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A craggy landscape opens itself before the eye. Vast Mountains ebb and flow through dusty plains, with cracked canyons interrupting the dry ground, as faint memories of once mighty rivers. A lone tree clings to the rocky soil, its roots dug into the stone like the grip of a dead man. A lone Dunskyre flies high up in the sky, its wings beating occasionally to keep it aloft, while it eyes the ground for prey. The sky is cracked like porcelain, badly glued together. A weak sun dyes everything into cold, dim colours. Its rays barely enough to illuminate the almost lifeless desert.
This is an abandoned Realm. Its people are long gone, fleeing to new homes centuries ago. The gods are dead and the Thrones are empty. With no power to watch over, this place is now slowly dying. Any remnant of civilization has vanished, broken down by the winds. In but another century, everything here will be gone...swallowed by the Void.
Beyond the dead lands, away from the fraying borders of reality, is a crater. A bowl cut into the land, big enough to once offer shelter to thousands of people. At the bottom of it, lie the only ruins still left. The bones of houses and palaces, sticking out like the carcass of a dead beast. Cracked, paved roads and toppled carts speak of forgotten prosperity. All halfway covered by a thick layer of dust and ash.
Within this lost city of dead people stands a temple, untouched by time and the elements. Its marble pillars gleam in the dim light and throw long shadows. In its hall stand the shattered statues of the dead gods, unrecognizable in their broken state. Before them are five doors, standing like silent guardians in the long hall. Waiting....
Waiting for someone to enter the Cradle of Gods.
Edited by TheNohen on Nov 8th 2020 at 9:51:24 PM
Caitlin had spent years trapped in a leaky old ship with dozens of grubby, sweaty crewmates who seemed to have made their life's goal to be as bellowing as was possible for them. In their long voyages together with her as their Captain, however, she'd learnt to relax and even have fun alongside their rowdy ways—as much as she still tried to keep her more civilised demeanour. So used to their presence was she that she'd rarely left their side even on the occasions they pulled into port; treating them as more of a family than her own.
So being in this cold, decaying, and utterly empty world was effectively like being slapped in the face.
Caitlin wasn't sure of the last time she'd felt lonely. Or scared of what was to come. Nothing but her own thoughts and ambient noise to stimulate her. She decided very quickly that she hated it. She was pleased that she'd taken a final farewell bottle of alcohol from her crew as a gift before she'd left, and she took comfort in it now with a long swig that almost drained it all in one go. With it clutched tightly in her left hand (drawing her falchion with her right so as to be ready) she finally began to trudge forward, heading towards the deep crater nearby.
...There's no ocean here. It's all dried up. Maybe it was a good decision to say goodbye... she mused to herself, gaze not straying in the slightest from her destination. ...Still... I'll miss those grimy old buggers... I hope they're all alright...
The Guildsmen were a gang that loved a city. A city was made of cracks and holes you could secret away stolen or duty-free goods. A city had people that would make fine contacts, or favors to call in. Thrice-Owned Sword Inscribes the Horizon lived in a city like a fish in the ocean. From there she didn't even need a provisional membership to join the Guilds, because she was one of its founding races: an Oni. You could trust your own kind. The crevices of the city were hers.
So when Sword crested a hill and saw a big, wide-open crater, she first made sure she didn't immediately spot anyone in earshot before sighing out, "Oh, fuck off..." Dead Realms were no place for an Oni, criminal or not. Open ground less so; this place needed a nice forest. Maybe that shrine down there could be rededicated to the Forest Oni after all this was over. All This needed to start first though. Sword made sure her shoelaces were tightened, adjusted her jacket a little, and started skidding down the side of the crater, picking it up into a run as she figured it out. She definitely sighted someone else on the other side of the crater doing the same, but figured she wouldn't hail them until they reached the bottom.
"Alright, let's see here."
After five months of walking, occasional brawling with thugs, more walking, fighting a river demon, more walking, and having to darken the lenses of a pair of glasses so he didn't immediately go blind whenever the sun rose—he called them sunglasses, and they'd probably be revolutionary—Val had finally reached the Cradle.
