Midsummer 6, 6107 RTR (Oct 14, 2006) Ging, Morgan, Olivia and Natasha set out to investigate Valicross' hidden lair out in the swamp
(Morgan) (Madame Natasha) (Olivia) (Qing) (Stonebarrow) (Sylvania) (The Return of Valicross)

It's been a whirlwind of events after the epic journey into the nightmares of an old man. Bravil is recovering slowly, having finally been able to eat something after a week without. So, the next day passes without too much excitement (except for Olivia, who discovered how a booger feels being sneezed out, of course). It's now early afternoon, and Mage Qing had decided it was time to investigate the Necromancer's lair. On the list of people invited to attend were Morgan (for town witch interest), Olivia (for town representative interest), and Natasha (for interest, if nothing else, for being a survivor). At first Natasha didn't wish to leave Bravil's side, but at his insistence, she relented and went along.

The trip out into the swamp was bizarre … which is to say typical for any trip that requires negotiating with the otters for the use of some swamp boats. It takes the better part of two hours to make their way through the swamp. Except for Qing, the putrid smell of decaying vegetation may be getting to be a bit overpowering by this point. But at long last Morgan is able to guide them to the location he saw in the dream. It's the remains of an old town or perhaps an old trading post. The town records on this place are few and sketchy at best, but it is rumored to be haunted, so most townsfolk will not come here. The buildings are all partially sunken into the muck, with only a couple that are still enough above ground to be actually useful. The packed down mud and dirt in front of one of them implies that it was probably his primary lair. To make matters creepier, it's the door to some old temple. Lovely choice. For all those present, they can feel something about the place. Oppression, sadness,  decay, loss and complete hopelessness. The feelings tend to tug at their very being, but for now they are able to resist giving in.

"I understand why the people of the town of Stonebarrow do not frequent this place," Natasha comments as she sticks the end of her staff into the soft dirt so she can tie up the swamp boats. "Something horrible happened here once and the land remembers it. I see why Valicross chose this place."

"Yes, the land remembers the sadness. I can feel it too. The spirits of this place would have much to say, I imagine," Morgan says as he steps off the boat. He reflexively goes to pull up his skirts to avoid the mud, then remembers he's wearing pants today.

Olivia phews and looks around, suddenly glad that she thought to wear another pair of dusty work overalls for this adventure. She has not, however, been able to scrub quite all of the green goo out of her fur from her time testing Gunther's security system prototypes, so here and there, strands of her hair glisten with the stuff. Perhaps all this swamp water will dissolve it out, she thinks irritably, scratching one spot on her arm.

More so than usual, Qing slouches, his upper body supported by a simple wooden staff, the butt of it sinking a few inches into the spongy earth when they make 'landfall', an ordinary hurricane-style glass lantern dangling from the head, its light throwing wobbling shadows from every root and creeper the party passes. He's said little on the trip out, but while he hasn't been chatty, he has groused less than usual as well. The normally solitary mage might be unusually glad for company. "Mm, yes. Definitely the spot. Watch yourselves." A spidery hand emerges from a pocket with his familiar crystal lens and cobweb, but he makes no motion with it just yet.

"We must be wary in this place. If this was his lair, I would expect traps of multiple natures; physical, and magical and the very least," Natasha warns once she is done tying the boats in place. She pulls her staff from the mud with a squish and makes her way to the group. Nodding towards the sinking temple, she comments, "That shows the most activity of late, but … that may be meaningless. Valicross was a master of deception." Looking to Qing, she asks, "Where do you wish to begin your investigation, Mage Qing? You are the official."

"If I were him, I'd make an obvious entrance and trap it. The real entrance would be hidden somewhere," the Kadie advises. He's dressed in all black today, having explained that, "It doesn't show stains as badly as purple." Clearly, he expected to get dirty today, and normally Morgan hates dirt. "I think we should start by probing the area for any immediate traps, magical or otherwise."

The white serpent nods slowly, a clawtip tapping his lens. "No doubt there is much here to snare the unwary, both of the necromancer's design and the swamp itself. I agree, Nightshade. Let us get an idea of the spiritual landscape that pervades here before we begin." He begins murmuring, the strange slushy words having become familiar, but still largely unintelligible. The lens is lifted up, filmy glass filled with grotesquely huge red eye.

It appears Valicross was prepared for those who may attempt to scry out his secrets. Through the lens, all Qing can see is a miasma of swirling magic and corruption. Nearly everything here bears some sort of taint or touch, making it practically impossible to tell what may be a trap. Even things beyond the stone walls seem to echo faintly with a spiritual glow.

While the Mage works, Natasha fits a small crystal into the top of her staff. With a wave of her hand and a brief chant over it, it flares to life with a soft blue light to compliment the lantern Qing carries.

Qing's face darkens slightly, and his forked tongue flicks. "I should have guessed he wouldn't make this simple… the place is saturated, he wove a tangle of enchantment over the whole of the area that masks everything. We'll simply have to be on our guard. I may create a scout, but I am open to suggestions."

