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Strange is the dusk where the dark stars rise

And devouring eyes, like moons, circle through starless skies.

But stranger still is the song that those rain bringers sing.

Where flap in tatters the standard of my dread king.

Where voice is dead and tears unsung, must die unheard.

When all have laid aside their disguise but he.

At that last shall you see his pallid mask.

Only then will you know the stranger that has entered in.

Writings seized and sealed with the Enkellion vault, Saint Roberts Academy

  ~By Anonymous (deceased upon recovery of writing)


~ Lin Ling, Principle Scriptorium ~


Lin Ling walked down the corridor towards the potential storage areas, feeling like a stranger in her own mind at this point. After she had flipped out at Han Shu, and then narrowly avoided death at the hands at what seemed to be the Evil Horror that Juni had encountered in the depths she had been struggling against the Lin Lings in her head in what was slowly turning into a war of attrition for the state of her Psyche.

Even so, the only real reason she was still functioning was the subtle emergence of the third party, as she had taken to calling the gnarled mess of existential fury. Where it had crept in from she wasn’t sure, but it had become a lot more prevalent after their narrow escape from the lizard abomination… Sar’katush, and only grown more distinct as they made their way through this complex. It had rapidly subsumed the angry, confused or just plain terrified voices and turned them into something… well, it was still her, but it was her with no control. Fortunately, it had then attracted the ire of all the other fractured shards that were a bit more entrenched and had been leading to her more irrational outbursts.

So now she felt like she was perched precariously between two very different kinds of insanity. The arbiter of her own actions only because the vast majority of her psyche was more interested in fighting with itself or fighting with that subtle bundle of rage. The only one she was basically on the same page was with the version of her that had ‘experienced’ the attack of the skeleton prince chained to the chair. Their shared creed being ‘get out of this hellish place as fast as possible’. There was another one as well that was sort of left on its own now. That ‘her’ was trying to piece together shattered events of her memory. It occasionally slunk out and dragged other shards away, into a silence as ominous as the bundle of rage.

A few others were also so toxic or overpowering, that they existed in petty isolation as well, but she could ignore those as they were totally self-obsessed. Except for the one that was claiming they were all stuck in a near-death hallucination and that everyone else was just a figment of her subconscious denial of her inevitable demise. That one kept being silenced by the others and always came back somehow.

Belatedly she kept strolling around the room, considering the carvings in the dais as she re-assessed the rest of the cacophony. Setting aside the bundle of rage, there was another one that was just as angry and the main source of conflict with that gnarled mess. It believed that while everyone was real, they were all being controlled by evil entities of various factions. She by the skeleton prince, Juni by the lizards and Han Shu by… a spider devil or something, or maybe his sword. It couldn’t make up its mind on that. As for the other problem voices, the most prominent of those confused and terrified her. Not only because it sounded utterly rational, but because what it was saying utterly insane. never mind that it was talking about a fictional people who didn’t exist, it was trying to tell her that the youth who they had met had actually come to save her, only to be attacked by Juni, who was controlled by the lizard people. It kept saying that Lin Ling needed to kill the other two, make her way back to the prison, free the other princes in their cages and take them all to find the youth.

-Yes, it was definitely best to ignore that voice, every other voice in her head agreed in passing.

There was also other angry Lin Ling, who felt that everything was out to get her and that nobody else was respecting her contributions. She was petty, selfish and vain, but she was also, rather disturbingly, a recognisable facet of her own character, so there was some common ground there at least. Other voices came and went, some silenced by the one putting memories together, others that joined one ball or rage or the other, and a few more that were just… broken. Like the one that just screamed, or the one that walked along looking death eyed, or the one that wanted to kill all the other Lin Lings. It had been banished a few times now, but also kept coming back.

Pausing her movement by wresting control briefly back from ‘Dead eyed’ Lin Ling and ‘Get Out Of Here’ Lin ling, she focused on what it was that Juni had just said.

So… quick look at the ‘Big Storage? Then check out control?”

“Okay,” she managed to say out loud.

-So yes, walking puppet and small voice looking out through her own eyes wanting to gibber and curl up in a corner.

-What an insecure little bitch you are.

-Yeah, grow a pair.

-Haha, yeah, you should grow a pair, then maybe people would pay more attention to you.

-Like they do Juni.

The angry voices waded in, incoherent and started to maul the sneering putdown voices without her having to do anything. That was her other source of common ground. Self-hatred and inner rage far outstripped the backhanded and insincere ‘young lady’.

-At least she hadn’t fallen over anything yet. Han Shu was doing that occasionally, which made a large number of the voices feel better.

-Look at him, he can barely keep his eyes off her, another insincere voice managed to get in.

-Oh please, shut it, she internalised.

Part of her longed to go back and stare at the pool again, even though it was certainly dangerous. That had actually given her a brief moment of respite. Something had… connected with her in that pool, she felt somehow. A peaceful feeling that muted out the raging, babbling, querying, sobbing shards of her mind… The shattered voices had all been terrified of it. That was why she had taken a small jar of the water, carefully. Since then, the fear that one of them might do something stupid and make her drop it, or get some on her in the process of getting rid of it had been a wonderful stick to hold over the ones that were making her speak out of turn or move.

-If only Juni had let her look at it longer, she thought with a sigh.

She waited for the voices that always badmouthed the older woman to pip up, but they didn’t.

-Cowards, you speak out of turn but when there’s something useful to complain about your silent huh, she shot back at them.

Still silence. Awkward silence, even. How ridiculous.

Part of her DID get that the pool was probably –very- dangerous. So far she was sure there had really only been three types of ‘things’ in this place. Things that actively wanted them dead, things that could passively make them dead, and things that hadn't yet figured how to either passivly or actively make them them dead. The pool was probably one of the second type.

-They are back again.

-The whispering eyes, another helpful yet oh so not helpful voice muttered.

It was hard to disagree with them, though. Ever since her qi had been totally dissipated by… whatever had happened at the top of the shaft, and then again by the wave of disruption that lit up all the motifs, her instincts had been slowly growing keener. Her body was automatically forcing her meridians with her mantra to allow her to see, and for whatever reason, she could see almost as well as if it were a moonlit night at this point.

It allowed her to see the real shadows in this place, and those shadows were all kinds of wrong. And, along with that, the whispering eyes searching for them. Those had appeared within minutes of entering this complex. A sensation that something was looking at the back of her head. Subtle, distant even; never entering into their line of sight.

She had tried to see it, or them, several times. But it was never within her line of sight, or maybe never close enough to see.

-You’re just imagining them,

-Yeah, you’re going insane insane insane

-Yeah, if you go back the prince can save you from those insanities…

-Juni feels wrong.

She focused on that last voice, abruptly. That was her own mental instincts kicking in again.