"Tall, craggy mountains...dusty, dry ground...precisely one tree...a broken sky..."
Val walked closer to the crater, inspecting it.
"And a giant crater with the last remnants of civilization."
Then, he grinned and clasped his hands together. "Perfect! Beyond my wildest dreams!" (This was only partially a joke.) "Now then, crater, let's see what mysteries and or dead bodies you hide."
Val took a few steps back, then ran to the edge of the crater and leapt, landing with practiced ease halfway down the side. He skidded down the rest of the way, starting his walk towards the temple as soon as he hit the ground.
Oh, and someone was there, too! Wonderful!
"Hello, stranger!" Val said cheerily, giving them a wave.
The ground, cracked like porcelain as it was, stood in contrast to the almost untarnished pale, porcelain skin of Masaru, the undead general calmly walking to the cusp of the crater's edge. The journey to the Cradle had been...uneventful, his planning had seen to that. He still had plenty of rations, had had plenty of sleep and was overall barely suffering from travel exhaustion at all. This new undead body and years of travelling to battlefields across the realms in his conquests had meant that the Nenmonchian man was used to these ordeals. The Incandescent General would have been a sorry excuse for one if he wasn't.
"Well, well, well...so this is the Cradle. Once, maybe, bright and prosperous and filled with life. Now, an empty barren wasteland in its death throes as a Realm. I can hear the Void calling already."
Which wasn't inaccurate. Ever since he had been revived he felt the tug of the Void on his soul as he defied death. Well, he would have to see to it that he didn't die once more. Not before doing his best at this grand game. Others were already making their move down the sides of the crater, and now it was time for Masaru to make his. Breaking once more into his leisurely pace, he ambled down the slope, hands buried in the sleeves of his robes as they met in front of him. After all, there was no point in making enemies this early...not when he needed to learn of them first.
"Ah, good day there, fellow travelers! I'm assuming that none of you all are here for sightseeing, much like I am not."
He gave a warm smile, though beneath that facade, Masaru was as battle-tense as ever. If these people were here for the same reason he was, they were not to be underestimated. Plans would be needed...just in case.
The cold, dim desert was unlike the one she knew in her former life, and yet Nasira found herself oddly at ease, even at home, in the deadened landscape. The civilization she left behind, while vibrant and full of life, was closed off and hostile to her and her people. Thousands of eyes judging, assessing, not as a person but as an object for sale and barter. By contrast, the decaying remnants of reality laid before her were welcoming, the quiet desolation tranquil.
Still, she was not here to settle into hermitage, not in a place where despite the barren surroundings people were vying for the mythic thrones of gods. And so Nasira moved in the only direction she could, the only one afforded to her by her circumstances - forward.
As she did, in the distance, past the howl of the winds, Nasira swore she heard the utterance of someone nearby. Peeking out from behind the crags, Nasira spotted a bright red woman - she couldn't make out many details other than that before the woman jumped down into the crater.
...wait, was that the word "Kill" stamped on her butt?
Nasira blinked and paused for a moment before stepping up to the edge of the crater herself. Looking at the ruins below, she weighed her options on places she could hide and observe quietly further down - as more people made their descent into the ghost town. She doubted that with this close proximity she could stay hidden for long, and it seemed people were already making greetings. It was likely safer to travel in a group to the Cradle - it would be a dangerous task, no doubt, if no one had returned in these past few centuries - and so Nasira decided to follow after, holding down the top of her hood to shield her eyes from any dust stirred from her own descent.
As the slope lessened and Nasira slowed to a halt, her bright orange eyes peeked out from beneath her hood, moving her hand away, to get a better look at the folks gathered. She was already out in the open, and people were already saying their salutations - best to say her own greetings as well.