"How about we hurl rocks at the door? I know it sounds odd, but the door may have a simple mechanical trap, like Gunter uses, and trigger if forced open. If we can force it open from a distance, we should avoid the effects," Morgan suggests.

Natasha chuckles at Morgan. "That is honestly not a bad thought, young witch," she comments, then looks back to the door. Her attention then shifts to Qing, saying, "A scout may not be a bad idea, either. I am reserving my spells for defensive measures … if we may need them quickly."

Olivia looks between the three magic-users. "Well, I can certainly try my hand at springing any physical traps, but obviously, I'm going to have to leave the magical traps to you three. So I'm counting on all of you to warn me if I'm about to run into one of those!"

"I'm afraid I haven't much experience in magical traps, other than my own. Physical traps, yes, we have enough mad Kadies making them that one learns to expect them. But, magical traps? Few have the skill, and the town is often on the defensive, besides," the witch explains. He walks over to a large looking rock and, gingerly, tries to pick it up. "Erg," he says, straining. After a couple of tugs, he hefts it up.

"Very good, Madame. I carry two spells, and if you will be at the ready, that will free me the concentration necessary to control the scout." The witchdoctor holds his lantern high in his upper hands while the lower four press their palms together. "Agreed, Weaver. You've demonstrated your aptitude, I will leave it to you to probe the physical defenses and… throw things. I will prepare the scout."

After nodding to Qing, Natasha walks a bit away from the group and looks around the grim surroundings. "Magical traps are difficult, young witch. Enchanting anything requires precise skill and good materials or the enchantments will not hold," Natasha explains. "But there are alternate methods that can, and have, been used to enchant items of lesser 'quality', if you will. Valicross' staff is an example of such."

Olivia pats the belt of knives she has slung over one shoulder. "That's why I brought these along… although I can certainly throw some stones, if need be," she adds, smiling over at Morgan as he strains to pick up the rock. "Also, I thought to bring along a set of Djivan's lockpicks. That might come in useful, too."

"The staff. Yes, I've taken a close look at it, and it is powered by, well, spirits. The living spirits of once living folk." Glancing at Olivia, Morgan explains, "All people, and many creatures, plants, and places have a spirit. These spirits have power, you see. Also," he leans closer, offering Olivia the rock and whispering, " … could you throw this? I'm not very good at these things, and it's getting rather heavy."

Olivia grins and easily takes the rock from the Kadie. "No problem, Morgan. After a few months of wrestling with Loom #4, you tend to build a few muscles."

Morgan just smiles sheepishly, then flicks his hair out of his eyes.

"Ss'dreth… ss'elro… rudlus." A few moments of muttering, and the Rokuga touches one of his lidless eyes, tapping it over a pupil only he can find in the crimson. The rest of his palms come apart, ribbons of gray vapor spreading away, then twisting into a ball. The ball develops a pupil of its own, and sprouts batwings, becoming a faintly translucent eyeball suspended between them.

After handing off the rock, Morgan pauses to watch Qing perform his spell, looking interested. He does wince when the mage touches his eye, however.

To Morgan, Natasha notes, "His species have transparent scales over their eyes, if I remember correctly. He's not really touching the surface of his eye." then with a look to his scout, she adds to Morgan, "And the appearance of a scout, guardian, or what have you is left to the caster. It reflects what the mage is thinking or wants."

Olivia waits for Qing to complete his spell, then takes aim at the door to the temple. "Stand back or be on your guard, I have no idea of what's going to happen when I do this," she warns. Then she backs away to what she thinks is a safe distance, and heaves the rocks at the rotting door.

"Interesting," the Kadie replies to the gypsy. After a pause, he asks, "Do you suppose spirits have souls?" He frowns briefly, apparently at his own question, then glances towards the door as Olivia hurls the rock.

Or not so rotting door. The rock smacks into the door loudly, then drops into the soft ground with a splut. "Spirits are souls in a sense, young witch," Natasha comments after the seemingly uneventful rock toss. Then the wind starts to pick up and there's this ominous creaking sound… Natasha draws back and raises her staff, waiting to see the danger so she may counter appropriately.

"It's a matter of some debate," murmurs Qing, but he leaves it at that, wedge-shaped head turning a little, forked tongue flicking alertly. The hazy spirit-eye turns as well, independently of the mage's head, like the eyes of a chameleon.

"In a sense, so … " Whatever Morgan was about to say is cut off when the wind begins to pick up. "Well," he says, extending a hand to feel the wind whip through it, "we got some sort of reaction."

Slowly, boards pull away from the door. The wood twists and curls unnaturally, reshaping itself before their very eyes. Slowly, a spindly-legged creature, a parody of a wood nymph, perhaps, takes shape. It stretches outward and upward. "What fleshling comes and knocks upon my Master's door?" it rasps like a cold wind on a haunted night. Socketless eyes in a skull made from wood tilts down to face the group. "Ah, mages. How quaint. And look, they brought snacks for the old guardian; very kind of them, yes."