Juni did feel wrong somehow. Had felt wrong periodically in a way that was hard to qualify. It concerned her a lot because nominally, the rational parts of her head said that Juni should be doing a lot better than her.

-Lucky bitch didn’t get her memories rearranged after all.

-Han Shu looks like he’d like to…

She quashed them again. With less control, baser instincts were flaring up. Starting with the ones that were her body chemistry acting up due to injury, qi poisoning and psychological trauma. Her own understanding of the deep pit she was stuck in told her clearly why those were starting to appear. A whole host of biological functions got suspended or subtly changed when you crossed into Physical Refinement. Much more so than when you condensed a Dantian. It had to do with the way the mantra remodelled your body passively with qi. She had reached that point before puberty as well. Thanks to her talent, which was, convenient in many ways, except now, that her psyche was really broken,

-It’s more than that. The youth did something to you, one of those arts…, a nasty voice sniggered.

She quashed that again. No voices on that topic allowed. All her instinct said that should be buried and left to rot.

-They vanished in the Orrery, we still don’t understand why.

She blinked, the sudden resurfacing of a continuous thought almost disrupting her tenuous equilibrium. They were still making their way to the exit to the big warehouse.

-Fear, they were afraid,

-the whispering eyes were afraid of something in the Orrery.

They had indeed felt afraid she agreed, tacitly. The whispering eyes had receded rapidly. Even though her awareness of them was so nebulous, their hunger and their deception had been briefly revealed in that place somehow. Or it held some secret that scared even the darkness of this place?

The others hadn’t felt anything there, it seemed, or hadn’t remarked on it at any rate. Juni has pushed them out of their suspiciously fast as well.

-Because she’s trying to take over the group, a more craven voice hissed.

-She is already leading the group, she pointed out.

-Is she though, it should be you.

-You see the best, your instincts are the best, another pushed.

Lin Ling, this one, the one who was mostly certain by process of elimination that she was the real Lin Ling, found that idea rather stupid.

-You’re the stupid one.

-Letting them walk all over…

-If you let them do that, they will just keep treating you like a child.

She silenced them and the balance shifted back faintly. The real reason Juni was leading them was simple. She was firstly, the strongest person here, and secondly the most experienced among them. Two decades of experience. Not to mention she had been with Old Ling and those experts into South Grove’s ruins… twice. It was sobering to reflect that Juni had been a herb hunter longer than she had been alive. She was the only survivor of the previous ‘younger generation’ that was eviscerated a decade ago. In that mission. The one that was the reason why Juni wasn’t a 9 star ranked hunter.

-That’s why she shouldn’t lead, an insidious voice hissed.

-Yeah, what if she gets us all killed?

-But it wasn’t her that got everyone killed, it was that Ha Shan, and he died for his stupidity.

-Arai and Sana made it to nine-star in four and a half years.

-You made it to eight in three,

-And they started at five-star grade another sneered pointed out.

-Yeah, they don' trust you because of your family.

-Stupid family.

-yeah, she’s unambitious, she doesn’t have good judgement, another stupid voice from the ‘young lady’ fold added.

She told those voices to shut it, but carefully, in case she spoke out loud.

Several of the voices sniggered at her, including the two she was trying to actively suppress and said she was weak and unwilling to step forward.

“Well... That’s not at all ominous” Juni said flatly, shaking her out of her remote control semi-reverie of mental refereeing and making her re-engaged with her surroundings a bit more actively.

-That was bad, she needed to always pay attention.

-If we stop paying attention, there was no telling what the others might walk into, another added.

-and whose fault is that. She scowled mentally.

-Yours.

-Yours…

-All yours...

…….

-The whispering eyes are back again as well, that voice snarled, with just a hint of concern in it.

-Fates get savaged by rabid monkeys, she sighed.

It was right, the creepy feeling of being searched for out of the real shadows scattered bizarrely around this place was back, although it was muted, or disorientated somehow.

Before them was what had presumably been the entrance to the ‘Big Storage’ area. Someone or something had chopped a hole in the door it appeared. And there was a faint light on the edges of the cut somehow. Juni Carefully peered inside.

“Be careful... we really shouldn’t…” Lin Ling found one of the voices managed to jump her control for a second, the paranoid one.

Han Shu Glanced at her, and she fought down half a dozen flashes of annoyance. He had been wary of her ever since he had rather inadequately apologised to her, only spoken to her since begrudgingly, and almost always to argue with her over some stupid things she had always been right about.

One of the Lin Lings muttered it was because he thought she was mad. She tried to ignore than one as well and repeated her Physical Mantra to try to push them down. They fled cackling, and the gnarled ball of rage found itself facing off with her mantra briefly. She had to pause while she fought for mental equilibrium, both against that, and a subversive grasp by the fleeing, snickering voices that talked down to her for more control.

“We need to try to find some way out of here... if we keep avoiding places because…” He tried to say.

The sense of being watched was actually increasing now. “This isn’t right… she went on… there’s something really wrong here I think…” she finally managed to articulate.

Juni turned to her... Frowning... “In what way, Ling?”

She paused… Juni never dropped to informal language with her unless she was stressed or not paying attention. At the same time, the pause gave the other Lin Ling’s another opportunity to pounce on her thought processes. Especially the ones that were trying to mislead her and one that kept claiming that Juni was a puppet of the lizard shadow.

-Perhaps it was the lizard shadow...

- It was too convenient

-She picked that door, and just before the Sar’katush showed up.

-How the fates did she even know that name?

That bothered her a lot. It had just popped up in her head at some point.

She pushed them away and managed to formulate a coherent sentence while both Juni and Han Shu looked at her quizzically.

-Their expressions say everything, they are just humouring you as the insane little tag along, the nasty voice sneered.

“I get the feeling we aren't alone here,” she said eventually. That there is something else here. I had it in the other complex as well, the darkness isn’t… it’s almost like a veil hiding something from us…”

She took a deep breath and suddenly turned around “Almost like it’s following us.”

There was nothing behind her. “And it gets stronger in here. A lot stronger.”

“I can’t feel anything…” Han Shu frowned, looking about, beyond the usual oppression of the darkness, anyway.

Juni frowned, looking distant, even as the sense of whispering eyes grew stronger subtly. “I can’t feel anything odd either.”

-Way too much of a fate thrashed coincidence, a bunch of them muttered.

-See! See! The lizard Juni proponent yelled in her head.

She was about to retort when Juni cut in “that said, there IS something odd about this place, that’s for sure…”

She took a deep breath. “But….”

Han Shu went on… “I get the feeling that the way out is somehow related to what’s in here…”

-Aaaaggggh, way to miss the point morons, half a dozen of her inner voices all joined together to hiss.

“How do you come to that conclusion,” she managed to force out.

Han Shu looked… uneasy “I...I may have broken one of the advanced divination talismans somehow… I was using it to get out of the acid caves which were collapsing… back...”

