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The Brittle King's Tragedy

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For the bulk of their adventure he had followed in silence, maintaining a distance from the rest of the group. While a lack of certain social skills may have well been the case, it was more to cover their flank. Old places like these were always full of shadowed corridors or secret passages, giving ample opportunities to be ambushed. He had taken the time to unshoulder his bow and nock an arrow from his quiver. Mostly he used his hearing in the dim, listening for the sounds of movement from behind.

His eyes remained forward.

It wasn’t long before they ran into things that thrive in places like these. “Not Ghouls.” He muttered, disappointment tinged his usually calm voice. He took a moment to asses the situation around him, taking into account those already engaged in melee with the creatures. He stood with his left shoulder facing forward and the bow raised. He hauled his already prepared arrow with a smooth and easy motion, taking in a breath as he did so. He picked his target, one that had the least chance of him hitting a party mate.

He loosed with an exhale, the twang of his bowstring adding to the noise of combat.

The arrow hit the creature in the head with a hollow thwack, the sound an arrow makes when it hits a dry and brittle piece of board. The creature staggered but didn’t fall, that was never a good sign. He drew another arrow and nocked it. He hauled again, then loosed too late after the creature had recovered, it simply swiped it from the air. They then faced each other, Ghoul Slayer dropping his bow without hesitation and drawing his short sword.

It soon proved unnecessary.

Ilyana’s dagger thudded into the side of its head, cold metal glinting in the dim light. The blade chewed through most of its head, the creature having been caught off guard in it’s desire to charge the armored man. Regardless, the creature still fought against the dagger, though that proved to be its own demise when it fell from the ledge. The Ghoul Slayer would give her a nod of respect.

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I see your party members fighting for their lives. Aren't you the least bit concerned you're missing out on the fun?

Natalya eyed her other companions. The lingering ghost's statement does raise a point. She can see that the other's seem to be having trouble dealing with these pesky enemies. Perhaps she should give them a hand? But should she? She's just a little girl after all and they're all consenting adults. Surely it's not her fault if they die trying. At least she will survive to tell the tale of how valiantly her companions died for her sake, for her safety and mostly for her purity.

"No, Mistress," Natalya mentally replied, "I'm sure they can handle it."

Oh, how brave of you lass! Your mistress is so proud of you.

Once more Natalya ignored the prattling apparition incessantly haunting her and instead focused on something else. While the other's were preoccupied with whatever kind of creature currently threatening their very lives, Natalya inconspicuously slipped away from the battle. So far no one has noticed her superbly decisive action yet. Everything good so far. A few more silent steps and she's out of the danger zone and was surprised to find herself almost at the edge of the platform.

That's a long way down lassie. Are you ready for a jump? I wouldn't mind the fall.

Realizing the potential danger she is in, Natalya slowly backed away from the edge, thanking a plethora of gods for her safety. She found it too convenient that she didn't fall down at all. But are the group now on some kind of platform? She can't see the end of the room though and the lantern's light doesn't reach far enough for her to make anything out. Surely there must be something to be found further up ahead. If only she had the courage to continue moving.

I find this expedition rather exciting. This place is rather marvelous too bad you can't see, though. A pity, actually.

Natalya grimaced at the ghost's chuckle. The Mistress was supposed to be her legal guardian but the ghost was doing less of guarding and instead more of being illegally annoying. She should have ditched the Mistress before entering this place. Or is the spirit truly useless?

Swallowing her pride, Natalya mentally asked the spirit. "Where do we go next, Mistress?"

Well, one of those vile creatures are still down there and there's some kind of exit down at the far end. Mind you, it was a very far end. Or go upwards. Whatever you do, I'll be here enjoying the show.

She did not know whether the Mistress was actually being useful or just leading Natalya to her untimely demise. But Natalya did not have much choice in that matter. Only one way to go, forward. With careful steps, Natalya began heading to where the supposed exit is, somewhere in that far, far end.

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"Well, that's done," Anatase says cheerfully, brushing Reaver particles out of his hair.

Through Celestine's pearl, he says: "Good to know the others can hold their own in a fight."

Anatase holds his hands out, palms pointed to the fallen lodepoints. The crystal lattice woven in his gloves seems to glow darker. After a heartbeat, the lodepoint he threw earlier shoots into his palm. He hefts the stone, pockets it, then shoots Celestine a grin.

"Show off."

"Onward!" Anatase says, pointing at Natalya, who is already making her way to the other side of the room.

The pair moves forward. Anatase makes a beeline for the two doors on the opposite wall; Celestine padds to the edge of the walkway, training a beam from her gauntlets to illuminate the dark floor below.

"Nothing here but a dark, deep hole. You like those, don't you?"

Anatase glares at her, then turns his attention to the two doors. "Two doorways here. There's more writing inside this one."

He remove the quartz lens from where it's fixed on his face, brushes his thumb on the tiger's-eye rim. Taking a few steps forward, he peers inside the doorway, sweeping the lens so it captures the full set of glyphs.