Hackles rise on the back of Olivia's neck as the wood-creature appears before them. "This is just like the time he enchanted that pile of rags to take his shape and speak for him," she mutters, drawing out one of her larger knives.

"Intriguing," hisses Qing, his ghostly eye drifting away to circle the freakish construct in a conservatively distant orbit. "One of the old fool's pets, are you? He's dead. These ones slew him. I tore his spirit asunder. He is as unmade as you will soon be."

"A nymph? No, something more twisted – perhaps once a nymph, but no longer," Morgan remarks. He reaches to thumb at his belt knife, but doesn't draw it. "I am ready to assist either of you as I can, Mage Qing, Dame Natasha."

Natasha points her staff towards the creature and starts chanting. The creature then grins towards her, then towards Qing, saying, "Tut, I wouldn't be doing that if I were you. Unmaking me would have bad effects, yes. Oh, yes, very bad indeed." Eyes narrowing, Natasha lowers her staff and stops her spell. "Explain," the Khatta demands.

"Oh, you see," the creature explains as it shambles towards the small group and spreads its rotting arms, "All things here are connected. Unmake me and you unmake all of it … including the bindings holding up some of, shall we say, the Master's experiments and traps. The … explosion would be quite impressive and you would be quite dead." It's fleshless maw twists into a parody of a grin.

The Rokuga frowns, hands tightening around his staff. "Then I suppose we'll save that for the end, when we're done with this place and have need to wipe it from the face of Sinai. For now, we will merely bind you."

Morgan tilts his head, then suggests, "It may be bluffing. Such a fragile framework seems too risky, too delicate. What if he were to be attacked in his home, or even while out? Would he risk it all to protect his secrets?" Shaking his head, he adds, "But just to be safe, I agree with binding the corrupted nymph."

Olivia lowers her weapon and studies the thing through narrowed eyes. "Is there something we must do to pass by you?" she asks, wondering if fighting it is not the answer.

"Ooo, bind me, bind me! It beats being bound as a door. Sure, having someone grab my … knob… all the time is enjoyable, but really, being a door makes one bored," the creature cackles, quite possibly as insane as its creator. Its head then snaps to 'look' at Olivia. "Oh, you want to pass, do you? Well, if my Master is dead, then I suppose perhaps you may pass … if you entertain my … sense of humor a bit, shall we say? Care to barter with me?"

Olivia glances over at the other three, then shrugs and puts her knife away – for the moment. "That depends on what you want from us," she says.

"Perhaps we should have brought one of the whittlers," Morgan mumbles.

Natasha arches her eyebrows a bit at the peculiar display. "Well, spells do reflect their creator," she rationalizes and lowers her staff for now.

Qing says nothing more for now, continuing to study the creature through his disembodied eye, allowing it to get closer.

To the eye, the creature is a pool of black and green, some sort of dark spirit indeed, bound in wood. Perhaps it was once a nymph that the necromancer corrupted.

"Oh goody, they want to play," it remarks and moves as if it is going to sit down. Chair legs sprout from its rump and sink into the mud as it gets comfortable. For some reason, the creature actually pulls its head off, then its foot, and starts juggling them. As the head flies around, it speaks, "Oh, normally I would ask for a bit of flesh. One of your hands, perhaps a foot. Or maybe an eyeball or bit of tail. But, the swamp creatures have been nosy as of late so I'm not exactly hungry right now. So … how about I simply offer a riddle. If you get it right, you may pass. I'll even open all the doors for you. If you lose … well, you will have to sacrifice something you hold dear. That is a fair offer, is it not? You seek forbidden secrets, I guard them. Nothing is ever free."

Morgan leans closer to Qing, whispering, "What would be your normal reaction to something like this? Personally, I think we could give it a try, and if it demands more than we are willing to lose, we can always bind it. Nothing may be free, but neither is trust." He leans back, asking, "Well, what do you all think? I don't mind."

Olivia smiles grimly and murmurs, "Of course not… what more did I expect from a soul as dark as his?" Then she looks back at the group and says, "Well, I'm willing to try this, too. Should we hear the riddle?"

Qing tilts his head, blunt nose wrinkling. "Bargaining with spirits isn't my way, but the offer, if the thing can indeed be trusted, is convenient. I find myself wondering whether we'd regret it even if we did guess correctly… of course, if we are wrong, we may empower the spirit. Some can be created to gain in this fashion. If the two of you wish to hear the riddle, however… I suppose that is fair enough."

"Riddle away," Morgan replies to Olivia, nodding.

"If it is being honest, then it would simplify things if we are able answer correctly," Natasha notes, then with a sidelong glance to Qing, she adds, "Be prepared to release your guardian. I will be ready to bind, if necessary."

Qing nods. "Very good." Louder, the Rokuga hisses, "I suppose we have time to waste, stickling. Let's hear it, then."

"Tut, is this the face of a liar?" The creature asks as it sticks its head back on … upside down. "Deal agreed to and bound. My price is chosen. I want the spirit bound to that Kadie," it claims as its price. Leaning forward it begins the riddle.

