Several days later, Alessi and I stood on the gold sandbar in front of the high-cendai’s residence, waiting for her to emerge.

“I see that you brought your new sister,” Eunice noted as she came from within her rune-covered abode, sparing Alessi but a momentary glance.

“She will be my assistant,” I stated confidently. “Even if she cannot do magic, she can aid me, right? Can she stay by my side as my own… monci?”

“Sure. Personally, I prefer a more solitary life,” the high-cendai said. “But some cendai keep several monci, especially my monwai in Illatius. Do you trust her to aid you?”

“With my entire life,” I answered. “She helped me take down the nightcrawler.”

“Very well,” Eunice said. “She may stay by your side as your helper.”

“What’s… Illatius?” I asked.

“The Master-hive of the local jumbari,” Eunice explained. “They call themselves the Basquenate. It is a human tribe that rules many other tribes across the land beyond the Chasm. All of their wealth and power is concentrated in Illatius. They had built their hive near the Chasm, as the air here is rich with magic.”

I nodded. If I understood my Master right, Illatius was a human capital city of the local nation called the Basquenate.

“Well, let's not waste time. Today I will go over more basics for you,” Eunice said, interrupting my musings. “To access the Still Forest safely, you must become a Still-Walker. The first thing a cendai must learn is how to still their body. A chimera body, like those of other creatures of the Chasm, is made up of several elements. The Spirit-Tree. The crystalline lattice. The body of flesh.”

I nodded.

“The Soul-Tree is what gives a cendai absolute control over the other two elements. Its roots and branches can reach into the Still Forest for knowledge and power.” Eunice tapped the gray, crystal hair on her head. “These crystals and others like it deep within our bodies are the expression of the spiritual leaves of our Soul-Tree. They store whatever it draws from the Still Forest, be it knowledge or power.”

“Knowledge?” I blinked. “Would I lose memories if I cut off my hair?”

“No,” Eunice answered. “The Mental-Branch of the Soul-Tree is deep within your head. Our hair contains an excess of the breath of the Chasm which the body pushes out of itself over time. I will drop my shield momentarily, for you to observe me.”

The high-cendai spoke a song-word and her hair and body ignited with lustrous luminescence. I squinted at her and gasped. She looked like a celestial being, wreathed in radiant flames, her crystalline hair radiating coronas of impossible rainbows with far too many colors.

A brilliant ring ignited behind her head, drawing my eyes towards it. When my gaze connected with it I felt love, absolute devotion to Eunice. The high-cendai was my Master, a perfect being made manifest, a goddess...

With a blink, the divine vision was gone. I found myself standing on my knees and drooling a little.

The runes around the garden flashed. The yearning to submit myself to her will, to prostrate myself before her faded slowly. I forcefully looked away from Eunice at the glowing rocks. What the hell was that?! How high-level was her God-damned Allure halo?

The colors of her radiance remained in my eyes as a slowly fading after-image for the next few minutes.

“You must learn how to completely conceal your inner light,” the high-cendai spoke when I rose from my knees. “The phantoms will be drawn to it as your magical power grows inside you and is let free as you have just witnessed.”

She was repeating herself, focused on the lesson that magic without protection was bad. I was starting to wonder if Eunice thought of me as an idiot savant because I did magic so early and almost got eaten by a phantom.

“What are the phantoms of the Still Forest, exactly?” I inquired. “The thing I saw… had many eyes in a hollow shell filled with various threads.”

“Powerful magical beings whose bodies perished long ago,” Eunice explained, her lips tight. “Their souls persist in the Still-Forest at a great cost. They’ve long lost all sense of self, feeding on memories and imprints of whatever un-crystallized soul they can find, eternally integrating other spirits into themselves to sustain their abominable existence of endless suffering and hunger.”

“Can they… leave the Still Forest?” I asked.

“They can,” Eunice said darkly. “In places contaminated with death, where the barrier between the Still Forest and our world is thinnest… the phantoms can take over the bodies of… anything living. They usually do not survive for very long in this state, for their souls are fractured, disordered, made up of many memories. They are twisted, broken things."

I shuddered.