It turned out there were others here, and a fair amount of them at that. Gulping down the last few drops from her flask, Caitlin stuffed the thing into a small knapsack and made to finally enter the crater—she hardly wanted to leave a recognizable trace of herself behind, after all. Carefully sliding down the crater's edge as some of the others had done, she made a cautious approach, politely clearing her throat as she made known the fact that her sword was at the ready.
Just in case. No matter how pleasant they were, it'd be idiotic to assume the best from them so early. After all, she was here. That in and of itself was an indication of the kind of people she might find out here.
“Hello there. I'd say ‘good afternoon’ or ‘good morning’ but I don't think it's either. The sky looks like it's gone and buggered off. If there even was a sky here in the first place...”
She snapped herself out of her musings shortly thereafter, scanning her eyes across the current group before placing her left hand over her chest in introduction.
“Captain Caitlin Jessamine Holloway. Or– well, perhaps not the Captain part anymore. Hardly have a crew when there's nowhere to pull into port. You'd need water for that.”
A series of worryingly asthmatic coughs from the edge of the crater would call the group's attention to a tiny wisp of a peasant girl bundled up in traveling clothes looking down at the distance that she had to traverse downwards, looking for all the world as if the wind were going to topple her over at any moment.
This place was depressingly familiar to Poppy. When her village went through a bad harvest, the land looked more or less like this, cracked and broken and sodden with sorrow. This place was marginally better in that nobody who lived here was going to look at her that way. She couldn't stand being looked at in that way. It was an indescribable feeling, which carried with it motes of shame and the destruction of one's self-esteem.
There wasn't any clear way down where Poppy was, or at least for someone with her constitution. Jumping and sticking a landing like that other strange person did was out of the question. However, there were a few thick vines or roots—she couldn't really tell—hanging down from the edge of the crater, which Poppy tested cautiously, pulling on them with what little strength she had.
Oh no. They wouldn't work as a viable way down in their current soft state. Poppy took a deep breath, wheezing slightly, hoping that nobody was watching. Then she put her small hands on her ticket downwards and concentrated, letting her magic seep into the plant material, aging the roots to a point that they would harden and wouldn't give way under her as easily.
Frankly, this was a rather dangerous way to get down. Most laymen wouldn't know the difference between the "settings" of Poppy’s magic, only choosing to focus on the obvious effects, which was whatever she was using it on withering away and dying. In truth, Poppy could cause things to deteriorate by either aging or rot. It was a mystery—even to her—which was which in any given situation, and either could give her a badly-needed return on her mana expenditure. Thus, she didn't care much about the specifics of her powers, but tried to use them creatively.
Jumping was not an option here, but climbing was. Poppy had done a lot of climbing lately. Perhaps it was only her imagination, but she liked to think that she was getting stronger. At least she could pull her own weight up and down hills, valleys, mountainsides, and even cliffs now. The trick was to put three out of four limbs in a safe place before moving a fourth, and to hang on for dear life at all costs.
Poppy shimmied down the root-vines carefully, her own breath rasping in her ears, before she finally reached the bottom and launched into another fit of coughing. At least I didn't start coughing while climbing, Poppy thought to herself. It must have been the dryness and dust in the air here affecting my lungs. I'll have to be more careful in the future.
She didn't want to approach the gathering of people too closely, fearing that they would recognize her for the wanted fugitive that she was, so Poppy stayed at the fringes of the group, tentatively deciding to call out to them while hiding in the hood of her traveling cloak. She edged towards the temple, as if ready to flee into the Cradle of Gods at any moment, and said, in a small, slight voice as fragile as hoarfrost "I...I'm sorry for interrupting—hhh—like this, but are you all here to seek the Cradle of Gods as well? Excuse me, please..."
She let out another rattling breath before she covered her mouth and drifted a little farther from the group to show her peaceable intentions, or at least she hoped her anxious gesture would.
The mold and lichen on the ground seemed to part before the girl as she walked, as if her mere arrival was enough to kill them. Poppy looked down, noticing this, and shuffled her feet nervously, consciously trying not to project her influence any further than she needed to.
