Midsummer 6, 6107 RTR (Oct 20, 2006) The explorers find Valicross' laboratory
(Morgan) (Madame Natasha) (Olivia) (Qing) (Stonebarrow) (Sylvania) (The Return of Valicross)

    Cathedral of Pain and Torment
    What was once a temple dedicated to perhaps a God or Goddess of peace has been converted to a chamber of horrors. The decaying walls are plastered in intricate runes, all of which are necromantic in nature. Some call upon nameless horrors. Some demand service from all things rotting. Around the central altar is a complex circle. For as insane as he was, his skill must have been great. The use of some of the more common forms of spirit magic have been rebuilt and intertwined in a complex pattern. To the mages it ultimately symbolizes the shifting of a physical life to a magical one … an actual circle of a lich ritual. Behind it hangs a tattered tapestry with swirling red and blue patterns going throughout it. Stacked in the decaying pews are books upon books and in the corners rest crates and chests, all closed. Some even look disturbingly like coffins. The meat-hooks hanging from the old beams are none too pleasant, either.

Nothing much of interest was uncovered in the upper chamber as they finish their investigation. The boxes all contain items from victims or intended victims; some quite old, most quite broken. So, it's time to head down into darkness! The stairs are dark and the walls close as the group heads down into the depths. Curiously, one would expect it to get colder as you go underground. Here, though, it's getting warmer. They don't have much time to ponder why, though, because Olivia just happens to step on the right stone and the stairs suddenly turn into a slimy slide! The Skeek's feet go completely out from under her and Olivia, with a squeal, vanishes into the darkness. Morgan's Kadie nature rescues him as he digs his claws into the wall. Natasha follows suit with her claws. The Rokuga has the easiest time of it, he just presses his coils against the walls and doesn't go anywhere.

Natasha curses under her breath. "I should have expected this," she growls, then calls out, "Olivia! Olivia!"

Flush with the wall, Qing can only watch the Skeek whisk down what's become a dank chute. He wills the winged eyeball hovering near him to dive after her.

"Oh my," Morgan remarks as Olivia slides in to the darkness. "We'd best get down there quickly, who knows what's at the bottom of this ramp!" A pause, and he adds, "Does anyone have any ideas as to how we can get down? Because, I admit, I'm not the best climber of a Kadie."

"In hindsight, we should have brought rope," Natasha mutters. "Did anyone see where she stepped? We might be able to reset the stairs."

"I did," Morgan replies. He snakes his tail around and uses it to point at the spot. "There, she stepped there."

"Hmm, can someone reach it with an appendage and push on it?" Natasha inquires.

From somewhere ahead of them in the darkness, the other three can hear Olivia's screeching as she slides away – and then a more ominous squish and THUMP! For a few long moments, there is silence… then a tiny, far-away voice calls, "It's all right, Natasha, I'm okay! For now, anyhow. I don't know what I landed against, though, and I don't have a lamp!"

Morgan uses his tail to wipe his forehead. "Whew, she's okay. A fine witch I'd be if Miss Weaver had been injured," he says, relieved.

"She's not out of danger yet. Do not let your guard down," Natasha warns as she shifts her position slowly until she's pressing her back against one wall and her legs against the other. She reaches with her staff and makes several jabs at the spot Morgan indicated/

"Let me help you," Morgan offers. He uses his tail to help guide and steady the staff.

"Thank you," Natasha says as the tail does help steady the staff. It's enough that Natasha can finally drive the staff point into the stone. There's a small thump and the stairs slowly slide back into place.

Qing has a hand on his temple, and he murmurs, "I see her through the spirit's eye. She is unharmed. I would advise her to close her eyes when we arrive with light and help her up."

Morgan eyes the tunnel with apprehension. "There're going to be more corpses, aren't there." It doesn't sound like a question. "And slime. I'm glad I didn't wear my adventure dress." He gingerly retakes his footing, and then careful heads downward.

From far below, the group can hear the tiny sounds of Olivia feeling around in the darkness, trying to find out a little bit more about her surroundings just by touch. She tries to be careful, however, so she doesn't inadvertently set off any more traps! "At least Gunther's inventions got me used to all this slime," she mutters.

The reptile raises his voice. "Weaver, you shouldn't touch anything with your bare hands there. It's… unsanitary. We will be there soon." He takes his hand off his temple and begins pouring down the restored stairs. "And close your eyes."

Natasha eases herself off the wall and straightens back up. "Do corpses scare you, Mr. Nightshade?" she asks the Kadie and glances towards him. "As long as it's not animated, there is nothing to fear." And with that, she starts down the stairs again as well, her staff lighting the way.

Again, all noises from below stop. Then, in a shaky voice, Olivia calls back up, "Um, you're too late, Master Qing. I already touched some… stuff down here. Tell Morgan to brace himself – he's not going to like this!"

Morgan squints, mainly because he doesn't want to see what's below, either. As he heads down into the dark, he replies to Natasha, "They only scare me when they jump out suddenly, and that's only from the surprise. I may hunt the undead, but that doesn't mean I'm fond of bugs, rot, and death. I prefer the cleanliness of the pure spirit."

"Not all spirits are clean, Mr. Nightshade," Natasha notes as she heads further down. It's a few minutes, but the group finally reaches the bottom of the stairs. At the base sits Olivia … right on a pile of dismembered body parts; all in various states of decay, though the smell of sulfur down here masks most of it.

"Nnnnn, o-okay, I can manage this," Morgan says as he spots the pile of body parts. "Yes, keep your eyes closed, Miss Weaver – I'm coming to rescue you." He tip-toes through the body parts, reaching for Olivia's hand. "And it's not as if I'm not used to a mess, I've helped deliver many of our younger townsfolk. This is just … different."

