Makoto smiled at the little Chitine. "Oh, come on, Ulow. Cheer up. We got the book, no one died, and even our horses and Saiza's mule are okay." She pulled Ulow's hands away from her face again. "And just think of the wonderful reward Rin will have for us when we get back, eh?" She gave Ulow a flirty little wink.
Ulow appreciated the ninja's sudden change of mood and gave off a bit of a forced smile in return. Even if talking to Rin again would have extra stigma from now on, she could always count on a drink with good ol' Makoto. That was something at least.
An affectionate four-armed hug only got the larger woman a bit muddy, so Ulow quickly flinched away from it again, and concentrated on cleaning up the mess rather than try to think of an upbeat lie she could spout.
"...Sorry Makodo... Bed all'ya good cloths are back in Kisanugi... foolish..."
As the group made their way back to Kusanagi, they found their nights free of the strange monolith fueled dreams - if indeed dream was the appropriate words.
Still, something wasn't right. That incident, at the library, when Saiza had suddenly screamed and freaked out - there were more. And as time went on, it wasn't just Saiza. Makoto would scream and suddenly find herself holding her nagato, having no recollection of either screaming or drawing her weapon. Likewise with Veldan and her mindblade. It was if they group was seeing something, but forgetting about it.
Then it started happening with Blueberry and the horses - and Emi too.
The group was over halfway to Kusanagi when it happened. They saw. They all saw it, this time, and this time it didn't vanish, and they didn't forget.
They knew, somehow. All those times they had reacted and forgotten. This was it. This was what they were seeing.
And it was horrible.
The horror was roughly the size of a large Orc, although it lay on the ground. It's upper body was humanoid in most vague of senses, while its lower body was a writhing mass of oozing tentacles. And it was wrong. So wrong. So horribly, horribly wrong. It felt like Brookhaven. Like the Wrongheads and the Starspawn and the fog and the great and terrible Other. The group knew. They knew in every fiber of their being. This was something wholly and utterly alien. It did not belong here. It did not belong anywhere on the Great Wheel. The very grass beneath their feet seemed almost revulsed by the creature's presence.
And their heads hurt. There was a buzzing sound. In their minds. Like something scratching to get in. Or maybe to get out?
There was no slime-trail behind it, however. As far as the group could tell, the abomination has simply come into being right in front of Saiza, as the were riding.
Blueberry and the horses reacted instantly, before even Makoto could draw her weapon, bucking wildly and generally freaking out. The group managed to stay atop their mounts, but it was obvious they would have dismount quickly if they wanted to engage the horror, as there was no way the animals were going to stay anywhere near the thing.
Surprise round. The creature gets to act next round. Getting off your mount is part of a move action if you move, but if you just want to get off and not move, that's a move action in and of itself. No map because why bother? You're in a field on your horses when BAM! Horror out of nowhere.
Saiza = 25
Veldan = 14
Ulow = Did not roll. Reg is playing both so for convenience's sake.
Makoto = 10
Mathias = Did not roll. Duck is never around so he goes last.
The terror that whipped through Saiza left a numbed coolness in its wake. It was too much, all put together. After the hell the party had been going through the last few days, the appearance of...this was almost a relief. He staggered off of the bucking Blueberry, who fled back the way they'd come as he slipped on his eagle claws.
Too empty of emotions to panic at what he was about to do, Saiza leaped forward and dug the blades of the metal claws deep into the abomination.
Ulow didn't seem to believe what it was before her eyes at first, perhaps preferring the explanation that she had instead just finally gone truly, irredeemably insane. The rotten feeling it exuded was all too familiar by now. All too familiar. But just another unwelcome dream.
What made her scream, shiver, and quake was the fact that this time the others seen it too.
She had to resort to begging with herself to stay and face it, not to abandon Saiza. Her legs had pulled her off of the horse, but she wouldn't let them move any further.
If it was already within her head, how could she possibly conceive of fighting it with her powers?
A wispy ball of string gained presence within her hands, almost on it's own. She threw it at the thing, and simply preyed it would make some tiny contribution to slowing it's advance. A prayer for Saiza to change his mind.
The orb of web burst rather satisfactorily and knotted sever of the thing's limbs together. The effect might have looked as pathetic as Ulow felt, but there was just no will within her to fight it at all.
"...Saiza... Pleaze... Pleaze dond fighd... Pleaze dond... Id's already.... Pleaze..."
Kinda shitty, but, eh. I just want this moving again. Duck, Reg, you're welcome to post.
The horror was not as dangerous as it looked. Upon the things death it exploded into a shower of gore, each and every bit, from the black bile to the solid chunks, then proceded to fade away. As though it was never there at all.
Although it was.
The rest of the trip back to Kusanagi was, for better or for worse, without incident. The only event of note, in fact, was that Saiza's nightmares - if nightmares they were - had finally stopped.
Maybe the monolith had something to do with it?
Rin Shiranui was, evidently, busy when they had arrived in Kusanagi. Dealing with some 'urgent matter.' Wonder what it was? Knowing her, probably an orgy. Still, a clerk in the palace gave the party their fee for retrieving the book, and instructions about where to deliver it for further pay.
But, sadly, Saiza wanted no part of it. Eldritch terrors from beyond the Nine Hells, near constant nightmares, skeletons, death, and a Lich had taken their toll. He took his money, and he left.
Veldan, too, left. There was lots of crying, from her, and hugging, and promises to stay in touch, if she could. She needed to find her prince and, you know, was really worried about everyone back home.
