In which the Questers divide, and… conquer?
(Chiaroscuro) (Envoy) (Mircus) (Ocean) (Roho) (Quest in the

Corridors of Little Rephidim West
The Paquebot's halls resound with footsteps oddly, an ever-present thunder of the sea making the echoes seem like the periodic cries of some faraway beast. The lantern's brilliance prevails little against the darkness, flickering to make shadows jump back and forth, and a fine dust covers the floor, showing footsteps clearly.

Having decided that the 'Cargo Transfer Airlock' appears to be the best apperture at which the weapons cache they discovered here could be transferred, the group split so that Chiaroscuro and Mircus would be investigating the ventilation ducts, hoping to signal the airship so that it would know to move to the other docking arm. Envoy, Roho, and Dalagask, the Eeee lieutenant they discovered on the station, would set off to investigate the airlock and see if it was still operative, while Pawtuxet and Naomi remained behind to seek ways to conveniently transport the rather large and bulky cargo…

Twisty Little Maze
Though ostensibly the ventilation ducts of the paquebot must have been designed to maximize the efficiency of circulation of fresh air throughout the entire station, in practice the close confines of the ducts take on nightmarish complexity as they weave through loops, apparent 'short cuts' barred by ventilation fans or stretches that narrow too much to fit anyone through. Six months of neglect have taken their toll on the system, leaving a fine grayish dust that coats the yellowed ceramic walls.

Having spent some long discussion about what is to be done, Chiaroscuro decided at length to try and contact the airship, so that they would at least know that the party had not perished to unknown menaces. With Mircus, the map-maker, they set out into the ventilation system, clambering through a conveniently loose grill.

Chiaroscuro holds his lantern careuflly in one paw, shining it on for a brief bit to look down the ventilation shaft, then back off, and crawling forward. Under his breath, he chants… o/~ Rik' ran tillen, Rik' worrillen, Rik'Tik'Tav nakh'mortigaro… o/~

Mircus follows behind the exile Kavi, the relative lack of light back behind not overly bothering him, as he's more concentrating on remembering the twists and turns of a system not really designed for travel…

All appeared to be going well, the duct unblocked, the flashlight's powerful beam offering far more illumination… Until they encountered the first obstruction that wasn't on the map: where the shaft widened and dropped into a kind of maintenance niche, it was partially blocked by some strange blobbish shape…

Chiaroscuro presses his body against the side of the tunnel, and shines the light at the strange blob… "What do you think this is, Mircus?"

Mircus nearly bumps into Chipper before he notices he should stop. He peers ahead at where the light's shining…

The blob appears… Thatched? It is mottled, and in the brilliant light of the flashlight, takes on brownish and reddish tinges, as if it were in fact, made of numerous patches; holes appear in its surface at irregular intervals. The masks obscure any scent that it might possess, however.

Mircus looks at the thing for a moment, then shrugs as best he can in these cramped quarters, "I have no idea."

Smaller blobs lie near it, some catching the light along speckled brown… shells?

Chiaroscuro mutters, "Most curious… I will have to try and move it to get past. Hold the lantern, If you please… "

Mircus carefully takes the strangely shaped lantern in one hand and shines it in the general direction of the 'thing'. After all – he's examining the lantern, not watching down the vent…

The mongoose reaches forward… and up closer, it becomes clear that the small objects are…

… meanwhile…

Guided only by flickering lantern light, Envoy, Roho, and Dalagask climb the stairs to the ground level and walk past the large hatches that grant access to the corridors leading outward. 5, 6, 7, 8… And 1. This one would appear to be the main road for this station – and the hatch that opens onto the inner stairwell, through which the three have gone, is already partially open. Several skull-faces greet Envoy with blank stares, the Skeek bones visible through the gap.

Envoy makes a mark on the map Mircus drew for them to indicate the bodies, and turns to Roho and Dalagask. "There are some casualties along this route, watch your step," she advises in Eeee.