Edited by JumpingFruit on Nov 8th 2020 at 4:30:58 AM
Amongst the rubble, amongst the ruins, a creature walks. Its body is cloaked by dark sheets, stained and dirtied. It's been a long walk, after all, though the traveler does not seem to have been made tired by it. His footsteps, one after the other, move his body forwards, to the Cradle of the Gods.
The cracked sky, looking about to shatter. The dying ground, an earth exhaling its last breath. The traveler cannot help but find it oddly fascinating, but at the same time, somewhat disturbing. That had once been a great Realm, he was sure. Yet, now, it was dying. Left uninhabited, the land wherein the very Gods dwelled, was being swallowed by the void.
Nobody, here, was left to fight. This world had already given up, or perhaps more appropriately, was already given up on. His eyes flashing yellow from a moment, from under the robes covering even his face, the traveler kept walking.
Those mountains must once have been behemots to behold, so tall as to reach the sky itself. But now, they look just like a dying man, reaching out to the uncaring cosmos to ask for mercy. The traveler stopped for a moment, to admire them. His gaze then shifted, from them to a tree that stood still, withered and alone. Soon, even it would probably disappear.
That would not be allowed to happen, however.
That was why this man had walked until this place, why he had embarked on this quest. He could not let this world die, nor could he let every Realm be swallowed by the void. Why?
-Because there were people that believed in him. Despite everything, they believed, and so... he was there.
The ruins of what had been civilization below him, he noticed others were present there too. He too had surely been seen. He said nothing, but looked at them all, but simply made his way down the crater with some maneuvering, and kept walking towards the temple he could see in the distance. Silently, and stoically. He didn't even seem to acknowledge the others. Most likely, he was focused on his goal first, and had imagined the others were, too.
Surely, nobody would dare disturb what had once been the sacred abode of the Gods with meaningless and idle chatter, right?
Ah, more people! How delightful. Soon, this motley crew might become the Realms' pantheon, and thus, his new colleagues. Val figured that was as good a reason as any to introduce himself.
"Hello, strangers!" he said, giving them his brightest smile. "Valentin Trémaux, at your service! I come from Rousson, the City of Eternal Moonlight, and I am here to spread joy through a combination of godly powers and my winning sense of humor." He grinned, flashing them the peace sign. "Of course, I take it the rest of you have your reasons for going to this graveyard? Even if it's solely to dig up the bodies, a reason's a reason!"
He would've said more, but he caught another person in the corner of his eye. A hooded person, dressed in all black. Val wondered if they were trying to be inconspicuous. If they were, it wasn't working—this group was so colorful that someone in all black stood out.
Nevertheless, he waved at them and shouted, "Hello, stranger! Why not come chat with us? We've got time!"
“The City of Moonlight...?” Caitlin unconsciously echoes, staring tensely at Valentin upon him introducing himself before she cautiously lowers her blade once she spotted the sickly girl approaching. “Already this is quite the motley crew. Are you alright there?” she questions Poppy—peering at her with a slight frown of concern due to the girl's apparent frailty and coughing fits.
“Please all move into one group. We're strangers, after all...” she cautioned the others after a moment, flashing them a look and a grim nod. “Introducing yourself tends to make things that much more pleasant...”
"Y-Yes, madam," Poppy nodded, backing away from the menacing lady with a sword. "It's just this condition, that I have, but it won't spread to others, you see, so there's no need to purge it with fire or anything like that—"
Overcome with worry that someone would lash out at her for being as diseased as she was and set her back on her journey, she started backing away further from the group, making profuse excuses: "Someone's already going on ahead, and I had better catch up. I hope you all don't mind my intrusion. It was a mistake I won't make again. I-I'm sorry. Don't hurt me, please..." Already, she was edging towards the Cradle of Gods with alarming alacrity for a sick girl.
Edited by JumpingFruit on Nov 8th 2020 at 4:31:08 AM
Quite the lively crowd, indeed. The traveler kept walking still, as nobody seemed to have any business with him. He heard someone come closer to him, and turned his gaze towards the sound without turning around- one of the advantages of psychic powers- to see a girl, moving at a pretty good pace, though appearing sick.