Olivia, hearing Morgan's voice close to her now, reaches out her own hand so that he can have a better time of grasping it. "And, uh, I don't know what I'm sitting on at the moment… and I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell me afterward," she says in a small voice.

Qing slithers among the scattered remains, rejoining his scout, which drifts along low over the floor. He moves to Olivia's side opposite Morgan, reaching a bony hand down to grasp her upper arm and help her up with the Kadie. "It's not pleasant, but it's easier to take if you're not lying on it." The Rokuga surveys the grim scene, trying to determine who or what the parts are from.

Morgan looks down to see what Olivia is sitting on, winces, then hurries the woman away from the pile while trying not to look at it any more than he absolutely needs to. "Valicross is a sick, sick man," he exclaims with a mix of disgust and discomfort. "Oh, gods, I think there's a fing- … er … Something in my boot." Once out, he gingerly picks at the severed pointer and carefully tosses it away.

The parts are from a myriad of species; though most seem to be Skreek, Korv, and Lapi.

"Is it safe to open my eyes now?" Olivia asks, cringing at the sounds of Morgan shaking something awful out of his shoe and tossing it to the floor with a splat.

Natasha just looks over the scene with an emotionless stare. Slowly, she shakes her head, then walks past the others; since they're both helping Olivia. Just beyond them is a large wooden door. It's closed. "It shouldn't be this warm down here," she notes.

"I wouldn't, Olivia. Just hold on to my hand and I'll lead you further in," the witch replies. To Natasha, he suggests, "I've found the, um … " he waves at the corpses, " … tend to be warmer as they … do what they do, you see. But, you're right. This is much too warm."

"O-okay. I guess it's as bad down here as I thought," Olivia says, grasping Morgan's hand more tightly and nodding her thanks in the direction of Qing's voice.

Qing hisses, "You may as well open your eyes, we'll likely be back this way again. You saw worse in Bravil's mind at the fortress, you just didn't have to sit on it." He moves toward the wooden door, beckoning his winged eye again. "You're right… much as I dislike the cold, this does seem odd." He tries to direct the scout through the door, not bothering to see if it's thistlewood.

"I suspect this is his laboratory. He dealt in various plants, if you remember. This would be an ideal place for some of them. And with the … well, ample food," the Khatta notes and steps aside for the eye. It slides easily through the wood, at least.

"It's up to you, Olivia. You're the one that will have to live with this memory," Morgan advises. He squeezes her hand before turning his attentions to the door. "Let's hope it's not another corrupted dryad."

Qing's response actually makes Olivia smile a little. "True enough," she says, then opens her eyes just a crack to test if she can really take what she's about to see. The sight that greets her isn't pleasant, but she decides that she can manage it and opens them the rest of the way.

The reptile touches his temple again, spidery fingers arched. "Mm… you are correct, Madame. His laboratory is inside, along with the plants you speak of. There is another door across the room, and it bleeds an unsettling red light."

"One room at a time, then. Hmm." Morgan pats Olivia's hand before releasing it, then steps forward. "Mage Qing, may I borrow your sight again? I would like to see if any of the plants within are particularly dangerous, before we enter."

"Mm. Are there any traps on the door you can see?" Natasha inquires of the other mage. She then tilts her head towards Olivia now, then asks, "Are you holding up okay?"

Olivia takes in a shaky breath and gives Natasha a wavering smile. "As long as I keep my eyes on this door, and not the floor, I do much better," she says lightly.

Qing shakes his head, his eyes still unfocused. "None that I can see, but I am no expert on such." He takes his fingertips away from his white scales, and waves Morgan closer, offering a hand. "Very well."

"Thank you," the witch replies. He reaches over and takes Qing's hand, narrowing his eyes. "I wouldn't put it past the necromancer to plant dangerous sporing plants, or other insidious things such as that."

Qing murmurs for a few moments, putting the clawed tip of his index finger between the Kadie's eyes.

Morgan reaches up and rubs the bridge of his muzzle, frowning. "Well, I don't see anything of particular danger, plant wise. I do see a number of poisonous plants under the glow of crystals I can't identify, including the plants which we know Valicross used to drug his victims. Nothing with spores, though." He releases Qing's hand, and blinks. "We should check the door."

"Do you want to throw things at it or just try to open it?" Natasha asks. She glances back at the remains on the floor and deadpans, "Of course, all we have at hand, are … well, hands."

Qing gestures at the Skeek. "Ms. Weaver showed acumen with the chests. I would leave it to her."

"I think the dead have suffered enough. I'll take my chance with the usual method," Morgan answers. "Mage Qing, can you use your scout to get a look at the back of the door from the inside?" He then nods. "The job is yours, if you want it, Olivia."

Qing adopts that distant stare again. "I will try… I am wary of disturbing what's beyond that door, but I suppose it's better than opening it by hand." Inside, the disembodied eye begins moving cautiously toward the door and its eerie red glow.

"Oh, I meant this door," Morgan corrects. "The door we're about to enter. There may be a trap on that side."

Olivia steps forward and takes a good look at the doorknob, then at where the hinges should be. She steps back after a minute, shaking her head. "Well, I can't slip a knife in between the latch and the plate to open the door, since it opens inward, not towards us. Which also means that we can't lift the hinges to get the door off – those are on the inside of the other room, as well." She shrugs. "If anyone has other suggestions on how to open this door carefully, I'd be happy to hear them!"