-Actually, that’s kind of a good point, one of the more rational voices chirped in.

-Yeah, those things can do weird things if you break them wrongly.

He paused for a moment, presumably collecting his thoughts. “It exploded on my chest. I still don’t really understand how, when I was making my way out of the chamber, running up an avalanche and using it to pick the right paths for me… and right after before I jumped clear it exploded… ever since then I get… occasional. Well, it feels like it pulls me in certain directions. As if the talisman or part of its effect was still there? It was what got me through the underwater caves, then pulled me towards the tower where I got the sword…”

“And now it’s telling you that the way out somehow relates to here?” Juni asked pensively.

“No... It’s not that clear,” he grimaced… “Instead it’s more like an intuition that we can maybe find something in here that will move us in the right direction somehow.”…

“I see,” Juni said, frowning.

-Well that’s totally not useful, that’s like saying heads or tails might drop, another voice in her head sulked.

“Then again... I got that feeling when we entered the hall as well,” he said, looking confused.

The Lin Ling that had been trying to piece together gave her rather fractured memories and was still quietly eliminating voices suddenly made its presence felt with a hard mental point.

-Because we went into the hall, had that fight, we ended up here and didn’t get eaten by the thing.

She stared at it, processing that point.

-Divination is like that, it’s all feelings and gestures and weird things you can’t see easily until after the fact, another added.

-And none of us is any good with geomancy, except for Juni, another said worriedly.

-yeah, and if she is compromised, the lizard person advocate found an angle back in.

She wasn’t quite sure what that Lin Ling wasn't trying to say with that Juni was attempting to kill them all.

The other Lin Lings variously said that was claptrap, agreed that Juni was a conniving bitch and so on, or said that it was all a manipulation or that divination didn’t work like that.

In any event, it lost her the moment to interject as Juni spoke up decisively. “In that case, we take a quick look. At the first sign of something wrong we leave?”

“I guess so?” Han Shu agreed.

Left with the option of hovering by the hole in the door or sticking with them, she could only follow after, grumbling to herself. However contrary to her expectations, or the expectations of much of her mind, the hall beyond was as mundane as it was possible to be.

She recognised the stone storage containers by style… except these ones were big. Two by two meters, arranged with a meter or so between them. All of them had been cut open. In fact, two rows on the right had the tops entirely cut off them. It was a slight effort to pull herself up onto the edge of one, to peer inside as the others debated what they were.

Looking inside they were empty, which seemed obvious in retrospect. Several were unopened, one she noticed had what appeared to be a boot imprint in the rock, and had been slid across the floor out of alignment with the others in its row, which all were cut open on the top or corners. There were also several cuts in this container, but here, on closer investigation, they all ended abruptly about a fingers' width below the surface. She stopped to consider that carefully. Though the container superficially looked the same…

She went back and looked at another box. It was one rock all the way through. Returning to that one, it was clear that this was clad in the ‘normal’ rock, but the interior was lined with something else. It had clearly defeated whoever had cleared this place out it seemed, based on several more boot prints in the rock on another side and some quite frenzied scouring of the rock to reveal a motif laden darker stone underneath that was almost crystalline.

Finally, she was stirred from considering this oddity by the dull awareness that the whispering eyes in the shadows were somehow coming closer again. Perched on top of the box, she looked out at the cavernous hall, searching for something out of place. However, as expected, there was nothing.

Looking around, she found that Juni and Han Shu had made it to the middle of the hall. Hopping down she made her way over to see. Arriving at the edge, it was a depression in the middle of the room on two levels. Structurally very similar to the space at the top of Shaft Two. In her vision, she could trace the stairs that went down the perpendicular edge to the floor below and what looked like some open doors.

-A lower storage area, for more valuable goods? A part of her wondered.

Han Shu carefully looked down over the edge. “Whatever it is that’s making the wound from the divination talisman react is down there.”

Squinting... he added. “There’s also some Stele?”

­She was tempted to tell him that there were eight, but it wasn’t worth the effort of marshalling her thoughts to score such a minor point.

As they made their way down, she found the unsettling feeling receding slightly.

 -Is that good or bad though… a voice in her head muttered.

-I dunno, you fate thrashed tell me, she shot back darkly.

As she had seen from above, the level below had eight stele. Two beside each large doorway on the four cardinal directions of the eight-sided depression. Juni stopped to look at them for a moment. She, on the other hand, checked the exits down here in case there was actual danger somewhere. Two of the doors were sealed in the fashion she had seen many times. The third was open, but to her eyes, it looked as if the contents of the hall inside were thoroughly looted. Following the others inside, as they poked around cautiously, she could tell that all the large containers were sliced or opened in the same way as above.

The last hall also had very little in it. There were several cut open crates of various sizes and shelves that had clearly once held materials. Some of the shelves had text on them.

“Juni?”… she found herself asking… “What does that mean?” pointing to a familiar-looking symbol that she had seen on various boxes in the previous complex.

Juni walked over and looked at the small stele on the end of the stack of shelves. “Hmmmmm it seems to be ‘Type Ingredients’. That should translate as Type of Ingredients.”

“So this is a place where they stored the rare ingredients?” Han Shu wondered out loud.

“That seems to be the case,” Juni said, looking about. “Is the odd feeling still there?”

Somewhat caught off guard she was about to answer when it became clear that Juni was talking to Han Shu, not her.

“….kind of?” Han Shu grimaced, rubbing his chest. “It’s somewhat diffuse, but the nagging feeling that there’s something…”

Looking vexed, he ran a hand through his hair. “The more I focus on it the harder it is to get anything meaningful.”

She turned away and closed her eyes for a moment to avoid swearing at them both. Her odd feeling was only getting stronger. Ordering her thoughts, she scowled.

“Never mind his odd feeling, mine is also still there”

When both of them turned to look at her, she realised she had said that out loud and sighed softly in annoyance.

“What odd feeling,” Juni asked, with narrowed eyes.

“Err…. I’ve just had this feeling like we were being watched somehow... It’s less in here? I’ve mentioned it several times now.”

“…..” Han Shu opened his mouth, then shut it again. Her hand involuntarily twitched towards the jar of water from the pool, before she got a hold on it.

 “But it was getting increasingly strong out there in the big storage hall up above.” She said... “I did mention it several times –before- you know, she added for good measure.”

“I don’t think you did…” Han Shu ventured finally ventured.

She was sure she heard her own teeth crack faintly as she resisted cursing him.

Juni, however, stepped smartly in front of him and said. “This place is putting everyone on edge. Even if we were all fit and rested and not already scattered jumbles of nerves…”

This time Lin Ling managed to barely stop the other Lin lings from all trying to pounce on Han Shu.