"I am at the beginning of Life.
My second is at the center of every fool.
My third can be found at the start of all victories.
And I finish at the end of time.
I am the one thing my Master despised above all else. What am I?"

The creature then leans back and interlaces its fingers. "The game has begun. Take as long as you need to decide on your answer. But once you all agree, it is final and the outcome will be set," it says … coldly.

"Love," Morgan answers, simply.

Qing's tongue flicks again, but slowly and contemplatively. "Hmm. You think love? How is that a prelude to victory, however?"

Natasha's brow raises a bit and her claws tap lightly on the staff she carries. "What is your reasoning, young witch?" she asks.

"The first letter in love is L, the second letter in fool is O, the first letter in victories is V, the end of time is E. Valicross was not a loving man; he hated everyone. L O V E – love," the witch explains.

The snake snaps his fingers. "By the Great Serpent, you are right. And quick. Perhaps there is hope for you after all."

Olivia hmmms and looks at Morgan contemplatively. "I was going to say 'hope,' myself," she says, "but from the phrasing of the riddle, Morgan's answer may be more plausible."

"So, is that your final answer, love?" the creature asks. "Not going to change your mind? The spirit bound to your little friend there is the cost of failure, you know."

"I agree with Morgan," Natasha says with a nod towards the Kadie. "Love."

Qing nods again. "I agree completely and without hesitation. His answer is the best, and it's his spirit at stake anyway. You have lost, twigling."

The Kadie smiles widely. "I have my moments. Olivia isn't the only mystery solver around here," he says. "Besides, it's my spirit – my soul. If there's ever a time to be right, it's now. Still, if you don't agree, I'm all ears. Believe me, I do not want to get this wrong. I like my soul."

Olivia takes a deep breath, knowing hers is the final voice in this deal. "I think Morgan's reasoning is the best," she says slowly. "I say this is my answer, too."

The nymph is quiet for a bit as it rights its head, then rubs its chin. "I don't suppose you would be willing to make it two out of three?" it asks hopefully.

"No," Morgan replies, flatly.

Olivia jerks her thumb in the Kadie's direction and grins. "You heard him."

The witchdoctor taps the end of his nose thoughtfully. "Now uphold your end of the bargain. Let's see if there's any worth to your word."

Somehow the wooden skull manages to glower a bit. "Ah well, a deal is a deal. Pity. I haven't chewed on a spirit such as his since the last one my Master trapped some years ago," it grouses a bit. It raises a rotting hand and snaps its fingers. The remains of the temple door swing open with a creak. "The way is open. Be careful for what you seek and wish for. You might get it."

Olivia claps Morgan on the shoulder and says lightly, "I hope you realize that you've just become our official riddle-solver from here on out!"

"Wait," the Kadie says, stepping forward, "what do you mean by 'a spirit such as his'? Did your master find a spirit similar to mine own?" The young man's tail twitches agitatedly, and his tone is strained. "Out with it!" He jumps when Olivia pats him, eyes wide. "Oh, uh, well, I … " She seems to have derailed his voice, and he can only look at her helplessly a moment before glaring at the tree-person again.

"Given the statement made earlier about the interconnections, I recommend we do not bind this creature, as foul as he may be. Not until we understand what we face inside and might trigger," Natasha notes and motions towards the tree thing … which is picking a worm out of its nose-socket.

"Eh, out with what?" the tree creature asks, mid-worm-extraction. "Were we talking about something? I have a little dry rot in the ol' brain. Memory like a leaky bucket." It then just grins at the Kadie.

The pale reptile leans closer to Natasha to nod his agreement. "I suppose that would be prudent. It seems more or less bound to its eccentricities as much as it's bound to this place. We're not out of danger, but I think it's of lesser concern now than what's inside." Qing pauses, glancing at Morgan appraisingly. He would ordinarily rein the Kadie in, but he lets the squirrel speak, instead murmuring mostly to himself, "I said there were things to learn even from the witches… perhaps tonight bears it out."

Morgan actually bares his teeth, fist clenching. "Let's go," he insists. "We have a lot of work to do." And with that, he begins for the door, pausing only to remark, "If what you say is true, if it's … I will not forgive you," to the corrupted nymph.

Olivia eyes Morgan curiously now, but decides that it isn't her place to ask about the matters of witches and simply follows along after him.

The creature smashes two worms to its rotten teeth to make lips, then smacks them together in a 'num-num' motion as well as a disgusting sound as the Kadie heads towards the door.

"He is trying to excite you Morgan, so calm yourself," Natasha comments as she follows after the Kadie. "Anger will lead to accidents." She waves her hand over the crystal on her staff again, causing it to flare brighter to cut through the darkness ahead.

"I know, I know, it's just … Nevermind." Morgan slows his forward motion, letting the others catch up. Those behind Morgan can see him unclench his hands – and how they shake. Quickly, he clasps his hands together to stop it, or, perhaps, hide it.

The witchdoctor doesn't comment, instead sending the scout further inside, his own slithering pace leisurely.