He steps back as soon as he's done. "Huh. No sign of the archaeologists either direction. Should we ask around? Didn't the old wizard man say he had something important to tell us after we were done fighting."

"I'll ask the hooded woman, and you go ask the old wizard man," Celestine says.

"Can't I talk to her?" Anatase asks hopefully.

Celestine gives him a very dry look. "Want to scare her off? No."

The pair splits up. After a few minutes, they rejoin, exchanging what they have learned. Anatase has also managed to acquire the ash walking stick one of the archaeologists may have dropped.

Twirling his new toy, he jabs the staff towards the first door. He addresses the rest of the group, "The archaeologists were probably in a rush to get out of here after they tipped over that jar. I think it's more likely they went up, trying to find a way out."

Without waiting for a response, he heads up the stairs, Celestine close behind. As before, both take the time to pass the figures on the staircase's walls through their lenses' view.

Upon entering the next room, Anatase immediately points at the disturbed carpets. "They've been here. Or at least, something has."

The pair sweeps their lenses across the script near the doorways, then stop. Anatase remains near the door, quietly observing the room and the one adjacent to it.

Edited by Csl

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Something continues to ping at the back of her mind: a faint chime of alarm at the sight of the tower in the distance, looming even in the lowlight of the torches. When she turns her gaze away, it is with pointed ignorance to the chill that rolls down her spine.

"They've been here. Or at least, something has."

Celestine shrugs at Anatase’s declaration, moves towards the wall to the left and gazes upon the mural with her tiger’s-eye lens, recording what seems to be an illustrated layout of the ziggurat etched against the stone. After some time, she pivots towards the doorway at the other end of the room, hovering by the entrance to peek into the next area. She blinks a bit into the darkness, peering wordlessly, and then—

Celestine takes an abrupt step backward, raises her gauntlets in sudden alarm, prepared to fire at the bugs should they come near and attack, but the swell of dark shapes eventually skitters off into the darkness, and the area they have left behind is—rather shockingly bare. From her vantage point, the exposed sandstone free from paints and minerals and what-not looks almost foreign, in the midst of a ziggurat so colorfully embellished with illustrated history and art across every corner, every crevice.

A subdued pulse of sorrow streaks through her gut, brought about by that archaeologist side that rarely surfaces, but is quietly replaced with a weary sense of resignation. Despite the loss of what could have been historical findings, a glimpse into centuries-past life, their immediate survival within the ziggurat takes higher priority.  

She turns to the right, studying the wall with a critical glance. With enough force and an extended time frame, she can theoretically bring down the obstruction and forge forward into the next one. “Well, there’s nothing to it,” she whispers into her pearl, deigning not to look at Anatase to see his reaction. Celestine pulls back her fist, gauntlet gleaming bright and ready to smack into the veneer wall when—

“I’m going to look for a proper door,” Anatase says, sounding mildly disapproving, and walks to the far end of the room and through the doorway, presumably to investigate the door that might lead to the one beyond the veneer wall.

“Suit yourself,” Celestine replies, but otherwise stays her hand, awaiting whatever might befall her companion.

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Having these strange memories was helpful, no matter how dubious it might seem he knew the memories given to him were somewhat handy. For now at least. So far the largest concern were the archaeologists, and given the nature of the Ziggurat he wasn't going to be too optimistic on their survival. On his group’s end of the troubles everyone was at least handy in combat. So far everyone had come out more or less unharmed. As he follows closely behind the duo he couldn’t help admit the treasure hunters came in handy during a fight. At least he couldn’t complain, he’s alive after all.  He did have to wonder where he could get gadgets like those. 

That and they at least saw merit in his experience with the entity in the tower.

‘Yeah, those gizmos would come in handy with old age creeping up on me.’

If there was anything that added weight to getting old it would have to be stairs. Azytzeen hated stairs, and it seemed this ancient place was just like any other. ’What is it with ancient civilizations and their love of long walks to and up stairs?' Regardless of whether he was old or just complaining he passed up on mentioning the possible shortcut. He wondered how far those missing wandered in. He certainly hoped he wasn’t going to have to carry corpses on the way out. Putting the thought aside he examined his surroundings intently, half to get a look and see if they would be climbing more stairs. 

While the treasure hunters had their fun he was at least thankful he didn’t have to climb more stairs. Already he stopped  as he tried to once more sort out the memories he had unwillingly traded for. The mural struck him as humorous, and without meaning to he even chuckled. He couldn’t say why but it seemed to be the case. No matter how hard he tried to grasp the memories they’d flutter away before he could make full sense of them. “It’s recent to….security purposes?” with his left hand he rubbed his chin in thought while tapping the flat of his sword against his shoulder.  Too lost in thought he didn’t notice the insects as they startled the female treasure hunter. “Damn..what is it about this place?”

I’m going to look for a proper door. 