She did not look like someone ready to fight for her life to become a god, he pondered, and he would not wish a life to be lost for no reason.
He turned to her, and spoke, with a deep voice and a polite, calm tone.
"Are you quite sure you should be here...? You look sick. You have been very brave to come, but you need not put your life at risk."
His concern, at least, sounds true.
And then he is addressed by someone from the larger group, and so he replies.
"...While I would ordinarily enjoy chatting with you, I believe we are all here for the same reason, correct? If so, then there really is no time to waste, I believe."
"Ah!" Poppy exclaimed, jumping in fear as the horned purple man addressed her. As she turned around, though, her fear evaporated as she realized that he meant her no harm, and was indeed concerned for her well-being. She let out a wheezing sigh of relief at this.
"No, I... she began slowly, trying to make him understand. "The people back home wouldn't miss me if I died. I wouldn't miss me if I died, and..." Poppy paused at this, though she was speaking forcefully at first.
"I'm dying anyways, and my condition leaves me no choice but to take things with me if I want to live," she explained, voice fragile again. "So before I die, I'm going to become a goddess, and give the people new hope."
Poppy looked back at the group, and seemed to curl in on herself again, revoking the weight of her previous statements. "My name is Poppy Blake. I'm from the kingdom of Kamelotte. And—for what it's worth—I'll try not to be useless, so please—please take me with you," she said to everyone within earshot, a hair away from begging. She momentarily lost control of her powers, causing all the weeds around her to suddenly wilt, though she was able to stop it before the situation developed into anything more dangerous.
Edited by JumpingFruit on Nov 8th 2020 at 4:31:17 AM
So people were making a round of introductions then, not just greetings. "...I'm Nasira, from Anavhita of Kshathra." With the three other women (well, two women and a young girl), Nasira doubted she need to hide her gender, and she had her doubts that her name would mean much to them. Still, she kept her hood low and adjusted the veil covering her mouth to keep it from slipping, keeping herself guarded just in case.
That being said, the arrival of a small young girl, at least younger than all those gathered here, alarmed Nasira somewhat, moreso when she proved herself sickly with a worryingly persistent cough and a timid and frail demeanor. A twinge of painful recollection greeted Nasira as she quietly approached Poppy, catching her name as she expressed her worries to the tall stranger. Hesitating for a bit, Nasira lowered her mask, hoping that her concern would show on her face and put the sickly child at ease. With wisps of smoke trailing her fingers, Nasira reached into her sleeve and drew out a veil much like her own - a replacement, in case it was needed - as well as a small canteen, both of which she handed to Poppy.
"...here. The veil should help filter out the dust, and the water should help clear your throat." There were many things that Poppy said that worried Nasira, but she had no words to respond - it is not as though there was anyone waiting for her either. Instead she nodded quietly at the mention of Poppy's goals and gave her a gentle smile. "That's brave of you, Poppy. It may not mean much from a stranger, but I will do my best to help you."
"Ah!" Poppy exclaimed again as a tall woman came over and loomed over her. "Um...thank you..."
She took the veil and put it on, though of course not before taking a few sips from the proffered canteen and handing it back to Nasira. "Na-si-ra? That's...that's a pretty name, if I may say so. You must have come a longer way than I have. Kamelotte is closer to this place, I think, or else I would have heard of those places you mentioned. Um—please excuse my ignorance," Poppy muttered, voice muffled a bit by the veil she had put on.
Edited by JumpingFruit on Nov 8th 2020 at 4:31:26 AM
“...I didn't mean to frighten you. I'm being cautious,” Caitlin frowned a little at Poppy's reaction, seeming to hesitate in sheathing her sword before finally doing so with a sigh. She still had her latent black magic, at least. ”I'm of Vanorant, the Floating City Descendant of Tihnuvan, etcetera etcetera. I'm not nationalistic, so I won't bore you. I do recognize that name, though...” she pointed towards Valentin, quirking an eyebrow at him curiously. “Ever heard of the Dh'ireime Witch...?”