"Well … " comes the obnoxious voice of the corrupted dryad they had left outside. It's face seems to stretch out from the door in front of them now, then adds, "You could try … turning my knob!" It wiggles its leafy 'eyebrows' at Olivia suggestively.

Olivia, startled for the second time in twenty minutes, jumps back as the dryad appears. Then she frowns at him. "Unless it's absolutely necessary, I'd rather not!" she grumbles.

Qing shakes his head at Morgan. "I already looked. Nothing obvious that I can see, but I am no expert. The guardian did say it would open the way for us, so I suppose we should just go in."

"Yes, and he's so … " Morgan eyes the dryad, " … trustworthy."

The dryad sniffs. "Why do I feel that you don't trust me? I may just be a soul devouring creature enslaved to a monster … but that doesn't make me a bad person does it?" it asks.

"Yes, it does," Natasha notes, then thumps the center of its forehead with her staff.

"Ow! Watch it with that thing, I'll get a knot," the dryad grumbles.

"Maybe we should try throwing things at it, after all," Olivia suggests with a grimace.

Qing hisses, "Possibly not, but spirits are often bound by rules and word. You won the game."

"I can see how he can control all the doors," Morgan remarks, rubbing his chin. "Very well, I'll open the door." He steps forward, and reaches to turn the knob.

"You are the most boring bunch of 'adventurers' I've ever dealt with," the Dryad huffs, "What happened to the good old days where those brainless brutes just charge in an di … Oooo, that feels nice." Apparently, Morgan grabbing the doorknob got it to shut up.

With a long suffering sigh, Morgan turns the knob and pushes the door open. He lets go soon after, letting the door swing inward.

"I hope it was good for you too," the Dryad giggles maniacally as it fades back into the woodwork.

"Servants take after their creators," Natasha comments with a shake of her head, then a knowing glance to Olivia. "Come on. Let's get this over with," she adds, then enters the room beyond.

"Yes, let's," Olivia adds with a shudder, recognizing the meaning behind the glance. She follows along after the Khatta.

"I have half a mind to harvest several of these," says Morgan as he steps inside. "A few are rather rare, and we could put them to a more positive use than he once put them. Others, I think we'd be destroying. Fire may not be an option, considering their uses, but simple starvation may suffice." He begins inspecting things, wandering among the plants and stopping to peer at one of their odd crystal lights.

Underground Lab
This room must be a mad scientist's dream home. Tables are everywhere, covered in beakers, snaking tubes of glass, and lots of little bubbly things. Jars of various powders are stacked along one wall. Along the other are four crates, each about five feet tall and two feet wide. Towards the glowing door in the back are the rows of potted plants. Each has a glowing crystal above it, providing what little light the plants may need. Many of the plants have a wilted and evil look to them. The worst of the plants look like a twisted corpse, in fact, with roots sticking out of the pot in all directions.

On the far wall sits a sturdy door with iron bands on it. All around its edge is an evil red glow. And the closer one gets to it, the warmer the already humid and hot room gets.

The crystal light shines off Qing's ruby eyes, the Rokuga holding himself more upright and alert. "Sss… he was well supplied indeed."

Olivia creeps up to the tall crates along one of the walls and stares up at them. "More coffins, d'you think?" she asks the others. "They look about the right shape. Although why he would want coffins in here with all of those dead bodies in the room behind us, I have no idea… "

"He was planning for a long time, remember," Natasha comments as she examines some of the beakers on the table critically. "If he had wanted, I imagine he could have poisoned the entire town with what he has down here."

"How'd he get all this? He must have been here for some time," the Kadie remarks. He gingerly walks around one of the corpse-plants, avoiding touching it if he can. "You know, we could secure a great deal of Dr. Pike's appreciation if we returned some of this and offered it to her. She must appreciate alchemical supplies, such as this. Well, we'll definitely have to sort out what to destroy and what to make use of." He bends over, peering up at the crystal. "Is this some sort of mage-light?"

Now that Olivia is close, there seems to be some writing on each of the crates. It's covered by dust, though. R One. one says.

The witchdoctor snakes his head around to study some of the jars and beakers, stroking his chin. "Mm. Much of these are fluids for preserving and embalming. I recognize them from my work in the crypts. I do not think he discarded all the bodies after he was through."

Olivia feels around in one of the pockets of her overalls and comes up with a rag. She wraps it around one hand, then carefully brushes some of the dust off of the writing, in order to see it better.

Natasha walks over to where Morgan is bending and peers up at the crystal. "In a sense," she says, "He learned this spell from me." She frowns at that thought and shakes her head. "Access to my studies and research." What she says after that is in Khatta, but one can guess it wasn't polite.

Qing remembers something, and leans close to Olivia. "The Khattan journal, Weaver."

Morgan straightens, then reaches over to pat Natasha's shoulder. "You may be soothed somewhat to know we'll soon be putting his work to a positive use, so, in a way, it has come full circle. He has fallen, you remain. Now, his work is yours to take," he tells her. "These plants are quite odd, as well."

Olivia, distracted by the writing on the crate, says absently, "Hmm, what? Oh yes… one of the crates in the room upstairs had various items in it that looked like they belonged to a Spirit mage, including a journal written in Khattan. We think the necromancer took those from you, long ago. Perhaps when you first met him?"

After saying this, Olivia reaches up to brush dust off of the fronts of the other three crates, too, see if there is any writing on them, as well.

"I had been hoping these lights were something else. No matter," Morgan adds. He gives the crystal one last look, frowning, then wanders over to stare at the glowing door. "Now, this is ominous. I don't suppose this is the door to hell, or one of the hells, anyway."