Roho nods, picking his steps carefully as he follows Envoy…

Dalagask grumbles in Eeee. "Lousy Rephidimite lackeys… " He limps along without his cane, which has been given to Roho.

Envoy shines the lantern around as she leads, and comments in the same squeeky language, "These people died before your silly war started, Dalagask. They serviced Babelite ships too."

The Skeek bodies are scattered about several boxes, some with their fingers over the handles. The cryptic writing says only, "MEDICAL SUPPLIES."

Beyond this point, the corridor runs straight, a little wider than the other main corridors that Envoy has observed; hatches are spaced out regularly, with an occasional closet replacing them.

Envoy pauses at the pile of bodies, shining the light closer to see if the boxes had been opened or not.

Dalagask grumps. "I wasn't talking about them." He pats his side reflexively, where his gun would have been holstered.

The boxes appear quite dusty, the worn plastic sides suggesting they have seen much use. Simple clasps hold them shut.

Envoy reaches down to open one of the boxes, pushing aside a few dessicated limbs.

Bones clatter on the floor…

The box's lid flips open creakily, revealing a number of odd-looking ceramic devices – they have concave triangular pieces connected to two small cylinders, and what must be glass lenses of some type are fitted above these. There are two to a box, and four additional cylinders nestled into some sort of foam. Cracks suggest that the devices have seen better years.

Envoy hands one of the devices to Roho, and asks in Standard, "What do you think this is for, Roho?"

A hollow thump echoes through the corridor, as if something heavy had struck the wall… But the acoustics of the station make it difficult to tell which wall, or indeed, where it might have come from.

Envoy swings the lantern around. "Could either of you tell which direction that noise came from?" she asks in Eee.

Roho turns the device in his paw, "I'm not certain, Envoy… nothing I've used before… "

Dalagask snorts at Envoy. "Sound-blind," he squeaks with a smirk.

Roho nods, "It was from up ahead."

Envoy hmms. "Maybe it's just an echo from Chipper and Mircus moving through the vents." She repacks the medical box, and makes another note on the map before picking up the lantern again and moving forward.

Roho thinks for a moment, "I'm not so sure, Envoy… it just didn't sound right for that… "

"Do you hear anymore movement?" she asks the fennec, using Standard again. Maybe just to annoy the bat.

Dalagask glares at Envoy and Roho.

Roho stands with his ears pricked up, listening intently, turning in a slow circle…

Roho rasps, "Nothing, Envoy. Well, maybe something. I don't know… it sounds like probably just sea debris. Something's striking the core, but it's nothing like the thud a moment ago."

Envoy says, "Are you sure it came from outside, Roho?"

Roho shakes his head, "No, I'm not. But it seemed to. And there's nothing else in the station that we've seen."

Envoy asks Dalagask, "Have you heard sounds like that before while you were here?"

The corridor goes past several more closed doors, and two large opened ones side by side that open into another laboratory with several shadowy tanks inside – they seem, at this distance and with poor illumination, to be full of inky darkness. Dalagask limps along at a distance behind the other two, perhaps making a point that his poorly healed leg means he isn't going anywhere very fast, or perhaps simply ill tempered resistance. "No," the bat says.

Envoy makes another mark on the map to indicate the open labs. Something to investigate later.

The corridor ends at last at the main airlock for the paquebot… More corpses lie strewed about, a Rhian's arms reaching up to the wheel that would open it, his fingers clutched about its circumference in a deathly grip. A Naga's dead body lies next to bloody writing on the deck, now faded to almost ink-like black: "BETRAYAL".

This airlock certainly looks wide enough for Sendrick's business…

Envoy tells Roho about the blood-writing, using Standard again.

Dalagask mutters. "An evil place… "

Envoy shines the light around the edges of the hatch, looking for instructions or an indicator for the outer door.