It was a long shot, but it'd at least confirm him as being of the same Realm as her if he did know her nickname. As uncomfortable as it was to her. After all, it was two aspects of herself that were usually kept with a degree of intimacy—whoever had spread that name had known her personally.
Which was worrying, but hardly in her control now. She'd unofficially adopted it by this point, though the ‘witch’ aspect of the name she typically emphasized as being metaphorical.
...Of course, there was always the chance he hadn't heard of her even if he was of Panthalassa. But that was neither here nor there, and if one thought about it, was really his problem more than hers.
Edited by Enirboreh on Nov 11th 2020 at 1:45:47 PM
"Hm? Ah, the Dh'ireime Witch! Yes, I've heard of her. A living legend!" Val grinned, waggling his fingers. "Bewaaaare, children, for if you do not eat your vegetables, the Dh'ireime Witch will cook you uuuuuup! Woooooo! Spooooky!" He shrugged. "Always sounded a bit bullshit to me, but hey, the Realms have weirder."
The hooded stranger had said earlier that they were a bit short on time, though, and as much as Val wanted to continue the conversation, the stranger did have a point. "On an unrelated note, why don't we enter the temple and continue our talk from there? I'm sure whatever awaits is much livelier than this graveyard! Or it's a giant tomb filled with dead bodies. Either or!"
One of the first things the Guildsmen taught Sword was a neat little trick to light up the pipes and cigarillos that always hung from their mouths. Approaching the crowd of godly applicants, she grinned with a mouth full of wicked teeth, pulling out a match. She listened closely as she struck the match against her teeth with one hand and pulled out a small rolled paper of pipe-herbs with the other. She thought she heard a name, then. She took a huge gulp of smoke, listened harder. She exhaled.
"Pleasure seeing you here, sir. I think you certainly have the right idea." Sword intended to enter in style, and called out to Valentin from out of his field of view. She jerked her head up in greeting at the people he was talking to. She knew of the man, a talented craftsman of crime like her, but their jobs had never intersected on the clock. "It's nice to see that I have a coworker making friends already. Call me Sword. Oni names, you know, we don't have time." She flashed a wide smile and shrugged. "Once again: a pleasure."
“Well, then. You do know that name. I'm flattered~” Caitlin smiles, her eyes sharpening in a way impossible to tell apart from teasing or dangerous as she leans a degree closer to Valentin. “Best eat your vegetables then, hmm?”
A little ironic, given a sailor's diet...
“Your name's just Sword? How absolutely charming...” she blinked at the Oni's introduction, looking her up and down in a manner respectful. “You're all turning out to be quite pleasurable so far. But please, yes. Let's head inside soon. It'll be nice not to be exposed to the...”
She gestured vaguely to their surroundings.
She appeared to glance longingly towards the smoke in Sword's mouth for a moment, before clearing her throat and looking away—the former almost seeming to be an involuntary reaction.
Damn. Should've brought some with me.
Edited by Enirboreh on Nov 8th 2020 at 2:07:38 PM
The ruins were surprisingly well preserved. The crater protected the place from the biting winds and rain did not fall here. Even so, it was evident this place was old...very old. The houses themselves were chiseled out of the same red stone that made up the mountains and hills, but the architecture was strange and alien. One street had stylized pillars carved into the walls, while the next one resembled the sloped roofs so common in Onogoro's eastern islands. And some houses did not look familiar to anyone, carved with symbols that had long lost their meaning, or had been painted over by their last owner. This place was a strange, chaotic and confusing melting pot and now stood lonely and abandoned, with no one left to even remember the question of who lived here.