Perhaps to take the Kadie's mind off the twisted nymph, Qing hisses, "Nightshade, pay close attention. You may find this interesting. Soul or not, spirits can touch the living in many ways. One of them is to share senses. I will share the scout's senses with you, perhaps you will find it educational."

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.

"Oh." Morgan sounds distracted, then blinks. "Oh? Oh! Oh." He nods, smiling faintly at the mage. "I'm fine, it's just a … sore spot. I haven't any idea how it knew, either. Lucky guess. 'Knock on wood,' and all that." He steps forward, asking, "What should I do, Mage Qing?" The Kadie looks around as they enter the building, frowning at what he sees. "Tell me all necromancers don't have the same sense of decor … "

Natasha pauses just inside the door. Both her hands curl around her staff and she leans on it heavily. The Khatta closes her eyes for a bit and murmurs to herself, and for the briefest moment her whole body is actually shaking.

Seeing Natasha's reaction and believing that she understands at least some of its meaning, Olivia sidles closer to the Khatta and touches her arm gently. "Will you be all right?" she asks quietly.

Qing coils on the threshold of the grisly place, beckoning Morgan closer. "It is all too familiar a sight for those of us who operate in the enclaves of magecraft. You grow used to it, in time." The ghostly eye drifts close to the Kadie, hovering there and looking through him. "I will maintain the spell. I won't be able to see through it while you do, but you may be able to will it around, if you concentrate hard enough. Tell us what you see."

"I will live. You would think two decades would erase some of the feelings and memories," Natasha answers quietly and straightens up. "But it is like it happened yesterday. I can still hear my screams echoing in my ears."

"All right," Morgan replies. Briefly he takes another look at the room, suppresses a shudder, then nods intently. "Well, here I go then." He reaches out with both hands and tries to clasp the hovering eye, murmuring, "Spirit of his spirit, spirit of my spirit, one together: heed me, for I am son and daughter of the land … " Both mages can feel the Kadie begin to draw on the ambient magical energies, twining them with Qing's own.

"It's not that hard to understand – some memories just don't go away," Olivia says with a small smile. "Look at Bravil. He's been carrying around those thoughts about his son for, what, two hundred years now?"

"I should be braver," Natasha says grimly and walks a bit further into the room.

"Wait, what, he's two hunre- ?!… Gah, nevermind. Concentrate, Morgan … " The Kadie returns to his chanting, although his tail quirks in a question-mark shape.

Olivia looks after the Khatta at she strides on by, concerned for her, then smacks her forehead as the Kadie is distracted by her revelation. Need to speak more quietly… she chastises herself.

Morgan may wish he hadn't used the eye. Images literally explode to life in his mind. It's like all of time suddenly collapses into a single moment. Morgan can see Valicross working his ritual. He stands upon the altar and is actually carving into his own flesh with his knife. Then that explodes and shifts to another scene where the Skreek is carving up some poor Gallah that must have gotten away from his platoon. The dog is begging and pleading for its life, then to just kill him quickly as the Skreek delicately dismembers its body. Of course, Valicross doesn't kill him quickly and Morgan can sense that it must have lingered for hours. Another snap and the scene switches again and Morgan can see the necromancer the night he raided Stonebarrow and his raising of his small army of death. One thing that does seem to stick out through all of the nightmarish images is that never do any of the books that move and shift about the room ever show any signs of magical taint. In fact, it's disturbing that they don't.

"Agghhle," Morgan sputters, his hands snapping away from the eye as if it burned him. He staggers back, then falls flat on his tail. "Spirits alive!" He drops his head in to his hands, clutching tightly and squinting his eyes. "Oh, otters in a glass shop, I did not need to see that. I think I'm going to-" He lurches forward, but, luckily for everyone involved, he only dry heaves.

As Morgan separates himself from the eye … the last image he sees is one is Valicross lifting up a large natural crystal. Inside it swirls a spirit of some kind. As it fades, he can just make out a swirl of multicolored wings … and then it is gone.

The eye's owner furrows his eye ridges. "Nightshade? I wasn't expecting so visceral a response." Qing reaches a hand up again, and his natural crimson eyes grow unfocused as the spectral eye's pupil appears to dilate.

"Nnn," the Kadie whines. He rocks back and forth, then suddenly shakes him self out violently. "Memories," he wheezes. "Memories of this place. I saw, I saw … " He then goes on to relate all he saw, leaving out the more vile details – as well as the rainbow wings. "The books, they're … I don't know. Warded? Resistant to magic? And there's a crystal. We must find that."

"Mmm," Natasha notes as she hears about the events. Again, her fingers curl tightly around her staff at the description of the Gallah and she lets out a long breath. "I see," she says. "I will go see to the books." And that's exactly what the Khatta does.

Qing's stare continues to go off into space, but the visions seem to be coming to him as well. "Yes… I see now. Strange. Be careful, Natasha. What he says about the books… they show none of the taint of this place. I cannot guess why Valicross would have stood for their presence. I can see what drove him mad, however."