The wheel is to the side of the main airlock, perhaps hooked directly to some sort of belt-and-drive mechanism that would move the massive thing. The door would, under ideal conditions, slide sideways, rather than opening forward or back…

Envoy hmms. The Rhian could have been trying to open it OR close it. "Can either of you hear anything on the other side of this door?"

Roho walks up to the door, and cups a large ear to it, holding a paw over his other ear…

Roho nods slowly, "Thumping. Fairly regular, not nearby."

Envoy ponders for a moment. "Okay, I'm going to try and open the hatch a crack then." She tries to pry the ex-Rhian's deathgrip off of the wheel.

*Snap!* *snapsnapsnap* Tendons break like twigs under Envoy's grip, leaving the Rhian to slump to the floor in a ghastly heap.

Roho holds up his paw, "It changed… there's a cracking noise… "

Dalagask clutches his hand over his mouth and runs off into the darkness, limping furiously.

Envoy blinks back at Roho, "From outside?" She looks after the bat. "I think Dalagask's mask may have failed."

Roho nods, "From outside… it sounded like wood breaking."

Envoy says, "There may be another pier outside. Does it sound like there's another chamber beyond the door, or just open air?"

Roho sighs, "I can't tell, Envoy, I'm sorry… "

A shrill scream comes from down the hall. More bat-scrabbling.

Roho shakes his head, "Envoy, would you please go care for our guest, before he hurts himself?"

… meanwhile…

… it becomes clear that the small objects are… Vermites! This must be a nest of the things. But the vermites are all dead, their numerous legs turned up to the ceiling of the duct…

Chiaroscuro pushes at the pile, trying to move it or break it up enough to crawl past. "Just Vermites," he says to Mircus. "Dead ones it seems… "

A hollow thump and a slight rocking of the floor suggests that something heavy has hit the station… But it's too difficult to tell where or even how much damage might have been done.

Mircus sways slightly with the rocking of the station, the light from the 'lantern' jiggling crazily. He looks up, and actually watches where the light's aiming in an attempt to keep it on the pile and be somewhat helpful.

The pile crumbles easily, revealing that it must have been made of scavenged bits of insulation, blankets, anything loose and fibrous that could have scavenged by clever vermite jaws. The pieces fall into the maintenance recess, obscuring several panels that might hold controls.

Chiaroscuro pushes the vermite nest clear after the shaking is over, and continues downward along the tunnel. He continues his chanting, o/~ Reyna meahi, Reyna ahrii, Reyna chreeek ponaro… o/~

Chiaroscuro keeps crawling a little, the dead vermite shells crunching as he moves past… He stops as he realizes something. "May I have the lantern again, Mircus? Unless you truly care to enjoy a well-lumened view of my tailtip."

Mircus stares at the disintegrated vermite nest for a moment. "I have to wonder," he muses, "just how many vermites would be on a station of this size… I didn't see any nests when… " He notices the light he's holding, "Sorry," and crawls up to hand it over.

Chiaroscuro takes the light, and keeeps crawling down the various shafts, making sure to pause at each intersection to ask his Rath'ani companion which way to proceed… and always chanting his song, which seems to go for verses and verses…

The ventilation duct drops down a steep incline and opens up into… The main airway, which is tall enough to stand up in but no less dark. Fan-shapes hang motionless in their frames, the gap between blades wide enough to crawl through. These blades are of ceramic, their edges streaked with green.

The walls curve a little, and other shafts exactly like the one through which Chiaroscuro and Mircus came, dot the ceramic surfaces with nothing to distinguish them but strings of letters and numbers beneath them.

Mircus crawls out after Chipper and stands, stretching carefully. He peers around, looking at each of the shafts in turn, muttering, "… it should be marked like… "

Chiaroscuro leaves the light on now, instead of momentary 'flashes' of light, pointing it at the numbers below for Mircus. "Like… ?", he says in a questioning baritone.

Mircus peers at the next shaft, and the next, "Like… that!" The Rath'ani indicates on of the shafts, grinning for a moment… then his face falls. "I think."