Azytzeen looked up from thought. “Hold on, I think there is more to this room than just finding the exit, it might not be so simple.” He couldn’t be certain but he had no choice but to trust that the entity wasn't too much of a trickster. “This might be a prank of that creature or it could be true, before we go any further I want to check with you all first.” Hopefully they would lend an ear this time, for whatever reason the urge to be quick and move erratic made him more than a little worried. 
 

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Ghoul Slayer, as ever; followed in the usual unsociable silence he had maintained for most of this adventure. The more common sounds one would here from the strange fellow currently, was the tearing of cloth. As he kept rear guard he set his knife to work, cutting strips of cloth. Though for what they could only guess. It had started, really; the moment he has seen the insects scurry away, leaving the evidence of destruction behind.

“Keep watch for those bugs.” He said, suddenly. It was the only description he thought fitting. His voice was as calm and dispassionate despite the present dangers. He stuffed his makeshift rags into the satchel he carried, he had been right to grab the archaeologists’ robes. It had made enough rags for makeshift bandages and plenty for other uses. Satisfied he was well prepared he watched their flanks closely, making sure none of the creatures from before, or the insects; doesn’t catch them unawares.

Perhaps they were the reason the ones they are looking for cannot be found. He would keep his suspicions too himself, they required more observation.

He wasn’t particularly concerned about the structure of the place, at least not from an aesthetic point of view. Instead he looked for signs of traps. He paused. “Shhh.” He hissed, raising a finger to his helm. He slid the short sword from its sheath. Tilting his head also. “Someone help me hold the stairs, the rest of you watch our backs for whatever is inside of the walls.” Two sounds were not being made by their party. He did not like that.

“I don’t know what’s moving, but there are two of them.” He whispered. He stepped to one side on the entrance, poised to bring his sword down in a heavy chop. He kept calm, whatever it was, their best chance to handle it would be an ambush. If it didn’t already know they were here. As long as they could finish it quickly they might have enough time to deal with whatever was shaking those stones.

He just hoped nobody would forget to watch out for those bugs.

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A touch impatient, Anatase moves into the doorway of the second room and began examining every surface. Celestine remained at the veneer wall, keeping at the task of pounding through its surface.

A moment before the armored man raises his finger, both artifact-hunters freeze.

"There's something moving behind this," Celestine whispers into her earpiece, backing away from the veneer wall.

"Someone coming up the stairs," Anatase adds, quickly returning to the first room.

Both glance at Ghoul Slayer and nod. Celestine positions herself in the second room, halfway behind the doorway, her gauntlets coming to life with a soft humming noise. Anatase draws his scythe. A few flicks of his fingers and its hardlight shaft reforms into a short sickle handle connected to a length of chain. He grips the weapon in his left hand, his right holding two lodepoints.

Both wait silently for whatever threat first appears.

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Ilyana entered the room only to immediately distance herself from the group and head over to where she could hear the distinct sounds of water. Her sleek black attire rippled with paranoia given Obtenebra was on high alert after the encounter they had earlier. There was no voicing of her intent, no gesticulation meant to notify her companions, and clearly no other visual clue concerning what she was going to do. She didn’t care much for fellowship here but it wasn’t because she was anti-social. It was just that no one had intrigued her enough just yet. Reaching a rather shiny object, she noticed a distinct brush that was impeccably made. Placing it delicately within what one would consider her cloak, and then decides to enter the bathhouse, still not bothering to even acknowledge the others lest they communicate with her directly.

 

Entering the bathhouse makes her instantly homesick, wishing she could submerge herself in fragrant oils and warm waters back in one of her properties. She nearly let out a sigh as she moved around silently and brushed her fingers against anything she fancied. Once she enters the bedroom, however, she nearly moves to spread herself along the cushions, moving her hand to pick up one of the silken blankets but suddenly stopping as she notices the empty wicker chest and desert painting nearby. Briefly distracted, she marveled at the rich colors of the painting. For mere seconds she briefly regretted coming here instead of furthering her interests within her home but she would have little time to dwell on all that given the shuffling sounds she heard coming from where the painting was.

 

Silent steps brought her forward, her delicate hands moving the painting aside and peering into the now revealed area that housed….a woman? The way this woman clutched the sheets around her was drowned out by the look of terror present along her face as if she had just been violated. This caused Ilyana to freeze as she was inundated with empathy and recollections of the past. So much so that the lunge of the woman and grappling could not be avoided. Pulled into the room and covered once again, Ilyana blinks with surprise before critical thinking finally prevails and she wonders what the woman has been hiding from. The deduction that she might be one of the archaelogists they were tasked with finding if possible was easy to make but where her companion might be and why fear has gripped the woman became mysteries Ilyana yearned to know more about. Arms slid over to bring the woman closer to her, Obtenebra vibrating slightly as it felt something foreign pressed against it.

 

“Easy, I am not here to hurt you and am not alone. What is going on? Who or what are you obviously hiding from?”

 

The whispered tones had little trouble reaching the woman’s ears thanks to her proximity. Unaware of the threats looming outside for her companions, she waited for the woman’s response.

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