Olivia glances around the place and notices the crates stacked around. "I could try looking through some of the boxes in here, too, if you want?" she asks. "Or will I need help with that in case they're set with magical traps?"

"I'm just going to sit here a moment," Morgan admits. He rubs his temples, wincing. "So, you think you know why he went mad?" The Kadie raises a brow, still rubbing his temples. "Er, Mage Qing?"

Natasha pauses when she reaches the books. She looks to Olivia, then to the crates themselves. Looking a them intently, she chants briefly. "I do not sense any significant magical signatures on then, Olivia. So, any traps would be physical. Be careful."

Natasha then settles down on one of the rotting pews and carefully lifts up a book. She opens it … and her brow furrows. Setting that one aside, the opens another and again her brow furrows. "Curious," she comments.

"Be careful as well, Weaver," hisses the mage. "I see no evidence of magical traps via the eye, but I cannot guarantee that anything in those boxes is safe, or pleasant even if it is." He drops his hand, letting translucent eye drift, returning his focus to the real world, and to Morgan. "He bolstered his abilities by adding the spirits of others to his own, like some sort of patchwork amalgam. It did indeed strengthen his affinity for magic and spirits, but their voices mingling with his own, a cacophony forever… it would have been too much for a stable mind, much less his perverted one."

Olivia nods to the Khatta and the Naga. "I will." Then she goes into one of the corners and examines a box there. For the moment, she avoids any that look like coffins, not really wanting to see inside one of those unless it's absolutely necessary. She looks at its lid, determining the best way to get it off without blowing anyone up.

It looks like a normal hinged lid. There aren't even any locks.

After standing back up and rubbing his now sore tail, Morgan looks to Qing and nods in comprehension. "I've never heard of anything like that. I can see how it might … 'work' … but it seems a fool's errand. It's possession, but in a controlled fashion. In essence, he possessed other spirits, drawing them into himself? It's mad. If we hadn't destroyed him, he may well have destroyed himself." The Kadie reaches over to steady himself against a wall, adding, "I can't imagine. No wonder he went mad, if he wasn't mad already. Not only spirits, but reluctant spirits. They would have hated him. Such is the danger of forcing the hand of the spirit world."

Olivia mmms softly to herself and slides a small knife from its sheath. She then edges the blade underneath the lid and slowly raises it, ready to jump back if anything should shoot out at her.

"Wait," Morgan says suddenly, looking at Mage Qing with wide eyes, "Did you see the crystal? Did he … Did he consume the spirit in that crystal?"

As the lid goes up, there's this quiet snapping sound and her knife jerks a bit in her hand. Other than that, nothing flies out of the box. When the lid is all the way up, she can see just what hit her knife. A small chitin needle, the tip covered with some sort of dried green liquid.

The witchdoctor pauses, though he doesn't hint whether it's at the question or the snap of chitin hitting chitin. "He did not. I will try to learn more."

Olivia lets the hinges hold the lid in place and bends down to look at the chitin needle, shivering. Yeah, that could have been bad, she thinks. And it doesn't bode well for the other crates, either. Then she peers into the crate, trying to see its contents.

"Well, that's a relie- … I mean, that's good. I wouldn't want an innocent spirit to suffer." The Kadie smiles nervously at the mage, then turns and moves to join Natasha rather quickly. "How is it looking, Madame Natasha? What do you see?"

Inside … are bits and pieces of some of Olivia's things. A flower from her hat. Some hair from a brush. A few of her discarded art experiments. Heck, there's even a makeshift doll of the Skeek in there.

"I see nothing," Natasha remarks as she's on her fifth book at least. "All these books are blank."

Qing slithers down to join his fellow mage, glancing at the book she's holding. "Blank. No title, even?"

The Khatta offers Morgan and Qing the book she's currently holding, saying, "See for yourself." Sure enough, the book is blank. No title, nothing on the pages.

Olivia rears back a little when she discovers just what is inside the crate. "By the gods," she whispers, "how did he get… ?" Very carefully, she takes up the doll and examines it.

Qing turns the book over in his hands, flipping through the pages. "Most curious," he says. He holds it up to the light of his lantern, holding up a page to shine the light through it. "Could the pages be treated somehow? Maybe he intended to put something in them, but never bothered to touch them."

"I doubt they're blank. You said he's a tricky character, and from what I know of him I believe it. There's no magical aura about the books, so I think … perhaps they're written in a special dye? Or some other trick reveals the words?" The Kadie kneels down and picks up one of the books, leaning forward to sniff at one of the pages, trying to scent some familiar herbal concoction.

The doll looks just like a miniature Olivia, complete with flowered hat. The fact that it's in a wedding dress makes it more disturbing, really.

Natasha rubs her chin, thinking. "You said they had no aura at all? In this place? I wonder," the Khatta muses. She selects one of the books. Raising one of her hands, she starts chanting softly. A mage light flares to life in her hand. Then carefully, she takes it between her fingers and brings it down on the page … then pushes it into the page. Slowly across the pages words start to appear, as if being written by an unseen hand. "Clever," she comments, "Your two comments made me think. A lack of magical signature in a room of nightmares, and the idea of hidden words. Well … what is a good way for a mage to hide their arts from all but other mages. Make magic be required to read them, of course. They must absorb magic, so I wonder what he treated them with."