This particular shaft seems to lead upward at another steep slope, which will make the going rather difficult.

Chiaroscuro hmmms, and nods… "I see… would any other ones have similar markings to the one we seek?"

Mircus is silent, eyes closed, thinking. After a moment, he opens his eyes and shrugs, looking faintly embarassed. "I'm not too sure; they're all a lot alike. It looks like the right one – slopes up and everything… " He sighs miserably. "I should have studied the maps a bit more, I guess, but I really didn't expect to be using the ventilation system… "

Chiaroscuro pats Mircus's shoulder supportively. "Nor I, but the paths we take are not always clear until the running. Let us journey further." he says, crouching down and crawling in…

Mircus nods, brightening only slightly. As an afterthought, he tosses a small package (Xocholatl from general stores) next to the vent they entered from, then follows after Chipper.

The incongruously brightly colored package sits next to the duct… Just waiting to be eaten up by someone.

The duct opens up into a wider passage gradually. Moist air blasts down it in periodic bursts, with a dull roar as if they were crawling right into someone's mouth…

… meanwhile…

Envoy turns and shines the lantern back down the corridor. "Dalagask," she calls out shrilly, "are you alright?" She heads towards the scream, and says back to Roho, "He probably just tripped over somebody."

Roho winces at another sound, "Um… careful not to slip in anything, Envoy."

Envoy keeps a watch on the floor then as well while she heads for the open labs, figuring those are the closest rooms the bat would have likely gone into.

The bat is indeed, quivering outside one of the large opened doors, a puddle of something unmentionable near his feet. He looks up at Envoy sharply and screams, "You… You desecrator of the dead! You're as bad as they are!" He starts limping down the corridor again.

Envoy blinks after the bat, and shines the light into the lab, still unsure of what made the Eee scream out.

The lab appears to have three large vats, glass-sided, inside it, and a number of tables and benches, many with glass jars. The liquid inside the vats is murky from this distance. Even through the mask, something stinks to Envoy's nostrils.

Envoy breathes through her mouth and holds the lantern close to one of the vats, hoping to pierce the murk.

A shadowy shape becomes slowly apparent… It's a tentacle! No, several of them, joined to some heavy mass that is still hidden in the miasma.

Roho's voice calls down the corridor, "Envoy, follow the bat, explore later!"

Envoy hmms. Her experience immediately makes her think a squid is being grown in the tank… but a rational theory develops that it is a captured specimen, probably immature. She leaves the lab and calls to let Roho know she's okay as she returns to the main hatch.

Envoy tells Roho, in Eee, "There's a squid being kept in one of the labs we passed. Do you think that's what the ones outside are trying to get to?"

Roho comes running down the corridor, occasionally stumbling over bones, "Listen… Envoy, if you let the bat get too far away, he'll find himself a weapon, and attack us. So please, help me find him!"

Envoy says, "He ran back towards the stairs."

Envoy calls for the bat as the two head back along the corridor.

The station rocks again, shaken by whatever gigantic force has been assaulting it in the past few hours.

Roho's face shows utter disbelief, "And you just let him go? Envoy, I just don't understand you. Come on, we need to find him before he hurts someone."

Envoy hurries along then, "He can't have gotten far before his leg would begin to hurt too much, could he?"

Roho shrugs, "I can't be sure… if he was scared, then he might be able to."

Envoy flushes slightly at her mistake, and is suddenly glad that Roho can't see it. "I'm sorry Roho. Can you hear him up ahead at all?"

The footprints in the dust lead back to the stairwell and down to an area that they recall: some sort of store room, where the dead Jupani and his journal were found…

Envoy helps Roho down the stairs to the door of the storeroom. "Dalagask, come out of there," she calls.

"Defiler of the dead!" an Eeee voice screams back. "You have no respect for anything!"

Envoy blinks again. What's the crazy bat babbling about? "You have to come back with us."