"Still, the knowledge that he used my research," Natasha remarks with a shake of her head. "I suppose I can take comfort in that I specialized in warding, unlike Mage Qing, who specializes in Necromancy. I did not research in items that boost the powers of undead, but quite the opposite. That crystal up there is like the one in my staff. A useful enchantment technique. You can think of it as binding a drain spell to a crystal, but it's in truth more subtle and complicated. It acts as a slow magical drain and draws from the ambient energy to create light. Now, if you disrupt it by say, breaking it, it will suck out as much spirit energy from its surroundings before it burns itself out." The feline then blinks and tilts her head back towards Olivia, "You found … my journals? It is possible, yes, that he obtained some of my things from our camp before he cut in … I would have to see them to identify."

"Useful," Morgan tells Natasha, sounding distracted. He doesn't even look her way, he just stares at the door with with an intensity in his expression. After a moment, he says, "I'd like to move on, if we could."

Qing cocks his head at the mention of the crystals. "Hmm… " He doesn't say anything more, however, going instead to scrutinize the heated door with Morgan, peering at the bands of iron across it.

That close to the door … it's hot.

Olivia stares at these inscriptions with a growing sense of dread, then calls out softly, "I hate to interrupt, Mage Qing… but you may want to have a look at these crates. It looks like the necromancer had a Plan B to extend his own life."

"What could possibly be beyond this door, to radiate so much heat?" Morgan blinks, then glances at Qing. "Please, help Olivia. I … I can wait." His tail flicks worriedly, but he makes no move to step forward.

Qing shies back from the door, brushing at his scales as if singed. "Sss… an inferno, it seems like. I could not begin to guess. I'm not even sure the spirit eye could discern anything behind it, but first thing's first." The reptile winds away from the searing door to join Olivia, adjusting his spectacles and looking down at the crates. "What have we here?"

Since the Skeek has cleared off the dust on the crates, Qing can read what is written on them: Replacement Body One, Replacement Body Two … down to Replacement Body Five. Each also note the contents as a Skreek male of varying ages.

As the Naga reads the inscriptions, Olivia says quietly, "I was going to open one of these to have a look inside, but thought it might be better to have the backup of someone more qualified, first."

The serpent's mouth creases. "Simulacrum," he hisses. "I would surmise they would have been puppets when he achieved lichdom, storing a spirit in his likeness. Should his physical form have been destroyed, the rogue spirit could inhabit one of these. Nightshade and I shattered his spirit at Stonebarrow… these should be harmless enough."

"So… have a look inside this first one, or just leave them for now, if they're so harmless?" the Skeek inquires.

Qing moves his head around to eye the box from a few different angles. "Mm. We are here to investigate, so we might as well."

It looks more or less like a large packing crate. The front is nailed shut.

Impatiently Morgan begins to pace in front of the door, taking a moment to eye plants as he walks by them. "Hmm," he says, stopping by one plant to cut off a sprig, or a berry, or otherwise trim and prune as he waits. He dumps the contents in to one of his belt pouches, using his belt knife for cutting.

"What is on your mind, Mr. Nightshade?" Natasha asks the now pacing Kadie. "You have been eager to keep moving ever since we came in here."

Olivia slips another of her longer-bladed knives out of its sheath and puts it between the lid and the top of the crate. Then she jerks the blade back and forth, trying to prise the nails from the crate itself, a few at a time, working from top to bottom.

Morgan suddenly stops, turning to give Natasha a worried look. "I … I think he may have something of mine, you see. Something very important, that I must recover if I can," he answers. Turning now to look at the door, Morgan frowns. "At least, he had it once, some time ago. It may still be here."

The procedure is rather loud and creaky as the front of the crate is slowly pried open. When Olivia gets it about half-way open, the lid lurches forward and crashes loudly on the floor. Chunks of contaminated salt pour out of the crate and pool on the floor in a sickly, yellow, pile. Inside sits a withered and dried corpse of a Skreek; its arms crossed over its chest. All along its body, magical runes have been carved into it; sigils of binding and transfer.

"Patience, Nightshade," murmurs Qing. "We must be careful and thorough." The witchdoctor eyes the corpse in the box thoughtfully. "I wonder… "

"Are you certain it is something of yours?" Natasha asks, brow arched slightly.

Olivia gahs! and jumps backward again as the crate's lid comes crashing down. Then she picks her way around the salt and peers at the body. At the Naga's comment, she asks, "What are you thinking, Mage Qing? Must something be done with this corpse?"

"No," Morgan admits. "But if it is what I think it is, it's very much connected to me."

The Rokuga keeps his gaze on the body, looking over the many runes and sigils. "It is empty. Ordinarily, I would have it destroyed, but perhaps it can be of use."

Olivia quirks an eyebrow at the mage. "This body… of use? How?"

"What could he possibly have of yours, Mr. Nightshade?" Natasha inquires of the Kadie. "He was well supplied with spell components and items."

"This husk is carefully prepared to be inhabited by a spirit," hisses Qing, pointing out the scribing on the body's dried flesh. "It might be possible to animate it ourselves. It is my hope that the many things around here may have been arranged to recognize and respond to these as the master of this stronghold."

"I'd … Well, I'll explain if it's here," the Kadie replies. "Do you think we should move on? I'm eager to inspect the next area – I need to know if it's here or not, before I can rest."

Olivia tries to follow the mage's logic. "So… you would make this body into a walking, soulless puppet, to see if anything here in the lab would respond to its presence?" she asks slowly.

Qing nods, brushing some of the tainted salts away. "Indeed. Perhaps his minions would even be compelled to obey it."