She forced the anger away, physically pushing it down with the help of her mantra and instead said. “We’ll just keep an eye out.”

“…..yeah… okay,” he said, looking around in a manner that came across as almost condescending.

Shaking her head, she made her way away from the other two to go look around the edges of the room. It was as much a distraction activity to keep her from getting annoyed with their apparent lack of concern over her worries while being willing to go with whatever stupid divination hoodoo Han Shu was claiming. The feeling of being watched was still dully muted as she poked through shelves that had been swept clear of their contents.

It was while she was looking along one of those walls that her eyes caught sight of what appeared to be faintly interlocking circles and strange runes on the wall behind. Frowning, she traced them along until she found a gap in the shelves and could really have a closer look at them. The runes themselves look a bit like Moon Runes that had been carved by a drunk person. Each circle has a complete set of them. Tracing one round, she noted that the circles joined on overlapping symbols as well. From more than a pace away, the whole thing was nearly impossible to see. Even in full illumination, they would likely be next to invisible due to the total lack of any relief in the carving.

She tracked the circles all the way along the wall. On a whim, she clambered up a shelf after they turned out to be fused to the wall. The circles were also present on the ceiling. But not the floor.

-it’s possible the floor is clad? A voice rather helpfully managed to supply through the random clamour of the eternal war for her psyche.

Hopping off again, she considered the join at the floor and found that this was indeed the case. The floor was the same rock as the wall, but if she looked really carefully, it was actually regular slabs that had been set down and presumably fused in the same way as the shelves.

-Have you noticed that this stone is the same flat grey crystalline rock that was under the floor back in the access hall? Another voice murmured.

-Of course she didn’t…

-Yeah, stupid bitch can’t see what’s in front of her face half the time.

She tuned out the other voices, it was especially annoying when they teamed up like that. thankfully curiosity had managed to briefly overwhelm the perpetual clamour of insults. Considering their purpose, and the qi devouring properties of the rock, she made her way back to the room entrance. Tracing the circles, she found that they went out into the short corridor that led into the room and seemed to continue almost all the way to the octagonal area before vanishing.

Somewhere behind her, Juni called after her. She ignored her for now. Probably she was just telling her not to go out of sight or something equally idiotic. As if she was going to wander off down here with those stalking eyes in the shadows feeling like they were getting closer and closer.

-Can the watching things not come into this place because of the runes designs? She wondered.

-Or maybe their ability to watch from afar was hindered somehow by these designs?

Looking at the ones in the corridor, she could detect no qi from them at all. Probably they were so profound as to be entirely outside her grasp.

-That’s pretty likely, I doubt anyone in the province is this good with formations, a voice chipped in.

-Which you would know for certain if you had gone and done some real cultivating instead of joining the fate thrashed herb farmers' guild, a much less helpful one added.

-Haha, who would take her though?

-Oh, yeah, that’s true, her spirit root is so garbage they could barely measure it with the common folks measuring stone.

Rubbing her temples, she stalked back into the room to find the others close to the back, looking at a squat sealed box in the same stone as the walls that was covered by weird carvings.

“Oh, there you are, I thought you hadn’t heard.” Juni said, noting her approach, “could you put some of the blood on this?”

-Ah. So that was what they wanted.

“Don’t you have any?” she grunted.

The store of the stuff she had was already precious. It did seem to replenish if provided a medium, like excess spirit herbs and some of the congealed flesh, but it did so very slowly.

-They didn’t even care that you might have wandered off.

-Yeah, really dead weight, such use you have, another giggled.

“You didn’t give me that much, it’s been used up,” Juni said sounding a bit testy.

-To fate thrashed right we didn’t what if she smashed the pot over our head in revenge, one of the voices hissed.

 “How come this is still here when everything else of value seems to have been looted?” she queried.

“It was in one of the piles of broken stuff maybe it was missed” Han Shu mused.

-Yeah right… She thought.

-Mmm, it's light enough to take given a weakling like Han Shu was able to move, and whoever looted this place seems to have taken everything.

-Unless stuff decayed over time, another Lin Ling pointed out.

-There were sheets and rugs in that one box, remember?

-She did remember. She hissed at herself.

There had also been something else there, but she didn’t seem to recall what it was so it probably wasn’t that vital.

-Oh well. Just another casualty of her memory evisceration by at…

-We established that the youth wasn’t real, remember?

-Aww, you’re confusing the poor widdle girl.

-Now, be nice. The youth was just something that her psychosis has created to make sense of this mess.

-We have to be understanding, remember?

-Haha… understanding my ass, she’s a stupid little blond bitch, what is there to be understanding about.

Her hands trembled a bit as she got out the jar. Really, some of those voices were far too malicious to be just her psyche acting up. Or at least she hoped they were.

-Not to mention sometimes they use words I don’t know, the memory organising voice said grimly.

-May the fates take you, skulking bit-, that voice was caught by the memory organizer and dragged off into silence, which made her a bit happier.

Wincing at the heat of the Yang Effervescence, she poured blood onto the top in a steady stream until the box gave a small ‘click-tssssss’ like sound.

Inside it was a bunch of leather-bound...

-Books? Like people who couldn’t afford jadework slabs or didn’t need them for information storage for various reasons would use?

She picked through the contents before the others could move in. she had opened it after all, not them, so clearly she deserved first look. However, aside from the books, all it contained a bunch of smaller boxes, some of the grey slabs and a stone jar and a bunch of the odd rocks loose in the bottom. The same kind as those she had stashed in a pot in her own waist pack from the halls above.

The wood boxes were all easily openable. Most contained what appeared to be weirdly angled bits of metal or stone with shapes carved on them. All felt heavier than might be reasonably expected as she picked through them. After looking at those, she turned her attention to the stone boxes. Both turned out to be already open. One held a fragile-looking globe about the size of her fist that seemed to contain a dark liquid, awfully reminiscent of the pool in the tree courtyard. She set that box aside for now. The other held what appeared to be a large, simply cut dull grey crystal. Looking at it too closely with her qi vision made her head hurt slightly, so she closed that box and put it back.

“Well, these are odd,” Juni said from opposite her.

She glanced up and saw both of them had picked up the paper and leather manuals to look at.

“This one appears to be a manual for changing out the power source of the teleport array,” Juni said, staring at the writing on the front of one.

“And this one?” Han Shu handed her another.

Juni was silent as she flicked through it for a few moments. “It also appears to be a manual relating to the teleportation array. This one has a lot of diagrams in it that are worded really simply for swapping out core components and doing various repairs….”

“Your knowledge of the language has really come on,” Han Shu said with a smile that made her roll her eyes.

“No.” Juni shook her head, still flipping through the book. “It’s rather that the language used in this is really concise. It leaves very little room for debate…. Usually, you might expect a manual about something like a large scale teleport array to be full of abstract principles and really obscure wording to stop people stealing the ideas of how they are made….but this is almost matter of fact and very easy to understand.”