"Their souls are thus… unstable. If they get inside a living creature... driven by madness and unending desire to feast, they consume everything in sight without recourse, still acting as they would in the Still-Forest,” Eunice said.

I gulped. Was she describing… zombies? Were zombies a thing in Andross? What about ghouls? Vampires? Were those a thing here?!

“Human hives closer to the deadlands have to use powerful warding magics to keep the phantoms away,” Eunice continued. “Thankfully, such does not occur here often. The Chasm is filled with life. Life is… adverse to them, for the phantoms are creatures of death and decay.”

“Now, there are several tools to better conceal your Soul-Tree’s radiance,” the high-cendai pointed at the gold spirals on herself. “The rune shield is just one of them.”

I looked at the runes on her body, trying to figure out a pattern to them that I could possibly copy. There didn’t seem to be any.

“How do the runes work exactly?” I asked. “Are they akin to jumbari letters?”

“No,” Eunice shook her head. “Runes are unique to each cendai - they cannot be copied. Each one is a guide, an idea, a desire, a dream.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“The branches of your Soul-Tree can be snipped off and attached to… anything,” Eunice said. “The rune simply acts as a knot that ties a little shard of your soul to the object. The little snippet of your soul is what acts upon the world around it, performing magic.”

“I see,” I pursed my lips mulling the provided information. “So… I can snip off parts of my soul and tie it to things?”

“Indeed,” the high-cendai waved her hand around the garden. “Small saplings of my soul are within every rock here. This place is my Soul-Garden, my personal domain. Every Soul-Sapling here is tied to the other, in a network of spiritual roots. The Soul-Garden protects me and helps me focus my magic better.”

I looked around the high-cendai’s garden in fascination, seeing it in a new light. So this was… her wizard’s tower? The place of her absolute power?

“How small… can the soul fragments be?” I asked.

“As small as you can imagine them to be,” Eunice said. “They’re simply weaker if they are smaller. A soul sapling that’s too small and not tied to the others will simply perish, dissolve or sink into the Still Forest. You’ll discover exactly how small you can make yours with practice.”

“Rocks aren’t alive… what would happen if a cendai planted a Soul-Sapling in a living creature?” I asked.

“An astute question,” Eunice smiled. “It would be treated as an invader by the Soul-Tree of the creature in question, attacked and destroyed or absorbed.”

“So then how do cendai take over humans?” I asked.

“The human’s soul must be weakened and drained first so that there is no conflict,” Eunice said. “There are runes and tools in my Soul-Garden, specifically made for this. All you need to do is hunt, knock out and bring a young, highborn female human here.”

“How many of us are in control of human bodies?” I tried to keep my face calm.

“Seven,” the monstrous shaman replied. “It takes a special kind of a cendai to fully immerse themselves in human culture.”

“How exactly do cendai control the… um… extra bodies?”

“A Still-Walker’s chimera body is suspended, stilled, crystalized into a state of absolute lethargy. When this state is achieved, the cendai is able to relocate their entire soul into another body.”

“So a cendai can simply take over any body with a weakened soul?” I asked.

“No,” Eunice shook her head. “The body in question must be prepared first, completely saturated, rooted with the cendai’s soul-saplings. A talented cendai can step between their own body and that of a human whenever they desire."

"I see," I said. "So... um, what does a human body do when the cendai's soul isn't in it?"

"In the case of a possessed human… the body will simply sleep in a deep trance while the cendai is not in control of it. The empty shell cannot be wakened from this sleep. The Soul-Saplings keep it alive. If a cendai does not use the human shell often enough, it will weaken, perish from hunger and thirst.”

“Can a cendai take over any creature in this manner? A small bug? A thunderbird? A nightcrawler?” I asked.

“No,” Eunice laughed. “The minds and bodies of bugs and monsters are too different from us. Far too many branches of your Soul-Tree would be left exposed. You would grow weak and your mind would succumb to madness.”

“What about… another chimera?” I mulled.

“That is possible, but I would not permit the use of my garden for such,” Eunice said. “Humans are free game as our enemies. They are... malevolent to our kind. If they catch young chimera like yourself, they will kill you to harvest the crystal hair and gemstone core or... worse.”