"Well, we can open the door while they examine the bodies," Natasha says after a bit of consideration. Looking towards the others, she then says, "We are going to look behind this door while you work. Nightshade here is going more … twitchy. A twitchy Kadie is dangerous."

Olivia thinks on this. "Well, it would certainly make parts of our job easier, if it works out that way," she muses, but she does sound a little uneasy about animating a corpse. "Do you need my help?"

"I don't know what you mean," Morgan insists. His tail twitches. "We should take up something to guard our hands when we open the door – a cloth, or perhaps some other material." He looks around for a suitably thick cloth, or even a rubbery leaf or other insulator.

Since this is a lab, there are several sets of thickly padded gloves on various tables, presumably to handle hot beakers. Natasha goes and grabs a pair, then looks to the Kadie. "Shall I open the door, or do you wish to?"

Qing flicks his tongue. "Nightshade… I know what it is you're seeking. I have some idea of where it is. We mustn't charge blindly, however. That door burns merely by coming close to it. Should we really fling it open?"

"It's my hurry; I'll open it," the witch replies. He walks over and gathers up a pair of gloves for himself, putting them on. Luckily Morgan is of a similar size to the Skreek, so the gloves actually fit him. Reaching for the door … he pauses at Qing's words. "No," he breathes, stepping back. "I, I can wait, I guess." His tail continues to twitch, wiggling about like a spastic snake.

Qing nods. "Good. Madame, I'm of a mind we can have this simulacrum on its feet. I would hazard a guess that the minions and enchantments around here may be 'keyed' to it. If not… well, at the very least it can open doors for us. If you are agreeable, perhaps I can do this while you check the door with the scout."

"Let me check it, I need something to do," the Kadie insists, glancing back.

"I am not fond of the idea of animating corpses," Natasha comments, "But, I can see the logic of doing so. I would not object to the ritual. As for the scout, I can. In fact, perhaps I should, as Mr. Nightshade may do something foolish should he see whatever he is looking for beyond that door."

"FINE," Morgan relents. He plops himself down at a nearby worktable, and pulls a plant over. He begins to chop it up with rather more force than is probably necessary, separating it in to useful components.

The disembodied eye flaps over to Natasha, orbiting in a small circle around her while the pallid mage turns his attention to the boxed body. "Weaver, see if you can find anything Valicross might have handled a good deal, or perhaps had a personal attachment to. Some spare robes, a hair, some of his own blood he may have saved, something of that nature." He begins working a circle on the floor, some with his chalks, but some with materials he finds around the lab.

Olivia nods and trots off to the worktables, looking for something that might meet the mage's needs.

"Sorry, Morgan. You are not calm enough right now to handle a spell," Natasha says quietly to the Kadie. She reaches up and touches the floating eye lightly and chants softly as she sets up the link to the eye. Once satisfied, the feline draws away from then door and raises her fingers, then rests them on the bridge of her nose. Her eyeslits dilate and the flying eye moves into action and slips beyond the door to see whatever is glowing red beyond it…

"Oh, I understand," chop chop, " … it makes perfect sense." Chopchopchop. "I'll just collect these," CHOP. " … plants, here, for bringing home to mother." He blinks at the table, and several of the notches he cut in to it.

There sure is a lot of junk in this room. There are definitely lots of bits of cloth here and there; some presumably parts of old shirts the necromancer cut up to use as rags in the lab. Some are definitely bloody, too, but it's anyone's guess on if it's his blood or not. At the point it starts to get frustrating, Olivia does find what looks like a stocking cap of some sort with several stray hairs sticking out of it. It may have been his to keep his hair out of whatever nastiness he was working on. Except lunch, perhaps, be probably didn't care about hair in his food.

"Curious," Natasha comments, sounding absent and distant. "That does explain the glow … but what are those? What did he build in here?"

Olivia takes the cap gingerly in between two fingers and brings it over to Qing. "I found this on one of the worktables. It looks like it has some of his hair stuck to the inside," she says, offering it to him for his inspection.

Morgan's tail flicks into question-mark approximation. "Curious? Those? Build," he asks in rapid succession, glancing at Natasha.

"Molten rock. There's a pool of molten rock in the center of the room," Natasha comments, "Now, what could those be? Why are they connected to … curious. I wonder … hm. That must be sulfur in that vat, yes. The yellow is unmistakable."

"Molten rock? How could he have molten rock, this far from a rift in the world? And, connected to what?" The Kadie continues to cut while he's talking, cutting a spring in to several neat sections, then continuing right along. He cuts some air, then chops up a bit of spare glove, and into a tool which makes him look back and blink.

"Ah. This should do," hisses Qing. He takes the cap with one of his spare hands, and lays it in a sub-circle of the one taking shape beneath him. The circle is interspersed with very basic, almost icon-like drawings of Skeeks, and Valicross' name appears more than once in several rings. He begins muttering in his strange tongues, and one of his wisps puffs out, growing into what at first, for a moment, looks like one of his familiar guardian spirits… however, the spirit quickly distorts into a whitish blob over the circle and cap, and the Rokuga's many arms begin grasping at air, as if kneading, tugging, gouging, or drawing.

"I think that is charcoal in that vat," Natasha comments next, "They both have funnels which lead to the central … mixer, I suppose, above the pool. But, what is the third vat? Some sort of grayish-white powder. And why are all the pouring gates being held closed by a corpse? I wish one of your engineers was here right now. It's some sort of macabre zombie-controlled machine to mix something … then just dump the contents in the heat. I think."