Shaking her head, she put it down beside the box. “I guess whoever made this place was less interested in monopoly and more interested in having their arrays work properly.”

That was unusual, she had to agree. The maintenance of and control over the various teleportation arrays in the province was something the sects and noble clans frequently waged petty war over. Only the three large transfer hubs were free of such conflict, being under the joint control of the Civil Authority Bureau and the Military Bureau. That rivalry was more… esoteric. It was also a recurring sore point in local politics that ran quite deep in the minor nobility. The Lin Family had had control of the only other large hub. The one at Lin Town, back before they were brought to ruin. Now it was held by the Deng Clan, thanks to the Teng School.

-Incompetent child, you have time to think about this?

-Yeah, focus on what they are doing, in case they steal something.

The voices jarred her recollection back to the present as Juni picked up another book and flipped through it quickly.

 “The other two appear to be the same thing as well. In fact, this whole box seems to be a repair kit for the arrays. Complete with spare components and instructions.”

Juni looked at the boxes. “Hmmmmm well almost complete it seems”

“What do you mean?” Han Shu asked.

“We have four manuals here, and the parts are numbered that they apply to on the covers. There’s also a handy list right here in the start of the first volume” she opened it up and pointed to the page of text.

“You have two boxes that relate to manual Two,” Juni tapped the wooden boxes. “A box that is for the third manual here…” she pointed to the box with the water globe. “And a box for the forth manual” she pointed to the cut crystal. “There’s no box for Manual One.”

“What about these” she held up the dull grey stones, having long been curious about what they were.

“Not sure, sorry. I’d likely have to read the whole manual to know… and while I don’t get –quite- the odd feeling you have Ling, I do agree that the longer we stay here the more I am starting to feel ill at ease,” Juni mused. “AND that assumes that we can even understand half the terms in the manual. The diagrams are pretty easy, but any names for things I might not be able to manage.”

“Are there any other boxes?” Han Shu wondered out loud, looking around at the nearby shelves.

“I don’t think so,” Juni said.

While they were focused on that, she experimentally tried to put some of the items into her storage jade. Somewhat weirdly, while the wooden boxes would all store, but their contents all refused as did the manuals, the dark water globe, the grey crystal and of course the small rocks and grey slabs.

With another sigh, she stashed the grey crystal and the globes in her satchel and added the other rocks to her existing pot of them.

“What are you doing?” Han Shu asked curiously.

“Well we aren't going to leave what are clearly a bunch of technical supplies for an ancient teleport formation lying around in here, are we?” she said. “You have been suggesting taking this and that all through this place, and now you’re suddenly antsy about it?”

“Shouldn’t you at least store them in…?”

“They don’t go in, which you would know if you had paid any previous attention.” she pointed out, enjoying his grimace.

“Ah well,” Juni cut in. “Han Shu, you take the four texts and the formation centres. Then. I’ll add the slabs to the two I already have to save space.”

“Even these don’t go in?” he said dubiously, stacking the volumes together and finding them unstorable.

“Seems nothing will store, it likely has to do with them being associated with a better spatial storage device than our talismans, or some quirk of the materials in the box saturating them,” Juni shrugged.

“They will be really bulky though.” he sighed, staring at the brown boxes.

“The boxes themselves store just fine,” she pointed out with a snicker. “Just wrap the oddments in some luss cloth and make sure they don’t knock, they all appear to be made of reinforced materials I doubt you could break them even if you sued that sword of yours.”

A further search of the rest of the room found two more of the boxes, both opened. Their slabs were still there, and the jars and stone boxes, but all were otherwise empty.

-Maybe that weird Qi repelling and dissipating property of the rock here is the cause? The memory organising voice mused.

She had to admit she was finding more and more in common with that voice.

-That would explain why there is no dust or other such debris, another voice added.

It was rather unusual for there not to be a chorus of…

She paused on the edge of the central chamber which they had made their way out to while she was thinking about the rock repelling qi. The various voices in her mind were being… weird. Weird in that they were too docile.

-The feeling of being watched is receding? One of the other voices eventually said, sounding rather… confused.

-That is not good, the anger ball hissed.

She frowned, the odd feeling of being watched had indeed not returned, if anything it was had, as the voice just noted receded even more. Turning to the stairs, she was about to set foot on them when-

Instinct saved her. The primal gnarled thoughts and the rage made her skitter backwards in a rolling vault as something smashed into the floor where she had been standing with a dull boom...

It was small, maybe a meter high and blurry. Its appearance defied her qi enhanced vision entirely as if the shadows were… it wasn’t standing in any shadow, relative to the darkness itself?

It looked at her, dark eyes in dark shadow, and the sense of being watched was suddenly crippling. Four limbs, with claws on them all, lashed towards her even as she spun away and struck at it with the bloody torch wrapped in luss cloth.

Disturbingly easily, it evaded her strike and was right in front of her. Almost like…

-A memory of the world moving around floating four-armed shadows and five eyes like pools into darkness suddenly spiked through her mind’s eye making her legs…

She heard a yell behind her and a sound of someone hitting the wall. Hard.

She rolled away, saved again by the gnarled mess of instinctual rage and the voice screaming that it refused to die in this place to lizard people. In the same instant another small, four-armed shadow crashed down from the darkness above. Had she not moved, its six limbs would have decapitated her, punctured her heart and taken all four limbs off!

The first one opened its long maw, its head twisting oddly sideways as it did so and [Screamed].


~ Kun Juni, Principle Scriptorum Warehouse ~


Juni rolled away from the wall she had just hit as Lin Ling dodged a second of the small Sar’katush.

[~Scream, FEAR, BE PARALYSED]

The intention sank into her body like chains.

-Shit shit shit, monkeyshit, fates take you nameless cursed-.

Rolled over her was like getting pummelled by hammers.

Nearby, Lin Ling had pulled out a small Jar of blood and scattered it through the air at the two attacking her.

 [WONDER? MOCKING!]

One of the small ones strolled towards her as she fought for control of her own body

Nearby, Lin Ling screamed as one cannoned into her from the side, running along the wall like it was the floor to get at her from a blind spot. The young girl blurred away, using her movement art to get clear.

With a scream, she finally exerted instinctual control over her shivering limbs, just in time to pull her mantra into some kind of working order and kick off one of the small ones that had strolled over to her with the kind of deceptive fluidity that spoke to insane speed.

[MOCKING! BLUE RED MEDIOCRE, ~HILARITY]

It darted backwards even as she became aware of another one dropping at her from above.

Rolling over, she barely avoided its grasping claws, wincing as they opened up the robe across her back and left a wide gash down her arm. In return, she managed to kick it in the head and send it halfway across the room, away, but otherwise unharmed.