Roho runs towards the door, then as he reaches the doorway, he hears both the bat's words and something else, and turns around to run, "Envoy, he's armed!"

… meanwhile…

Chiaroscuro flicks on the light, flicks it off again, and crawls forward.

Mircus follows carefully, going over the details of this section of the map again and again in his head…

Light grows at the end of the shaft… And is revealed to be a pipe that opens out onto the sloped top of the paquebot! It bends at a right angle to catch the breeze, and the top appears to turn freely, occasionally swivelling as the currents change.

The sky appears almost strange, after what has only been a day in the paquebot but feels like a month. The sun dips near the horizon, some distance to the right of a golden arc that must be the Proecssion.

"Sky!", the mongoose says, as if he's not seen it for years. He clambers out of the pipe, calling back "Be careful, Mircus… the final part moves."

Mircus smiles. Sky. The young Rath'ani quickly follows after Chipper.

The slope of the roof is just gradual enough here that, once the two clamber out, they can keep their foothold. The sea mist that would have covered it in the dawn has burned away beneath the sun to leave the surface dry, and other irregular bumps decorate the roof of the paquebot. The Blaze of Glory is a welcome sight, its sails tucked in to leave a mass of spars hanging out over the sides and behind, still tethered to the other arm. But a more chilling sight is beneath, churning the water…

Nearly a hundred of the squid-things swim about the station, graduated in size from small black backs to larger red ones, and even a few white backs cutting the waves here and there. Their eyes are focused on the station, and they beat against the central core's sides rhythmically.

Chiaroscuro smiles as he sees the ship… but gasps at the sight of all the sea-creatures in the water. "By the claws of all the Saints… "

Mircus stares in horror at the roiling waters, then sinks to the top of the paquebot. "Well… it's not like we were planning on swimming, anyroad… "

At that moment, the station trembles again, forcing Chiaroscuro and Mircus to grab for handholds… Piped through the duct nearby, it sounds like a musical note.

Mircus gasps in surprise, and grabs tightly ahold of the vent to keep from sliding off the paquebot. "?!"

Chiaroscuro keeps his balance with each shake, but his face shows his confidence is the most shaken… he says quietly, "We have to warn the others… the… those things are going to break this paquebot apart… "

Up close, it becomes apparent how the vent works: a large fin atop and sloping behind it makes sure that it will always be angled into the wind, the better to capture air for the station's ventilation ducts. The familiar star and anchor insignia is joined by an eight-armed symbol of some type that suspiciously resembles a spider of some sort.

Mircus keeps his deathgrip on the vent. He risks a glance at Chipper, and, voice shaky, asks, "But… the ship?"

Chiaroscuro pauses silently for a moment, then steps to Mircus and says, "In the time of five breaths, shine the light at the ship, and do not stop until they are alerted.", in a surprisingly calm-sounding voice. He pries one of Mircus's paws off the vent and slaps the lantern in it.

Mircus nods shakily, taking the light. Some small corner of his mind suggests he use a much larger count, given how fast he's breathing…

Chiaroscuro stares into Mircus's eyes for a moment, intensely. "Rik' be with you." He takes a deep breath, tapping the small figure around his neck on both hind paws. "And me… " he says, and *bolts* directly towards the Blaze Of Glory.

… meanwhile…

Envoy jumps out of the doorway. "Can you tell what he has, Roho? Can he see in the dark?"

"Never!" Dalagask screams. "Go away, heretic!" A crossbow bolt sings through the air, narrowly missing Envoy, embedding itself in the far wall.

Roho knows that it will take a moment for the bat to reload a crossbow. He takes a gamble, and dashes into the storeroom, listening for the sound of breathing…

Envoy turns the lantern down low as Roho dashes inside the storeroom, and hides the remaining dim light with her wings.

The bat struggles to reload. He pants between his breaths, "Or I will make you go away!" His ears focus on Roho's charge belatedly, and then he struggles to leap to the higher boxes.