“How many human bodies can a cendai wear?” I continued my line of inquiry, shuddering a little.

“One, until it is dead,” Eunice replied. “The possession must be absolute so as not to fail. Once you have merged with one human body, the bond will force it to become more and more like you, the flesh slowly reshaping itself to approximately match your chimera appearance.”

“Don't humans notice these… changes?” I asked.

“The change is very gradual,” the high cendai said with a devious smirk. “This is why it is important to catch a young one. Human spawn can change a lot when they grow up. My monwai made the other humans believe that any drastic changes such as the shift of hair color and skin tint occurs because of ‘the blessing of the Gods’, granted to most noble, chosen, young heroes that braved the deeper levels of the Chasm.”

“You’ll tell me about your monwai in the city?” I said.

“I will show you how they look, in time,” Eunice said. “They’re all female and specialize in various magics. They will aid you if you become one of them.”

I thought about her words and glanced at Alessi who kept absolutely quiet throughout our conversion.

“The ancestral chorus… is it simply chimera mothers passing the saplings of their soul to their daughters?” I asked.

“Correct,” the high-cendai affirmed my suspicions.

“So then regular chimera can do magic? Why don’t the phantoms…” I started to speak.

“I am the one who performs the Ancestral Chorus ritual during childbirth, reinforcing the connection,” Eunice said. “I do it here, in the absolute safety of my Soul-Garden. Also, it is a talent all chimera are born with, lost only by a few that return from death. Inherent skills of Chasm creatures such as the Thunderbird’s ability to travel by lightning do not flare brightly in the Still Forest and thus do not attract the phantoms.”


A note from Vitaly S Alexius


Since a few people asked for more Urbex deets, I'll be using this space as "author's notes urbex adventure story-time". This is an Royal Road exclusive, since I rarely share my photography tales outside of the Urbex community except for a few select gallery-fitting shots.

Unlock spoiler to read the tale of the "Lennox Castle":

The story of Castle Lennox begins one hundred and eighty one years ago.

Designed by famed Glasgow architect David Hamilton and completed in 1841, Lennox Castle was originally the stately home of the Kincaid-Lennox family in Scotland.

In 1927, the castle and 12002 acres of surrounding land were purchased by Glasgow City, who decided to turn the castle into a hospital for people with disabilities. The project was badly mismanaged, understaffed and underfunded. 

The hospital consisted of 20 individual wards scattered throughout the estate's park, creating an "autonomous village" with a capacity of 1200 people. In the 1970s 1700 residents were put in, creating unbearable living and work conditions for staff and patients. Patients became malnourished and were badly treated by the staff.

The project was shut down and in 2002 the castle became forsaken, the curse of abused patients hanging over it until a mysterious fire set it ablaze in 2008.

And now, armed with historical facts, lets take a dive into the castle as it stood during my urbex trip there with my friend Oggy. [Rule #1 of urbex is always to have a partner in case you fall into a hole].

"~Hogwarts is enchanted in such a way that Muggles see only ruins in its place."

This would not deter a professional urban explorer, who's life's passion is climbing into dangerously decrepit looking ruins, the more decrepit, the better.

The central entryway was barred, but it still looked magical:

We used our climbing gear/skills to go over the wall and inside. The central entryway has seen better days:

 Ah yes. The magic ceiling of Hogwarts was enchanted to display the sky.

A hall with a view!

This stairwell has exited the building by collapsing in on itself:

This stairwell is perfectly safe too:

Railings? Eh, those are totally overrated.

Now, what's behind this mysterious door?

Ah. I'm going to have to wait for the magical moving stairwell to arrive. Might take a while...

Did you have a fun time enjoying these photos?

Demand more Urbex in your comments and I can deliver more tales of interest. :]




Support "The Armorer and the Infinite Dungeon [Progression Litrpg]"

About the author

Vitaly S Alexius

  • Canada
  • Archbishop of Captania and sovereign territories

Bio: I was born in the year 1984, in the 4th most polluted city of Soviet Union.
On April 11/1997 fate has given me an unexpected twist and by means of aerial transportation I was dislocated 5555 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Ontario, Canada, wherein I currently preside in an 1890 cathedral and partake in writing and drawing things.

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