Han Shu was fighting two, somehow. she watched, frozen in the moment as one danced in and out of the range of his sword, even as another arrived beside him, the shadow grinning like a moon loon as it grasped for his arm with the intention to sever it. Han Shu dodged barely and swiped at it. The shadow dodged and yet inexplicably failed to dodge. The sword opened it up across its torso and took an arm which dissolved into shadows. The creature pulled itself up, staring at its arm and then it screamed in utter, gut-twisting, mind-crushing fury.

[~INEXPLICABLE, FURY, DEATH, DEMISE, TORMENT, FLAY]

The torrent of empathic intent that washed over them made her vision waver. Lin Ling screamed something.

The one that she had kicked away blurred back at her.

-Avoid it, the helpful voice in her head said.

Ducking, she felt a clawed limb scythe past the back of her head, taking a few locks of hair with it. There was hot pain in her injured shoulder and another in her side as it stabbed claws into her. She reached and grabbed it-

[FEAR]

The flicker of empathic intent that caught her seared through her mind like an executing sword, freezing her use of her movement art and costing her a huge chunk of qi with the failed activation.

She barely managed to maintain the grasp its arm. In desperation, she did a very stupid thing and directly forced qi into her arm, meridian channels far beyond what her mantra told her was advisable. Her elbow connected with its chest, sending it flying away. Simultaneously there was a sickening sensation of grinding bone and failing muscle as her elbow shattered into far too many pieces.

 Her blow connected, yet rather than flying away, the creature just rolled back a few paces and righted itself, stretching mockingly.

[So Weak, Futile]

[Fear]

Another one appeared right beside her, its claws outstretched even as the first one opened its jaws wide and made a taunting motion with its arms.

 [Cowardice], [mediocre]

This time the thought in her mind arrived just a second too late to be helpful, as the creature's claw gripped her broken arm.

 [Weak] [Kill] [Suicide] [Nice Flesh].

-Oh fates no. nope.

-There’s another one coming from the right, the voice in her head muttered.

She flinched, distracted for a moment by the thought of a third one cutting her off.

The third one did come, but not from the right. It ghosted behind her and lashed at her leg, sending her sprawling.

-What the fates! she shot back at the voice in her head, which was now silent.

The one that was standing over her suddenly screamed as Lin Ling smashed a pot of blood over its head directly. She gasped in agony as the Yang attuned Blood spattered her as well. The small Sar’katush became an incandescent blaze even as she struggled up.

… [~Laughter]… [So weak] [Much eat]

… [~Derision].

The two that had fallen back both moved from side to side, waving their arms. The waves of empathic intent washed over her… she felt her skin being torn by their claws, their teeth grinding her bones, her flesh being stripped away while she was alive…

Lin Ling howled. It was not a noise that a human being should have been able to make under normal circumstances, she was sure. The intent that rolled off her was… horrifying. Proper madness. The two Sar’katush both paused as their sending was somehow curtailed by the younger woman’s aura of utter insanity. Inarticulately screaming, Lin Ling blurred at the nearest one, which skipped back only to then have to dodge again as Han Shu lashed out almost at random towards it.

[~Frustration!-]

Its scream was cut off as Han Shu’s sword inexplicably cut it in two despite it clearly dodging.

She forced her mantra to heal her and fumbled a pill.

-Don’t waste those, they are precious, the voice in her head hissed urgently.

The shock of its reappearance made her control of her mantra wobble and induced her to drop the pill in the blood on the floor, where it promptly dissolved in a flash of multi-coloured fire.

She made some inarticulate sound of strangled rage as she grasped for another one to find that was the last fate thrashed one.

“By the nameless fate may your nine generations suffer every misfortune!!!” Han Shu spat as he desperately headed off the two more of the small ones that were closing in on her and Lin Ling.

-Their inability to dodge that sword somehow was fate thrashed handy.

She wished she had a mystical sword like that. One of the small Sar’katush skittered across the wall to her left heading for Lin Ling who was forced to dodge away from the safety of keeping the wall at her back.

Watching with horror as she desperately fought with her own trauma to heal, she saw Lin Ling keep rolling as one… two… three more of the small ones crashed down from above.

[FEAR]

[DEVOUR]

[CONSUME!]

With predatory [SCREAMS] they all piled after Lin Ling.


~ Lin Ling, Principle Scriptorum Warehouse ~


Lin Ling pirouetted desperately and kicked off the wall to evade the lashing claws behind her. Judging as carefully as she could, when to break the next jar. It caught two of them directly, the third was splashed and the last one just barrelled past, mostly unaffected.

 The two that were hit burnt. That was the only way to describe it.

-BURN LIZARD SPAWN!!! The lizard people hating voice in her head screamed,

-yeah, nothing like the smell of burning demon, another cackled.

-BURN!!! the knotted maelstroms of rage in her psyche both shrieked.

Part of her knew she should be more concerned that this was feeding their independence, but right now their… her… insanity that was bleeding into her nascent intent was all that was giving her any kind of crutch here. That and her mantra.

The searing flames lit up the whole room.

[~AGONY!]

[~FURY]

[~HATE, HATE]

[~SUPREME HATE]

The two that were on fire exploded as the Yang Qi combusted their entire being somehow. It sapped the air from her lungs and threw her back. Combined with the dying intention from the two emaciated creatures, she was nearly rendered unconscious.

-The warmth was so...nice… a part of her just wanted to close its eyes and-

-Nope! No sleep now. The organising voice snarled, grasping her and pulling her up.

-We Go Again. The furious voices snarled, a sentiment matched by the twisting ball of rage which was almost taking physical form in her psyche.

The surviving lizards had been thrown away. The Yang Qi had somehow wiped away the shadows as well, giving her first proper look at their attackers.

It was an emaciated lizard-like thing with four arms. Its scaly flesh, tight across its bones, looked faintly rotten, exposed flesh beneath the scales was pustule ridden. Some of them sprouting little tentacles!?! A long head, and a jaw that was twisted strangely sideways, making it open to either side. On its elongated flesh mask of a face were four ‘normal’ eyes. A fifth one existed like a window into nightmare in the middle of its forehead. All of them were empty, except the fifth one that held amorphous darkness that was slowly trying to flow out and recover the body. As to that body? It was dressed in a tattered robe of… rotting flayed skins

Rounding on her, it grinned, opening its mouth wide.

[SO LUCK]…

...[~MOCKERY]

[SLOW KILL]…

[FLAY, ARMOUR!].

She stabbed at it with her bloody torch, hissing under her breath as it dodged away warily. The furious intent that was washing off it was barely able to compare to the insanity that she had been struggling with for days now. Who would have thought that being completely broken would be so...useful?

Juni was still down, Han Shu fighting around her. Keeping two of them at bay while she recovered her arm and… leg?