Roho leaps, as the bat's movements reveal himself more, just trying to tackle him for the moment.

Envoy waits outside and listens for any instructions Roho might call to her, and hoping nobody gets badly hurt.

With a clatter, Dalagask falls backward under the fennec into more crates! Boxes thump about, tipping forward…

Roho doesn't think to call for help, assuming Envoy's right behind him. Him and the bat go back into the crates…

Dalagask screams outrage as he wrestles with Roho – he has been weakened by months of breathing the tainted air in the station, but Roho has seen better years. Heavy boxes crash to the floor, breaking open and scattering more miscellany…

Envoy turns the lantern back up when she hears the crashes, and runs into the storeroom!

A horrific sight confronts the winged Exile, a demented bat with his arms around Roho's neck, trying to capture the fennec in a headlock…

Roho pivots his weight around, trying to dislodge the bat, though in a poor position from where he landed to do much. His breath comes in little choked gasps.

The crossbow clatters, bowstring snapped. Little things crunch under Envoy's feet.

Envoy grabs up Roho's dropped staff with her free hand, and takes a wild swing at Dalagask. Aiming for his head, she only manages to clip the Eee's elbow.

Dalagask howls in pain! This affords just enough time for Roho to squirm free…

Roho slips down, out of the bat's arms, and rolls to one side, just trying to get out of the way of Envoy…

The lantern hits the floor with a clatter as Envoy uses both hands to grip the staff. Raising it over her head, the light from below highlights the snarl of anger on her face.

The glass cracks! Oil begins to leak out.

Dalagask spins, trying to get out of the way… But only manages to come to his knees on an assemblage of fallen crates, the surfaces tilted at odd angles.

Envoy swings down at the bat, smashing into one of the dislodged crates instead.

The crate's side dents, wood splintering.

Roho feels something sticky and wet against his paw, but he ignores it, trying for the moment just to get his wind back.

As the Babelite bat tries to jump over Envoy, she drops her staff, grappling instead for his bad leg… And misses completely, toppling over as the oil runs across the floor, making the deck slippery. The bat screams, "Die in flames, blasphemers of the sacred dead!"

Envoy blinks at the Eee's words, and her anger vanishes as she searches for the lantern.

Roho gags out through gasps, "Fire?" He sniffs at his paw, and coughs as he smells the oil, "Envoy, what happened?"

Envoy heads towards Roho, tugging her mask back into place. "I dropped the lantern, Roho!"

Eeee curses fill the air as the bat discovers the crossbow's string has snapped. He throws the useless wood away and snaps his head about looking for anything sharp that can be used to dispose of these two heretics…

Roho gets up to his knees, "Don't let him find a flint! Whatever you do!" He grabs at a crate, trying to steady himself.

The light flickers wildly, the lantern's source of oil leaking steadily onto the ceramic deck. The cracks create strange patterns of shadows across the ceiling…

Envoy pauses, and tries to find something amid the debris to throw at the bat.

Something comes to hand… A burnt-out lantern, probably the one that the Jupani in here had used long ago.

Envoy grabs the old lantern and throws it at Dalagask while still on her knees.

The other lantern shatters near the bat, startling him horribly! His face contorts evilly, as he glares at Envoy, and then he turns and snatches up what was his cane, borrowed by Roho, and starts using it to hobble out of the store-room – perhaps heading for another place where he can find a usable weapon.

Envoy scrambles on hands and knees over the slipery floor towards Roho again.

Roho gains his feet, and staggers over a crate. Somehow, he manages to tackle Dalagask by the legs.

Envoy calls, "Be careful Roho, he's got the staff," as she hurries towards them.

The cane goes flying with a loud clatter against the deck, as Dalagask cries out!

Envoy throws herself across Dalagask's back, but slips slightly in the oil and bumps Roho along the way.

Dalagask yelps! "Dagh take you all!" He struggles weakly, but can't shift the weight of both the Aeolun and the Zerda.