Leaning back, Morgan glances at Natasha's book. "It's may be best if we don't know, but it is curious," he tells her. He then skooches over and tries to read the words inside.

The Rokuga watches Natasha with interest. "I see. I must admit, clever on his part. Clever on yours for undoing it." The reptile begins carefully feeding his own book the essence of entropy, slowly and carefully lest there be anything the book can do with such accumulated power other than reveal words.

Olivia puts the doll back in the crate and mutters, "Well, I see a few things I'll be burning before we leave here." Then she goes to the next one and looks it over, to see if it has normal hinges on its lid like the last one.

"I suppose," Natasha comments, "Nothing should exist without some sort of spiritual signature unless it has recently been dispelled. He's been dead for a while and they were still 'empty', so something was odd with them and magic. I figure they must be treated with something that acts like a slow drain, so appear to be without any power, as it were."

"Perhaps he'll explain in the pages. I expect a lot of mad ranting, with a few useful lines," the Kadie remarks. He then sits down and, after taking up a book of his own, applies his own magic as he tries to read it.

The book Morgan selects is written in Skeek (which a Kadie can read). It appears to be a journal of Valicross' thoughts and notes on various experiments. This one in particular seems to be focused on how spirits can interact with other living things, and how the two can combine to form a greater whole … or even a new lifeform. There's a small notation that he caught one 'recently' that seems to have had a lot of dealings with living creatures. The Skreek had bound it into a crystal for further study later. There is no other mention of it in the book, though.

The next crate is much the same as the first. No locks and basic hinges.

Olivia tries her same tactic of sliding her knife's edge under the lid to raise it. However, she knows better than to expect the same trap twice, if trap there is on this box. She looks for just about anything to come out at her.

"Hmm. I'm going to hold on to this. I have an idea," Morgan tells those near him. He keeps hold of the book, closing it, then walks towards the coffins. "It strikes me that this is a small place to hold all his 'possessions.' There must be a secret door or stairway around here, and I'm guessing that a perverted man such as himself would stick it in a coffin."

Smart Skeek, that Olivia. As the lid goes up, something shoots out at the mouse. Olivia deftly dodges to the side and the thick goo splatters on a nearby post. It hisses and sizzles as it starts eating into the wood. That would not have been a good facial, no.

Olivia throws the lid back the rest of the way with the point of her knife as she darts to the side, saying a few choice words in the process. When she's recovered, she goes back to the crate and looks inside, wondering how disturbing the contents of this one will be.

"Careful, Morgan," Natasha warns as the Kadie heads towards the coffin. She closes the book she was skimming and sets it to the side. The feline then gets up to follow Morgan.

This crate is full of old things. Everything is covered in layers of dust. Mainly it looks like bits of cloth and some old and worn books. Some appear to have once had gilded edges and were probably quite fine in times past.

Eying the glob of acid now bubbling on the wall, Morgan grimaces as he lifts his brow. "Ooookay, yes, I do believe care is in order. Are you okay, Olivia?" He pauses to check on the Skeek, looking down. "If you're hurt, be sure to shout out."

Qing glances up from the book he's "feeding" to keep an eye on Morgan, but satisfied that Natasha is moving to help, he continues trying to coax words from his tome.

As the Skeek reaches in to take one of the gilt-edged books, she says to Morgan, "I'm all right for now. Believe me, if something more horrible than acid goo hits me, you'll hear me screaming from here to next week."

The book Qing is 'reading' seems to deal with the concepts of resurrection. There are actual claims in the book that mages of old did have a method in which they could actually resurrect the dead, and not in the sense of a zombie, either.

"Let's hope that doesn't happen! Also," Morgan leans down to whisper to Olivia again, "You'll probably hear the same from me, too." He smiles at her, then proceeds to the nearest coffin. Taking a page from Olivia's book, he gets out his knife and carefully tries to open the lid – while leaning well back, and partially hiding behind a nearby box.

The book Olivia is holding has a title that can just barely be made out: 'Advanced Rituals and Warding Techniques'. Underneath is a stylized symbol, just like the ones that adorn Mage Qing's robes.

The reptile eyes his book skeptically, flicking his tongue dismissively at first… then pauses, seeming to look and read more closely. He flips a few pages, his ruby eyes flicking back and forth.

The lid of the coffin is quite heavy, so it takes a fair amount of effort for the Kadie to manage it open. He probably wishes he hadn't, because it appears to have been loaded with a corpse on a spring or something similar. It launches outward, slamming into the Kadie and driving him to the floor. Morgan finds himself looking up into the rotting face of a Cervani now laying on him. A few bugs fall out of its eye sockets right onto the witch's face.