"That's … the most disturbing sort of machine I have ever heard of, and I've seen the Loom," Morgan remarks. "Alas, I am no engineer – that would be the Wingnuts department. Perhaps we can try and puzzle out the more magical aspects of the machine. Can you describe those, at least?" The Kadie leans forward, tail twitching dangerously,

"The only magic I can see in here is holding back the powders from actually coming together," Natasha comments absently. "That's it. The rest is just gears and mixing spindles."

Olivia watches Qing perform his spell and backs up a few paces, keeping a wary eye on the whitish blob that is forming. She also looks back quickly over her shoulder at Natasha and Morgan, apparently keeping one ear on their conversation, as well.

Qing's concentration seems to be on the ritual he's working, but he manages to hold a beat for a few moments, still seeming to mold the floating apparition in front of him into a vaguely rodent-like shape. "I would assume the mixed powders would cause some sort of reaction once combined and heated. I can't think of anything good that would come of that, but if you deem it safe, you may investigate the room. This will take me a while."

"Oh my." Morgan suddenly leans back, his ears wilting. "I know what it is." His tail sinks, then he gestures Natasha back away from the door. "It's … I remembered, I remembered something Zahnrad said once, and … I know I've seen those components before. It's … It's why any mage would die, if they attempted to dispel this place. It's the threat the dryad mentions. It's … "

"Ah, hm, there's also another crystal in here. High up in the ceiling. I think it may be different from the others as well," Natasha comments.

After a deep breath, Morgan breathes, "A bomb!"

"No! Another one?" Morgan's ears wilt more, and his tail sinks against the table behind him. "What, what color is it?"

"It keeps changing," the Khatta comments, "It's not like the others. This one radiates, the other absorbs. Something must be bound to it."

Olivia clicks her fingers and turns around at this. "Now I know why those three ingredients sounded oddly familiar!" she exclaims. "They were selling each of the three to people traveling to the Sky Islands, when we went to the capital, Natasha. Together, they make gunpowder. By themselves, the ingredients are not dangerous at all, but mixed together and heated – boom!" She nods to Morgan at his words about it being a bomb.

Morgan's shoulders slump, and he drops his head in to his hands. "I see," he breathes. "I'll … " He doesn't finish his thought, instead rubbing temples with a worried look on his face.

At the mention of the bomb, Qing's brow scrunches up, but he doesn't let his concentration lapse, continuing to work. The apparition seems more detailed, and it laughs, first a strangely distorted sound, then eerily familiar when it laughs again. It babbles in a low voice. "If he knew what you truly were, you'd be destroyed." "Cute child. It wasn't fair she died, was it?" "Her screams were music… " Black spreads through the luminous form.

Natasha blinks as her focus returns to this room. "Then … yes, the dryad was right. If we dispelled him, and that machine went into action … " she says, fingers curling tightly around her staff. "Well, there wouldn't be enough left of us to worry about becoming a zombie, I suppose. That's … clever, I must admit. If anyone tried to dispel his powers here and trap him … all they would do is set off a huge explosion and kill themselves. It's a mage defense since a dispel ritual occurs around the caster. It's not like a crossbow, and you can't throw it. You have to be there at the center."

Morgan's head lifts, and he silently turns to eye Qing's spirit until Natasha speaks. "Do you think we can access the crystal, without disturbing the device?" he inquires in a low whisper.

"I think we would be better off 'disarming' it before we tried anything, Mr. Nightshade," Natasha tells Morgan. "I do not think anyone would wish to climb over that thing if it could go off."

Olivia's head whips back around as she recognizes the voice issuing from the black and white shape. Then she starts to back away even more, her eyes becoming wider with each step. She is putting as much distance as she can between whatever Qing is calling into being and herself.

"What if that person could fly, and was small enough to reach the crystal?" Morgan suggests, watching the gypsy intently. After a moment of staring, he nods slowly. "Yes, we should disarm it. I'll do it. I'd prefer if you lead the others out when I try, Madame Natasha."

"I do not think you could disarm it alone, Mr. Nightshade. There are three vats in there. The safest course of action would be to break all three at the same time, to be absolutely certain it couldn't mix," Natasha points out as she watches the Kadie with a mix of curiosity and concern. "While it is brave of you to wish to risk yourself; though you will not tell us why, I do not think anyone here would agree to leave you down here, alone. We can each deal with a vat, then you can deal with the crystal."

"I don't want to risk anyone but myself, if I'm wrong … Even if I'm right … " Morgan shakes his head, then rubs his temples again. "If we failed, we would all most certainly die. As a witch, I can't allow that – especially not for those who live under my care, like Miss Weaver."

The apparition has darkened considerably, red eyes wobbling into place in a region around the head. "You seek power. A man after my own heart. Slit the useless one's throat, so we can talk in private." The outline wobbles, features sharpening. "A deal. Kill the gypsy woman." The face twists and snarls. "How dare you?!"

"Then if you feel that way, you must also consider your town. You are the heir to the defense of the town. If you die, the family chain will be broken. You speak of protecting Miss Weaver here. But what about the town? Either choice has consequences," Natasha asks next, though tone quiet and gentle. "Being a leader means making hard choices. Sometimes it means allowing those you swore to protect to go into danger as well, because it means the chance of success is that much greater. Leader Witch, Mage, Fighter, artisan, whatever their path is life may be, no one can do everything on their own. I say allow Olivia to decide if she wishes to leave or stay and help you and then trust in what her decision is."

With a sigh, Morgan gives in to Natasha's wisdom. "Very well. When Mage Qing has finished I will … " he turns and blinks at the apparition, " … I will put the question to everyone. When we are done here. If we fail, or even if we succeed, this facility may be no more. We must recover what we can beforehand, for the good of the town."