The wound on her side was starting to itch now. She didn’t dare distract her attention from the others to look at it, so as she moved towards the wall while the three followed after her, she ran her hand over it. It felt blistered. Something clawed at her skin.

-Nope, nope, nope!

-Burn IT.

-Very bad, BURN IT!

The community committee for the continued survival of the mortal vessel sometimes known as Lin Ling that they were using as a debt podium all screamed as one. She stared at the tentacles on the things in front of her. Without thinking any more about it she threw herself onto the blood on the floor nearby, making sure her uncovered side landed squarely in the puddle-

Really, she thought, distantly as part of her screamed in fury and agony, she should be used to the pain by now. The pain between whatever was corrupting the wound and the blood burning into her flesh across a third of her body was possibly the most complete experience of torment she had ever felt. It was so much that all of the different Lin Lings nearly became the original, whole, Lin Ling again under the shock of it.

‘Blessing, Path, Lotus, Body, Gift’

The smell of her own burning flesh seemed to linger for far longer than it should as she rolled out of it and struggled up. Her physical mantra wavering in her head as she tried to offset the damage as best she could. The Yang elements in the blood were in her body now, rampaging furiously.

[INGENIOUS] … [SUICIDAL]… [~MOCKERY] …

[SO LUCK].

She reached for words to scream at them, but in the end, it was just inarticulate rage that came out of her mouth.

One of them grasped for her and she lashed at it with the torch.

Grinning freakishly, if you could even say that about something with such a weird mouth and tentacles for teeth, it strolled around her attack and kicked her with a claw. She managed to connect with the leg. It winced and danced backwards, its flesh smoking. However…

-They are not that strong, one of the voices purred.

-No… they are fast and have sharp claws...

-And terrifying jaws

-And tentacles

-But they are NOT durable, one of the rage voices said with a very evil snarl.

They were indeed not physically powerful, in the normal sense. Greater than her by a bit, but… they were also suppressed.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw that Juni had scrambled up and had kicked another away. Han Shu finally managed to corner another and chop it apart. Lashing, enraged strokes that-

-That {Sword} is really scary, all her mental voices muttered as one.

The sword was carving the wall behind the dying creature like it was made of soft butter. Carving out chunks of stone far deeper than any previous damage she had seen in this place as the lizard creature's wounds seemed to blur oddly.

Without thinking too hard, she ducked her head and rolled forward as a clawed arm flowed out of the darkness striking for her neck. She slashed randomly with the bloody torch, managing to deflect the strike as she came to her feet-

Two hit her like hammers; one in the back, the other in the side. Her clothes were nearly ripped off her back in the process while her satchel blocked the worst of the blow itself. She winced with panic at the sound of crunching pottery nearby but there was no imminent death from ‘water’, rather her entire satchel had been torn away she realised, smashed flat on the floor by the creature landing on top of her.

The other limb connected with the burnt area, distracting her from worrying about her now discarded pack. She was somewhat gratified in the fog of agony to experience the thing [PAIN] just as much as she did.

[~SO ANGER]

...[FLAY!]

She couldn’t scream because her lungs had a hole in them. The clawed arm had missed her heart by a few fingers. She tried not to look at the sight of bits of her own ribs and lungs on its claw as she smashed the remaining small jar of blood against its body. Her arm went numb and the stench of her own burning flesh filled the air, even as she freed herself from the claw before it could combust and take her with it.

Staggering to the side, she crunched one of the healing pills she was storing in her cheek to help recover the wound even as the other one came for her.

[~FURY, SUCH MEANS]

[DIE AGONY.]

-Oh, it was not happy at the death of its associate.

There was nothing mocking in its manner now as it stalked forward, keeping low and blurring weirdly as she tried to keep track of it. The intent off of it made her stumble a bit as she avoided stepping in the blood.

To buy space, she warded it off with the bloody torch, only for it to easily grasp the handle and smash it to splinters, effectively disarming her. Then to her shock, it picked up the luss cloth and licked the blood off it.

[~Pain, STRENGTH, GOOD, BLOOD, SLAKE]

The fire flickered around its mouth as its maw worked to shred the cloth and consume it even as it reared up to grasp her. In desperation, she drew on her physical mantra and landed a punch on its body even as its claws sank into her shoulder and side. The pain of the impact was akin to the time she hit the wall back when Juni stopped her pouring a pot of the blood over Han Shu. The bones in her arm splintered even as its body deformed and they flew apart.

-Who the fates said it wasn’t durable! She snarled at the voices in her head.


~ Kun Juni, Principle Scriptorum Warehouse ~


Staggering up, Juni fought the ringing in her head. Focusing on the events around her she saw Lin Ling punch one of the horrible little Sar’katush hard enough to rupture its back, breaking her own arm in the process. Han Shu stepped smartly behind it and stabbed it through the spine, raking the sword upwards to bisect the creature.

The remaining one that had been moving towards her, instead diverted towards him. He flickered backwards, and she watched as Han Shu’s sword again claimed an inexplicable successful hit, lopping an arm off. Shaking her head.

-Look out, there is one more, the voice in her head said cheerfully.

-It really wasn’t being useful at all now. It seemed far too… cheerful at her misfortune…

-I have to keep my spirits up, it chuckled.

There was, however, one more. The one that Han Shu has taken an early arm off was on the wall above her, she realised. Groaning with the pain, she dodged as it landed where she would have been. Snarling hungrily, it launched itself at her. They rolled on the ground as she barely protected her core, getting two vicious wounds on her inner thigh and left shoulder in the process. Twisting over, she managed to sink her hands into its eye sockets and lock it with a leg as they writhed. Claws tore at her as she exerted all her physical force to turn its spine in a way no living being should ever experience. The sound of tearing flesh and popping ligaments was almost cathartic as she unscrewed its head, using its weird skull shape against it.

-There are more coming, her inner voice observed.

-Don't die too quickly, they are relying on you.

-Really, why did it seem like it was now having fun at her expense? That sense of mockery had always been there she considered belatedly, but she had just dismissed it as her subconscious being dissembling.

Right on cue, she saw two more slip down the wall… then two more after that and another heading for Lin Ling.

 “Behind you,” she managed to rasp out as a warning to both of them.

Han Shu used his own movement art to barely dodge one of the small lizards. Lin Ling, ignoring her broken arm, grappled one and viciously split its face open in a puddle of blood, screaming in fury even as yang fire boiled across its body and ate away the exposed flesh on her forearms.

[SO ANGER]… [SO LUCK][MEDIOCRE] [BIG MEDIOCRE]

[TORMENT] [ENRAGE]

Conflicting screams from the remaining lizard things washed over them all and made them stagger back. Then something landed in the centre of the room.

-You fought so well, little one, the voice in her head grinned.

-You are so very strong, too vigorous, you strove and strove.

