets easier. She finally does let herself drop to her knees now as the last of the tension bleeds out of her.

"I'm... I'm okay," she manages. Neriah's eyes open again; she looks up, gaze on Jay, then Riese, then Noeline.

"...Thanks," she murmurs, her voice tired but her heart in her throat.

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

Slowly, Jacqueline manages to haul herself to her feet. She couldn't do it alone. It was because everyone was with her that she was able to shake off the tendrils of Malevolence that threatened to tie her down and surrender to the despair that tried to overtake her.

...But, they needed her as much as she needed them.

Though she might not mean much on her own, people did look up to her. The least she could do was try and support them the best she could.

"...I...I'm okay." Jacqueline says. Her breathing is heavy, and she needs to hold onto something to support herself...but she's up, and moving, and offering a weak smile to everyone.

And then, she feels it, as a crystal before them draws the Malevolence back into itself...leaving them emotions and a name.

Wehaca.

It sounded familiar. Where had she...

Jacqueline stands up quickly. Too quickly, in fact, she nearly stumbles over, but she manages to stay standing.

"Wehaca...that's...that's Cyre's village!" Jacqueline says, shocked. What did it mean, to find that name here, from an artifact like that...?

<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

Slowly, ever so slowly, Noeline lets the power of the Guardian coursing through her dissipate. It's an unusual feeling, possibly even more unfamiliar than the acceptance of that power - the former is usually done purposefully, after all, whereas the last time she tried this she simply burnt herself out (mentally speaking) and let the power release on its own.

Though Noeline does keep her distance from Neriah, her stance isn't wary so much as perfectly accepting of the fact that a Hyadean wreathed in a Guardian's flames might be rather too much for the adventurer just at this moment; she inclines her head a little bit in a nod of acceptance, reaching down to assist Riesenlied to her feet.

She's forced to pause, wincing as the sensation of the orb's-- explosion? implosion? Perhaps both-- washes over her in a sudden wave. "I--" she starts to say, and grits her teeth against the sudden pounding in her head and the way all of her muscles scream at her for invoking the Guardian's power. She makes a noise of pain, but it's quickly swallowed. "I-- suggest you have a word with him quickly, hm?" she manages to finish this time.

Mercifully, she keeps any more comments to a minimum. Even if the Caravan Kinship does seem to be adept at picking up those destroyed hometowns, this isn't the time. Besides, it wouldn't make them all that different to Wayside.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

There was an exchange that Ethius and Riesenlied had long ago -- long before her identity was known, when they spoke of involving Jacqueline in all this. And at that moment, even then, Riesenlied stood by her ground to express that the merchant was more than just someone wrapped up in this... that she was stronger than he expected.

She still stands by that statement now, and to see her stand and flourish such is all the more heartwarming.

She offers a hand to Jacqueline, to help her up in turn... but her eyes widen. "Cyre's village...?" she murmurs. "... this incidence... is it not similar to the Hollow that we visited months ago, near Port Timney? I can't think this is coincidence..."

She turns to Noeline afterwards, as she reaches her hand as she stumbles for Noeline. "... we'd best start looking into that direction. A Statue could be at risk, after all."

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Neriah immediately lowers her eyelids at the mention of Cyre. "Oh, so that's probably where he learned how to not keep his hands off of girls' butts," she deadpans.

She pulls herself up from the ground again, raking both hands through her hair with a low sigh. "Wonder what Malevolence people would want with that guy's village, anyway," she muses with a cant of her head. "You really think it's one of the Statues...? Seems a lot of those have cropped up lately...."

Including the one she failed to smash. Just thinking about it makes her bitter again.

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

"Y-yes, I agree..." Jacqueline says with a nod toward Noeline. If anyone could tell them where it was, it would be Cyre.

She accepts Riesenlied's hand, using it to keep herself steady. She needs it, when she's still feeling not-so-stable on her feet...

"It's...entirely too similar, yes." She agrees with a nod, then glances toward Neriah. She...hoped the village wasn't entirely full of people like that, but...

"A Statue...I don't know, I couldn't really say." Jacqueline says, shaking her head. "But...if this is a sign that something might be about to happen to Wehaca, then we can't simply leave it be, whether or not a Statue is involved. We can't abandon them..."