Olivia has now backed all the way across the room and is standing at the door through which they entered. One hand is clasped over her racing heart and she seems to be muttering to herself, her eyes never leaving the form that has now sprouted the necromancer's eerie, red eyes.

The shadow has spread through the entirety of the apparition's being, foggy black tendrils creeping off of it. The specter clutches at the air with claw-like hands, a rictus grin stretching across the thing's face. "You are nothing to me! NOTHING!" The chamber echoes with its laughter again. "Hahahahaha!" Finally, Qing hisses, "Enough!" and the shade goes silent, simply hovering there.

"Wah!" Morgan's cry echoes in response to the sudden laughter, and he nearly falls off this stool. "Gods alive, this place will eat at your nerves. I hope he'll be finished soon," he confides to Natasha as he steadies himself.

Natasha's entire body goes rigid at the last shout of the shade and for the briefest moment, she actually starts 'puffing' out a bit, before getting ahold of herself and muttering, "Calm. It is a fake, a copy. It is not the real thing." With a nod to Morgan, she steps away and goes over to Olivia. "It's not real," she tells the mouse. "Just keep telling yourself that."

Olivia merely cringes as the maniacal laughter bounces off the walls of the laboratory, breathing hard now. So intent is she upon watching the blackened shape that she does not see Natasha coming towards her. She nearly jumps out of her skin when the Khatta appears in front of her. "I-I'm sorry," she stammers. "I just… I didn't t-think… it has his p-personality and I… "

"He has what Qing remembers of him," Natasha says and places a hand lightly on Olivia's shoulder. "Think of it as a moving painting. A surface replica. It isn't him."

"Do we really wish to allow that … that thing near a device that could kill us all, Mage Qing?" The Kadie looks over, straightening some. "The device will need to be handled delicately, and that is after a vote is taken as to who will remain."

The shade hangs in the air, shadowy tendrils writhing, the red eyes narrowing as it watches the women. Qing's blunt clawtips touch his head, bony fingers like a cage over one of his eyes, and the apparition swivels in the air, descending toward the crates. It grips the edges of the coffin, then sinks itself headfirst into the corpse lying amid the tainted salt crystals.

Olivia's shoulder is actually shaking underneath Natasha's hand. This may be the first time that the older woman has seen her so taken by fear. For all that, however, she makes a concentrated effort to slow her breathing, her heart. "I-I'll try my best," is all she can say.

Natasha kneels down so she can look Olivia in the eyes. "Listen to me, Olivia. Close your eyes and just listen," she says, then waits for the Skeek to do so.

Olivia blinks in confusion as Natasha kneels in front of her, but after a moment she takes a deep breath and closes her eyes, as instructed.

Morgan turns to frown in Olivia's direction, but doesn't stand up. Either he's content to allow Natasha to handle the matter, or he's too deep in his own troubles to be of any use. Given how his tail twitches and his frown deepens, it may well be more the latter.

"Forget where you are. Find a place in your mind … a memory perhaps where you have felt safe and comfortable," Natasha instructs. "Bring that memory to the front of your mind. Focus on how you felt at that moment and only that moment."

"It is a shade of a shade," murmurs Qing to the Kadie, his gaze on the body in the box, staring through it rather than at it. "Under my control. A puppeteer that is itself a puppet."

A small crease appears between Olivia's brows as she thinks, Forget where I am? Good luck. Still, she casts her mind back to somewhere she felt safe… and remembers the tree near her parents' house that she would climb, so high into its branches that her mother never could find her. When she gets this image in her mind, she nods.

Morgan nods slowly, but his focus is elsewhere. "Forgive me, Mage Qing. I think you know why … I'm not able to focus very well, right now. I'll try to calm down, and learn," he says.

"Just think on that feeling. As you do, take a long, deep, breath and tense up your entire body. Then you release that breath and the tension in your body at the same time while embracing how you felt then," Natasha instructs next.

Olivia nods again and remembers how good it felt to be out from under the baleful eye of her mother in that tree. Then she tenses her whole body (not hard for her to do, since she was already tense before this), takes one deep breath, and releases it, along with all the tension. She doesn't exactly feel peaceful now, but certainly more in control than she was a minute ago.

It's a good thing, too. For a few moments, nothing happens… then the body in the crate twitches, yellowed salts shivering. It twists in the box, crystals rustling and spilling over the edge as the awakened corpse tests its limbs. Empty eyes flick open, and the thing sits up and begins climbing out, tainted salt pouring off dessicated flesh.

Natasha pats Olivia's shoulder lightly. "There, you're calmer. It takes practice, but doing that helps wash away moments that cause your mind and body to race," the Khatta says as she gets back to her feet. "Now, let us go deal with the current danger; Morgan going into squirrel frenzy," she adds with a small grin.

Olivia opens her eyes and this time, manages to smile back – just a little. "Great, he and I can be a matching pair," she says lightly, her sense of humor apparently returning. She takes another deep breath and looks down at her hands, noticing with relief that they are only trembling every once in a while now.

"This is true necromancy, then, Mage Qing? The art the necromancers practice – the manner of spell feared across the world?" Morgan eyes the shambling creature intently, keeping that same frown he has worn since the door's contents were revealed. His ears flick, then he suddenly sits up and declares, "I am not going into a 'squirrel frenzy!'" His tail practically vibrates.

Qing nods as the simulacrum lurches out of the crate, gaining its feet, gaunt face glowering as it dusts some errant crystals from itself. "Necromancy is the art of creating, controlling, and manipulating spirits, Nightshade. But this is what laymen think of when they hear the term: the use of a spirit to animate a husk. Bodies are the easiest to use. They have the 'pattern' that the spirit can use and fill already in place."