It was almost three meters tall, four arms, and a head almost as big as her torso. An adult,

-Rude, the voice in her head purred.

The words held her, frozen. All control over her body was gone. She grasped for her mantra, but it fled from her, or maybe she fled from it.

-little one, you are strong, the helpful voice murmured.

-You even managed to elicit some reaction from that sinner, Accursed Valash.

- But you are so… weak, Its tone shifted subtly, no longer helpful, now… strident, commanding.

“No…” was all she could manage was a broken whisper, even as words failed her and the cold spikes of the soul shock pierced her limbs spikes affixed to soul binding chains.

-Your mind is small, your heart insufficient.

Slowly the scales fell from her eyes and she understood.

The odd idiosyncrasies, the things the voices shouldn’t have known, all individually unimportant, but put together, they spoke of far more knowledge than she had or could ever have been exposed to. Knowledge of spatial collapse, words picked up too easily, intuitions arrived at too succinctly thanks to the voices in her head.  They had hidden in her suspicions, about her mantra, about Valash, about that fractured memory, in her language of 'Old Easten', in her concerns about Lin Ling, in her worries about her own sanity even... evading her suspicious in all sorts of subversive ways.

The voices behind the doors were screaming now, in pain and Fear. Unable to escape the cage in her own head that she herself had built. With her own mantra.

Because…

It had been slowly, subtly, ingeniously pushing out every voice in her head that had been trying to warn her she realised in horror. And it had done it with a smile, as a friend, playing on her fears of a psyche break, of the trauma she nearly suffered at… that youth's hands… and then offered her that little carrot of 'a rare soul mutation', that she had grasped so readily.

-Was I so unwilling to acknowledge that I was just as broken as Lin Ling? a part of her wailed in horror.

-Yes. Yes, you really were, the helpful voice said pityingly.

It was unspeakable, to see now.. to understand... the cage cracked, but it made no difference. what was left was just... broken fragments and gibbering terror held together by gossamer and hope.

Hope that was now fading away like a summer mist.

It had always been with her. Watching, waiting, manipulating.

She had never escaped it in the darkness.

Could never have escaped it in the darkness.

It had walked with her every step of the way.

And it had done it impossibly. It had done it WITH her mantra or in spite of it.

-You wonder how? The helpful voice of the eldritch abomination said, grinning in her mind’s eye.

-Simply put, I am greater than that meagre promise made by that dreaming girl so long ago. What does it matter if the words in your heart cannot be taken, if I can take your very heart, itself? If you, unthinking, witless creature open your self to me, there are no protections you can muster. no way to guard the illusion of that fortress in your mind. You opened the door to me. you invited me in, called me friend, supped of my power.

She struggled against the strength of the voices, but it was like an all covering cloth, smothering her. Above the adult, other shadows descended. Shadows within shadows.

-And now, we have you here, in this place. l' vulgtmah uh'eog

-You have given us access where before we could not tread. l' vulgtmah uh'eog

-You have given us the key, where before those evils of old locked us out. l' vulgtmah uh'eog

-You have done us service, CHILD of the Kun, l' vulgtmah uh'eog

-C' uh'eog ph'nglui turor nafl'fhtagn

All of them spoke at once, their words making her vision grow dark. The darkness rising even as they descended, terrible primordial shadows from the deeping gloom. The creature held her gaze. Its face shifting in myriad ways. Her vision was red now, all she could hear was the words in her head and the thunder of her own heart. Their eyes were its eyes somehow. Taking up the whole world. Plunging her into smothering, gnawing, grasping darkness that was filled with invisible eyes and whispering tongues that all said the same thing.

-You are a worthy offering.

-Your fate...

-YOU WILL abase your self before him, become his new apostle, IN OUR NAME.

-ONLY THROUGH HE, OUR KING can you Pass your coming calamity!

-He ALONE can truly shatter the chains set to bind you!

-HE IS THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN See those who would turn your hopes to dust delivered to ruin.

Their whispered promises wormed like serpents into her mind... she saw... terrible things... thunder splitting a storm lit sky, a defiling eye slowly devouring an underground world. Decimation from beyond the sky, descending on the unsuspecting world above. A Tyrant Sovereign reborn from darkness whence ancient heroes buried it. An ancient, Original Evil carrying Division and Inevitable Extinction in its hands. Annihilation piercing in through the void with a terrible spear, promising many gifts with sweet words even as it built a cage to shatter and constrain the dreams of humankind. Saw a wonderous azure bird, born of chance, try to fly, only to be caught, plucked and consumed by laughing youths. Her own death at the hands of her world. Her fate subverted, Good Fortune stolen by the greed of others. Saw Lin Ling torn apart, her blood flowing into a million open mouths. Saw them rise as everything she held dear was consigned in this horrible place.  And at the end of it a simple promise. Accept us, and this shall not be.

The one that stood before her was even greater in stature now. It was her whole world as it towered over her. Its flesh twisting, becoming faces with eyes… stretched taut over strange bones. In the flickering yang fire from one of the juveniles corpses, she could see that the tattered robe it wore over its horrible form, made of Algru fibres, was stained a dirty yellow. The eyes looked every which way while the central fifth eyes held her, immobile in their sanity flaying eldritch sight.

For a split second, she thought she saw a strange unspeakable symbol in the depths of that eye. Then her entire world turned inside out.

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A note from Rith

This mini-arc is reaching its peak, with a stylish cameo from Lil' Cliffy. Will our heroes survive? How badly has Lin Ling screwed the pooch, how well will Juni take the fact that all her rationalisation and mental fortitude was a lie.

find out next time on Dragon Ball Z

Wait, sorry, wrong fiction. There won't be any 'intense powerup with screaming rage for dialogue for 10,000 words' chapters for quite some time ^^.

Author's Note: The Sar'katush (as i called them very randomly) are an subterranean race with a great history and ancient roots that made a few unfortunate choices along the way. They draw from a bunch of different fictional wells. There is of course HP Lovecraft, I have not been subtle there and any doubt should have been put to bed by that lore blurb! but also Dr Who and a bit of authors like Edgar Rice Burrows and HG Wells.

Release Note: As i said yesterday, no chapter tomorrow. There will be a double release on Monday 19th October 2020 for the nice 20 followers/5 favorites milestone if i can manage it, but certainly one chapter then. there will be one chapter a day for the rest of the week, which will finish off Book 1 on Friday. After that I will have a slightly longer break over the weekend while I go back and sort out a few things with the earlier chapters I have been mulling over and hadn't already had a chance to do in this short break. Regular releases will then resume on Tuesday 27th October.


As always, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it, and if you found any typos or oddities etc, lemme know.

ps. If the formatting of text in the melee at the end of the chapter is a bit wierd let me know and i'll see what i can work out with it.


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Rith

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