And yet, there were signs of previous occupants strewn around. Not much, but as the travelers looked around, they could see that others had been here before them and disturbed the town in the center of the Realm. A discarded waterbag, that still had runes from Northern Philmanos etched on it. Coins from Romvhyl, the razed capital of the eastern tribes of the Prus. Even the bones of a Grey-Roc, resting on a collapsed roof, with the dried specks of blood still staining the walls. Had it served as a mount and killed by its owner? Or was it the remnant of a failed journey, collapsing for its final rest, after it reached its goal with no one to take note of it?
And finally, there was the Temple. It had no real name, not even in the memory of the other Realms. It was simply known as the Cradle, the birthplace of the gods...every single generation. And it was the goal for every single one of the Contenders.
Its massive pillars casted long shadows over the city and it was set on a high plateau, overlooking everything within the crater. Seven hundred steps lead to its hall and the open roof, which could receive the sunlight at noon, to illuminate the altar in the middle. The altar was broken, a rusted, shattered axe still embedded in the ancient stone. And the statues of the gods, once bigger than life and crafted by hundreds of hands to last eternity....they lied shattered and crumbled on the marble floor, their promises of rememberance and glory as empty as their destroyed faces. Not even the monument to Grandfather Vector had survived the vandalism, as even the dreaded Old Man of Disease and Death had not been spared. The fear of him gone, as was his presence.
But in this dusty, abandoned temple...something else now stood. Untouched and unmarked. Five doors, which had appeared the moment the gods breathed their last, as a portent of their demise and envoys of new beginnings. Each was different from one another.
One was made from dark-red Nomi, a soft, expensive wood. It was carved luxuriously in unknown, ancient glyphs, which resembled faintly nenmonchin letters. When touched, ones fingers were stained by faint blood.
The second one was made out of crumbling stone, wrapped by ivy and moss. Distant, mythic fog roiled around its base, as if just barely kept away by the closed frame.
Third was a door that seemed to be made out of sand, with bones sticking out at random intervalls. The sand seemed to shift and move ever so slightly, making its contents sink and re-appear.
The penultimate door was a made out of iron sheets, forged together into a frame. Rust had formed around the edges, which were sharp and mean. The handle was a knife, threatening to cut the hand that touched it.
The last door was made of marble, which was carved with great skill into the shape of a woman. Her face was twisted in sorrow and salty tears rolled from her empty eyes, as she cradled an empty cloth, the size of a babe. A salty crust had formed around the base, where her tears had fallen and seeped away.
Before each door were tracks, footsteps and tiny trenches in the dust. They spoke of other Contenders having reached this place. They all headed for each of the doors and were as clear an instruction, as spoked words would have been.
Choose your Path.
Edited by TheNohen on Nov 9th 2020 at 4:34:26 PM
The ruins seemed to be a mishmash of things from other Realms, which Caitlin supposed made sense. Out of faux curiosity she approached some of the more shiny of the remains; making a point to discreetly pocket some of the foreign coin and anything else that looked remotely valuable amidst the rubble. But she forced herself to suppress her inner greed before she was engulfed by it, and after only a modest amount taken she rejoined the others on the trek up to the Cradle.
She groaned and sighed upon seeing the seven-hundred steps (she did not count them and she didn't need to when she felt every stair crashing into the soles of her by now sore feet) but otherwise wordlessly proceeded, hand held cautiously over the hilt of her falchion just in case they got jumped unknowingly. Upon reaching the temple itself and seeing the brutalized statues, she let out a long breath—eyes wide as she stared at the remains of what once were called gods.
“...I don't like this...” she vocalized after a moment, eyes searching around and soon enough settling onto the quintet of unearthly doors. “...Let's pause here a moment, please? I need to rest for a second or two... that and I think we need to think about those doors. This feels like a test, and I don't like to mess with strange magic without being at least a little careful...”
So says the Dh'ireime Witch, who recklessly infused her own bloody tattoos with dark magic...
A co-worker? Hm. He'd never seen anyone like her in Rousson. Still, best to keep his guard up. "Good to see you too, ma'am!" he said, giving her another smile. "Call me Val. Actually, all of you can call me Val! Shorter than 'Valentin', at any rate."