She couldn't answer Neriah's question. She didn't know what they might want...but chances are, they wouldn't want them to get it.

<Pose Tracker> Noeline has posed.

For an instant, Noeline glances towards Neriah's response, her eyebrows slowly raising - then she huffs quietly under her breath as she provides Riesenlied with a shoulder to lean on. "I wonder. If there is a Statue associated with the village, my assumption would certainly be that it were Fengalon's, given Cyre's Guardian of worship, but-- I thought I had caught word somewhere that that one had been located...?"

She frowns as she tries to search her memory, before letting out an abrupt sigh. "In any case, whatever it is hardly matters compared to what it could be. At the very least, a warning would probably be desirable. Perhaps we could ask a couple of scouts to keep an eye on the place, rather than immediately head there ourselves?" she adds as she gives Riesenlied a rather glum expression. The implication is obvious - 'perhaps it might be best to rest and recuperate a little first' is clearly written on her face.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

"... I am uncertain myself... but-- eh??" Riesenlied looks distracted for a moment at the mention of what Cyre does--

--before a cucco blissfully lands on her head, and distracts her from having to hear of the lewd things people do! "Oh, thank you, Cucco...!"

She looks towards Noeline with a nod, saying, "I'll send one of the Wings there... perhaps with someone who we can trust." She does kind of falter for a moment, gasping as she holds onto the Tear again.

Odjn stares towards it with narrowed eyes, and huffs, "Yeah, take a load off, geez! I could go for a Saucery Globe after all that. Do the Carakin still make 'em, Jay?"

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

"Yeah, he does seem like he's the wind-kitty kind of guy. Considering that he... kind of... is a wind... kitty," Neriah concedes a bit lamely.

A Cucco spares Riesenlied the explanation of why Neriah doesn't like Cyre. It also neatly derails Neriah's train of thought. As the group of them converse about the village, Neriah taps a finger against her lower lip, seeming to mull over the talk of the village and the statue. Her knees briefly brush together.

"...I think it's better if I stay out of this one," she murmurs. "It's hard for me to stay in control around Malevolence for some reason...."

Neriah trails off. Then she swallows lightly. "Riese," she ventures tentatively.

"...Can I... ...hug your cucco...?"

<Pose Tracker> Jacqueline Barber has posed.

"That's what I was told, yes." Jacqueline says with a nod toward Noeline, and then nods in agreement. "Yes, I think we all could all do with some rest."

She then nods toward Neriah,

"It's alright. I'm sure we'll be able to manage it...the important thing is that you stay safe." She says...and then glances toward Odjn.

"...I'm sure we could arrange it. Why don't we all go back and see?" She says offering her a smile...and Neriah too. If any member of her Kinship had a problem with her coming, Jacqueline would deal with it personally.

<Pose Tracker> Riesenlied has posed.

"... it's hard for me too," Riesenlied admits. "It tears away at my being... but... at the same time, where Malevolence goes, I know people suffer. I can't bear to see them harmed."

A pause, as the cucco bobbles on Riesenlied's head gently... and then flutters off in the direction of Neriah's arms. Yay!

Odjn grumps and goes, "I was the popular one once..." totally not jealous that her status of Mascot has been taken away from her!! Grr!!

"... you're still welcome home," Riese reminds Neriah again, in addition to what Jacqueline says. "Don't ever forget that."

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Something feathery this way flutters. Widening her eyes with an almost childlike wonder, Neriah holds her arm out and lets the cucco land in them.

Tentatively, Neriah shifts her grip around the clucking globe of fluffy bird... then tightens her arms a little, and hugs it to her.

She closes her eyes and presses her cheek into the soft, fluffy white feathers - and she smiles. Suddenly, everything about life feels a lot better. She just stand there, hugging the cucco and enjoying the feeling of having something fluffy and cute to hold on to.

Maybe life isn't so bad after all.

"I won't," she says as she opens her eyes again, smiling quietly at Riese. "Y'know... there are a lot of people in this world who could learn something about kindness from Jay and you. Thanks for not writing me off as irredeemable."

Neriah nods to Jay quietly. "...Alright. Let's go back."