"That would explain why we so often face corpses, rather than, say, animated piles of dirt, or plants, or works of art, for that matter. Bodies possess spirits, and, so, animating spirits are more comfortable within the vacated shells," Morgan replies, although his words seem more like thinking aloud than a commentary for the mage.

"Where warding is the art of calming, dispelling, and stopping spirits," Natasha comments as she rejoins the two. "Granted, there is also a lot of crossover and as a student of the Sphere, you are expected to learn both sides, even if you specialize in one or the other."

Olivia walks at a little distance behind the Khatta, rejoining the others, as well. However, she keeps a respectable distance between herself and the animated corpse wobbling to its feet.

The body sways slowly in place, but gradually seems to steady itself. For all of Valicross' madness, the simulacrum is expertly made, and soon seems to move with some modicum of normality, though even that is enough to be unnerving. The mage lets the spirit establish its hold, and hunts around for some old robes.

"If it can help me – us – recover the crystal, it's fine by me," Morgan says, grimly. "Which reminds me. All of you?" He sits up, looking between everyone present, "I need you all to decide on something, each for yourselves. I intend to recover something from the room beyond the heated door. There is a chance that the recovery may fail, and the device will be set off. Needless to say, that will be … very bad for anyone present. If you would prefer to leave before then, I'll wait. In fact, you can help carry out some of the items we can still use here."

"This … mess, is partially my responsibility. If I had stopped him years ago none of this would be here to threaten anyone. Therefore, it is my duty to see this matter closed," Natasha gives as her answer.

Morgan gives Madame Natasha a smile, but asks, "What of Bravil? You told me to think ahead, but now it's your turn: what of the gypsies, of Bravil? What will they do, if you die here?"

Olivia wrenches her eyes away from the simulacrum and considers Morgan's question for a little while. Then she says, "If you're thinking of going into that room where the bomb has been placed, and trying to render it useless, then you're going to need all the help you can get. Therefore, I'm staying, too."

"Bravil can look after them if it came to that," Natasha answers, "And would. He is stronger now."

"First thing's first," hisses Qing, throwing some dusty robes from a pile under one of the tables at the standing corpse. The thing clambers into them, and shuffles toward the exit. Rather than go through the door, however, it pounds at the wood with a near-skeletal fist.

"Well, I know better to argue with Olivia Weaver," Morgan admits. "Still, what of your dear Skreek? And your family?" He raises an eyebrow at the woman, tail flicking in to a question-mark shape. To Natasha, he simply nods. "Thank you for staying. It means a lot to me, a whole lot."

"Ooo, you people just want to die, don't you? Well, good. You were going to anyway! I only promised to let you in, not out," comes the hiss from the Dryad as his attention is drawn back down to the room. The unfortunately familiar face stretches out from the wood. Except when it sees the shambling corpse, it pauses, then says, "Buh?"

Olivia says with another small grin, "What, d'you think if Djivan were in my place, he wouldn't jump at the chance to sneak around here, pocket some salable items, and risk getting blown up? This would be an adventure to him! As for my family, well… my father would certainly miss me, and my aunt would lose a damned fine worker. But they would survive."

Valicross' face glares down at the knob, and a sneer stretches across the corpses' muzzle. "Surprised? I understand you were having quite the jolly time, playing at riddles. To waken to this is displeasing, to say the least, my little bramble."

Morgan nods, but he seems pained as he smiles to Olivia. "Very well. This goes against my better instincts, Miss Weaver, but I can't force you anywhere. No hat," he points at his head, "you see. I … I'd explain what I'm after, but," he gestures at Valicross and the confused door, "not here. Not with them present."

The dryad peers at the corpse. "This cannot be right. I felt you die," it insists, "And I know the ritual was not complete."

Olivia nods and nudges the Kadie with her elbow. "That's all right, Morgan," she says. "I know that whatever it is, it's important to you. You can always fill me in later, you know."

"Well, if I start crying … you'll know I found it," Morgan tells Olivia. He reaches over and pats her shoulder, then forces himself to smile genuinely. "It's just not something I can abandon. I've been looking for it my whole life."

"I did die," affirms the body. "Enough of the ritual had passed that I clung to my corpse… not even their War-era relic box could snuff the power. Curious fools opened it, and I made my way back to the simulacrum I'd prepared. That is all the explanation insects like you warrant. I am here now, and I am dealing with these people. The crystal with the Creen spirit in it… bring it here." The rasping voice becomes a snarl. "Give it to me. OBEY."

"Well, in that case, giant Rughrats couldn't drag me away," Olivia responds. "It's not every day that you get to help someone fulfill a lifelong quest!"

"There's no guarantee, but this would explain where he … it? No, he went," the Kadie confides. He watches the undead interact, tail flicking.

"But, you gave it to me to chew on," the Dryad's head complains loudly, "It's all sugary sweet and with a nice aftertaste, too." The dryad frowns and watches the corpse, head tilting side to side. "And, since when do you deal with her?" it suddenly asks and glares towards Natasha. "I swear, someone goes up and dies, and they become a completely different person. Well, except for the yelling, that's about the same. Fine, fine, I'll go find it. It'll be a bit. Bloody root maze and all." The head disappears back into the woodwork.

Morgan's nails dig into the stool when the creature responds, the man gritting his teeth. "I know Valicross probably twisted this spirit but … I'd really like to … to … sic Amelia on him," he admits to Olivia.


GMed by Jared

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