And then it was into the Cradle!
Val had thought that, for a dead realm, the temple had been very well-preserved.
Val had been wrong.
After walking about a billion steps (probably an inaccurate number, but it felt like a billion) their motley crew entered a ruined place with a broken altar and shattered statues.
"Great!" Val said, chipperly looking over the ruins. "It's even better than I expected! There aren't even any dead bodies!"
Before them were five doors, and they were going to have to pick one. Val frowned a bit, putting a finger to his chin. "Well, in all the stories, you'd have to be humble and pick the wooden door instead of, like, the golden door or the door made of jewels, but all of these doors are pretty humble, so I have no clue what to do here."
He shrugged. "Eeny-meeny-miney-mo?"
Poppy had paused for a moment under the statues of the previous gods, wondering about whether her journey would be fruitless or not, if she, too, would end up like this—a shattered monument to the past age, not even worth worshiping or sacrificing to. Just another false idol which was once true. Useless. In either case, the journey up was harrowing, so she paused to catch her breath.
"Remember that you must die," Poppy whispered to the cold air inside the Cradle.
This, as of late, had been her mantra lately, taught by some passing-through priests of Grandfather Vector who had been fleeing prosecution, who had also, coincidentally, informed her of her heritage. Poppy didn't see why those men had to be hounded so fiercely by the dogs of the state—their god (and hers, she supposed) was dead and thus couldn't harm anyone. There was simply no rhyme or reason to it, but that was just the way of the world.
She saw on the cracked head of Grandfather Vector's statue (at least, she thought it was his statue) a gentle but mysterious smile, as if welcoming his descendant. This is nothing new, it seemed to say to her. This is just the way of things. No need to fuss overmuch about it. As she realized this, Poppy felt braver. She wasn't alone at all in this. Many more had come before her, and many more would come after her. Acceptance is freedom. One last dance before the ball ends. Such were the teachings that Grandfather Vector espoused.
Before she left this place, she wanted to leave something of herself behind, as something comforting for those who came after her. Putting her hands on one of the cracked bases of the statues, she concentrated, not to kill the microorganisms and spores which she she could vaguely sense on the surface of the carved stone base, but to engender their growth. They, at least, were part of the natural order of rot, so she could either encourage or curtail their growth as she pleased.
All of a sudden, a bevy of lichens burst forth from the place she was touching, spreading to engulf the entire base. They weren't your average dull green lichens, rather, they burst forth in colors as odd and variegated as flowers, which Poppy couldn't help grow, but could try to emulate. Russet browns, startling violets, bold scarlets, and more encircled the cracked base, soon covering the other statues and filling in the cracks in the ground as Poppy invoked her will.
"It's not flowers, but...lichen lasts longer," Poppy admitted quietly. "They'll keep their color, even if they die. I...I hate to see pretty things wilt away."
"The doors lead to different Realms, I think," she hesitantly offered. "The...forest-looking door reminds me of the woods in Kamelotte..."
Edited by JumpingFruit on Nov 9th 2020 at 1:23:02 AM
Sword maybe felt worse in the ruined city. It was a perversion of a good thing, that was it. Cities should be full, always. A shell devoid of people was as ghastly to Sword as a cleaned skeleton. In both cases, it had to have been made that way. The captain seemed to have taken to it better than her. She caught the girl mirin' earlier too, that was interesting. She wasn't here to second-guess intentions though, she was here to make friends, or allies at least.
Sword followed behind the captain and took a few puffs on her cigarette, watching her closely. The same for Valentin. But more than anything her attention was drawn to the doors. Her first thought was that they connected to old Godly infrastructure—the domains of now-dead Gods.
"When my people deliberate, we normally do it over smokes." Sword fished into her jacket and pulled out a handful of paper wraps and a tin of herbs. She held them up. "Anyone interested, I can roll you one. Personally I think I'm with you here, the woodsy door seems my style." A lot of the other ones looked gruesome in a way she wasn't down for.
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