Olivia's brow wrinkles as she reads the title of the book. "Don't tell me… this was one of his old textbooks?" she whispers to herself. With that thought in mind, she replaces the tome and carefully takes out some of the old bits of cloth and examines them, as well, trying to keep them from crumbling in her hands.

The Kadie gives a rather unmanly, and definitely shrill scream as he falls backwards. "Oh, ew-ew-ew getditoffmegetitoffme," he wails. A lot of flailing and scooting away later, he sits with his back against a nearby box and stares at the corpse. A long pause, and then, "Well." Another pause. "At least it wasn't acid."

The book Qing reads continues on, making references to items recovered from the lands of Olympia, once the center of learning and magic in the world. It claims that once the magic of the planet was much different than it is today and the high priests of Olympia actually had the ability to resurrect. But then some sort of event changed the very nature of magic in the world and the power, or perhaps the knowledge, was lost. Who knows if the book is fact or fiction, though.

The bits of cloth Olivia retrieves are dull and dirty parts of a robe. Again, it seems similar in appearance to the one that Qing wears. Underneath the cloth is another book; this one not gilded, but seems to be some sort of journal, perhaps.

Morgan gingerly reaches out and pushes the corpse away, then stands up. "I'll just go look in here," he declares as if nothing happened, and he didn't scream like a twelve year old Lapi girl.

Olivia sets the pieces of cloth back inside the crate and now takes up the non-gilded book, flipping it open to the beginning and seeing if she can decipher any of the writing that might be inside.

Qing looks up from the spot he was reading, eyeing the Cervani's remains on the floor and giving Morgan an odd look. Brought out of his reverie, the kssh'atga snaps his book shut… but rather than replace it on the shelf, he tucks it away somewhere in the folds under his voluminous mantle. "Was there nothing else in the coffin?" he says as he slithers over. Rather than investigate that, he looks over Olivia's shoulder to see what she's looking at. "Hmm… old spirit mage trappings?"

Natasha watches the incident with Morgan and the corpse. She actually looks town between seeming concerned and laughing at the Kadie. "A necromancer's version of the bucket of water over the door," she ends up admitting. "I remember students doing that back at school. They would break into the labs before a day of handling corpses and rig all the coffins to throw the bodies out when opened. They always thought it was funny … until they were put on a month of entrail cleanup duty … without peppermint salve to put under their noses."

"Oh, VERY funny, yes." Morgan peers into the coffin.

The journal may as well be pretty drawings for all Olivia could make out from it. It's in no language she knows. With the way it is penned and the flourishes on the characters, it's at least probably a good guess Valicross didn't write it.

Olivia nods absently as she scans over the pages of her own book. "There seem to be some old textbooks inside here, as well as the pieces of a spirit mage's robe. Well, at any rate, they look similar in design to what you're wearing, Mage Qing." Then she frowns at the strange writing inside. Offering the book to the Naga, she asks, "What do you make of this? I certainly can't read any of it."

The reptile's glance flicks up momentarily. "Such frivolity earns harsh punishment. But I suppose many of the apprentices are mere children, even the ones drawn to spiritcraft." He looks down again, peering over Olivia's find and taking up the book when it's offered. "Let's see, here… "

Natasha remains where she is, keeping an eye on Morgan (and confirming he didn't wet himself with a quick glance down at his pants). The inside of the coffin is … stinky. All sulfur and rotting flesh. But, at least perhaps the doorknob in the back of the coffin would make Morgan feel better. There is a passage here.

"Ah-ha, I knew it," Morgan declares, feeling some of his confidence come back. He carefully steps around the coffin, picking up an old piece of the Cervani's clothes, then uses the piece to turn the knob with.

Maybe the fates are trying to apologize to Morgan. The door opens rather easily … and loudly. apparently the necromancer didn't bother to oil hinges. Or maybe he liked the creaking sound it adds to the ambiance of his personal chamber of horrors.

The witchdoctor lowers his smoked glasses to study the pages. "Hm. I can't read it," he admits. "But it looks like… hm." He pauses, then lowers his voice to a contemplative level, such that only Olivia can hear. "Khattan. It may be the very things Valicross tore away from Natasha. I'll leave it to you to present to her, if it is indeed the case."

Morgan smiles when the door opens without a hitch. "Madame Natasha?" He looks over his shoulder at the gypsy, then waves her over. "Could you use your magelight and illuminate this? I've found a secret passage down."

Natasha lifts up, then extends her staff down into the passage so the light can illuminate it a bit. It's a dank and musty corridor leading down to who knows where. A slow rush of cold air surges from the passage, bringing with it the stench of decay. "Lovely," Natasha notes and wrinkles her muzzle a bit. "His 'cellar'."

Olivia nods to the Naga and takes the book back. "Understood. Thank you, I'll tell her to come over and look at this when… " Here she pauses, hearing the loud squealing of the secret door on its hinges. "Well, whenever we're finished seeing what Morgan has found."

"Let's finish up making sure this area is safe before we head down," Morgan tells Natasha. To the others he announces, "I've found a path downwards. We should finish here, check ourselves, and then head down when we're ready."


GMed by Jared

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