And then ther were three. Makoto, Mathias, and Ulow.
Evidently Armitage's retreat was sufficiently far from Kusanagi, and civilization in general, that the party was given a direct teleport there, and a scroll of teleport for their way back.
The instructions were clear: give Armitage the book, tell him Rin is sorry and sent them, and to head back. Armitage was a paranoid, excitable, and Eccentric Wizard in all senses of the word 'eccentric' so careful choice in words and actions was advised. Good thing Saiza wasn't there, I guess?
Armitage's tower was a, well, towering affair, wrought of iron and devoid of any visible windows. The large entrance was guarded by two large Iron Golems, that regarded the party but did not attack.
And then, as the party approached, one of them spoke, it's voice metallic and echoing from within. Except, you know - or at least Mathias did - Golems can't speak.
"Outsiders You Approach The Residence Of Armitage, Archwizard, Artificer, Conjurer, Master of Artifice, Scholar Of The Planes. State Your Business Here. Aggressive Action, Deception, And Subterfuge Shall Be Met With Violence. Know, Also, That The Artificer Does Not Take Apprentices, Petitioners, Or Guests. State Your Business, Or Leave."
The booming voice startled Ulow, and the pale scraggly thing grappled around behind Mathias rather than face directly with the mobile hunks of metal. Her cold hands found ways inside his coat and robbed his warmth. She had pretty much been like this since Saiza and Veldan had left; The chitine's nerves were long gone. If Makoto wasn't around to drag her off the floor, she probably wouldn't have ate or bathed.
But... Well, at least, she was still here. Her stern eyes had determination in them yet. Her thoughts were of protecting Mathias, not of using him as a shield.
He would still probably have to do the talking, through.
Mathias stepped up to the golem, though his new long cloak still comfortably covering the top half of Ulow. "We're envoys from Rin Shirunai, come bearing gifts of knowledge" he stated it plainly, unsure if courtesies would be expected or an annoyance.
"We've been inside Basarab and out, alive, to deliver you Liber Ivonis. I hope you will find appreciation for our efforts to let us in, if for a little while" he waited for the response from the archmage.
The Golems were silent for a few moments, evidently 'thinking.'
"The Grand Artificer Shall Grant You Exception, on Behalf Of The Shiranui Woman," The Golem rumbled from within, as the grand door opened and the party, made their way inside Armitage's tower.
Once inside, the group were greeted by another pair of Iron Golems and a third, crystal, one that Mathias recognized as a specialized anti-Psion golem often called a Psion Killer. Probably for Ulow.
"You Will Follow Us. Touch Nothing Without Being Told Or Suffer Violence." Instructed one of the iron ones, as the massive door sealed behind them.
The ground floor was, evidently, some manner of golem foundry. There were forges and furnaces, clay ovens and moore, all being worked by golems as they toiled at producing new golems. In display cases, here and there, were strange constructs the likes of which Mathias had never even heard of, apparently being partially wooden in their construction. They looked quite ancient, and also quite inactive.
Strangely, there were also many large crystals, here and there, of the same design that Viktor had in his office. Some manner of psionic dampener? Protection from Seers? Something altogether more sinister?
"This is pretty cool, huh Ulow?" Was Makoto's attempt to cheer up the terrified Chitine. "Maybe you should do the talking, Mathias. You're good at this nerdy wizard stuff," she smiled.
"You Will Step Into The Circle." Intoned the golem, gesturing towards a magic circle, presumably a teleport circle.
And it was.
There were no windows, so the party had no idea if they had moved up or down in the tower, or how far. They could easily have been in an entire different building in fact. There was another pair of Iron Golems waiting for them. "You Will Follow Us. Touch Nothing Without Being Told Or Suffer Violence."
This time the walls were lined enormous bookshelves, each stretching scores of feet upwards until they touched the ceiling. Spider-like constructs with hands at the end of their spidery limbs Crawled along the towering shelves, restocking or reorganizing the books. Here, too, were the crystals, as well.
The golems led the trio to a shriveled and ancient old man in thick glasses, standing with a cane and flanked on either side by a quartet consistent of 2 Iron and 2 Crystal Golems. The Crystal Golem that had accompanied them there waited besides Mathias with outstretched hands.
"Well? Don't just stand there gawking. Give the book to the golem! I'm not touching it. Gods know what disgusting juices the old fox got on it." He sounded as old as he looked. "Who are you idiots? What do you want? Wait, no, I don't care. What's the old fox want? And don't tell me 'just to give you a gift' because she always wants something. They always do."
What a charming old man.
Mathias produced the book and placed it on the ground. "It's a gift" he assured, not recalling any wording otherwise. But words are wind.
"I'm just a fledgling student of the mysteries, and an errand boy. Mostly the latter, as of late. If Lady Shiranui meant anything by 'gift', she didn't care to give me any hints"
He stepped back to make space for a golem to retrieve the book. "...and it's an honor to meet one such as yourself, Grand Artificer" he added moments later. As a student himself, Mathias had great respect for any who study the art to this degree. He knew it was taxing on the heart and mind firsthand, and even the evil wizards who has accomplished so much were respectable in their own way. His mouth brimming with a sort of excitement he didn't feel since long ago, when he looked up to these masters instead of envying them. In a way, he'd grown into a cynical boy, only to soften up as a man. He kept his mouth shut though, suspecting he'd been speaking a few words too many.