Roho gets crunched between Envoy and Dalagask, and emits a rather pained squeak.

Envoy turns her head to ask Roho, "Should I try to render him unconscious?"

After a minute, Dalagask keens. "You're going to kill me," he accuses. "And use my body for… A slingshot! Or a kite. Or something equally disrespectful. How can I trust your word when you respect nothing?"

Envoy says, "You promised you'd help us, and broke your word."

"And you," the Eeee says to Roho. "How could you just stand by and let that *thing* do it?"

Roho's not speaking at the moment… he seems to have lost his wind.

"I did not break it," Dalagask squeaks annoyedly. "No sane Babelite would treat with defilers of the dead! They deserve better than to be brushed aside like so much trash."

Envoy blinks three times, and asks the bat, "Why?"

"Monster!" Dalagask struggles a second, and then gives up, heaving for breath through his mask noisily.

Roho finally gets his breath back, somewhat, "Dalagask, she isn't from here. She doesn't understand. And your stunt could have very well caused all of us, including you, to join those dead." He takes a few deep breaths, "Envoy, keep a close eye on him. Dalagask, if you do that again, I will ask her to render you unconscious, for your sake as well as ours."

The bat hisses. "She is… Exile?"

Envoy keeps the bat pinned down. "What did you think I was?"

"A surface mutation! Like those Nohbakims, only of the Aeonians. Who knows what those strange creatures do," Dalagask mutters. A long sigh, and then he nods. "You are only guilty of ignorance. I will teach you the words of the Sabaoth. The words of life-in-death."

Roho nods, "There will be time on the airship once we are out of here to speak of theology all you wish. For now, there are more pressing matters." He shakily regains his feet, after locating the staff.

Envoy doesn't ease off her hold, and waits for Roho's instructions.

The shattered lantern provides dwindling light… Any minute now, it might set off the oil that has puddled over the deck.

"I think we should leave this room, Roho, and seal the door behind us," Envoy advises. "The risk of fire is increasing."

Roho thinks for a moment, "Okay. I think the best thing we can do now, is return to that lab you found, Envoy. It seemed you found something that aroused your curiosity. But, please, keep a close watch on our companion."

Envoy gets up off the Eee, and offers him a hand up.

Dalagask doesn't accept the hand, instead creakily getting up.

Envoy says, "We'll have to leave the lantern behind, Roho, so I won't be able to see once we close the storeroom door."

After a few moments in which the guttering lantern was extinguished and the Eeee and the Zerda spent some time searching around, a new lantern is found and lit…

… meanwhile…

The mongoose slides precipitously down the roof, dropping with a thump onto the top of the docking arm. A glance backward suggests that there's no way he's going to be able to get back up from this end… The water roils immediately nearby, some black tentacles lashing up at the edges of the roof.

Chiaroscuro moves at a scamper towards the ship, using all four paws for his nimblest of footing… not at full speed, but hurried.

By the time a very startled Mircus remembers what he's supposed to be doing, well more than five breaths have passed. He belatedly 'lights' the lamp and shines it at the ship, eyes flashing back and forth between ship and Chipper…

The black tentacles aren't long enough to reach over the docking arm… But the red ones are! Chiaroscuro narrowly jumps over the first one, dodges beneath the flailing second one, and… is forced to gasp as the third one, near the warehouse roof, wraps about his ankle. It grips him with a nearly immovable strength.

Chiaroscuro collapses down mid-stride, and rips off his mask violently with one paw, rending it apart… and his jaws move to snap at the tentacle!

Disgusting fluids spurt into the mongoose's mouth! The tentacle recoils in pain, though not without spinning Chiaroscuro a few times…

Picking himself up, the mongoose manages to clamber atop the warehouse where the Blaze of Glory has finally noticed… The captain calls orders, and several Vartans swoop down to rescue the mongoose – moments later, Mircus as well, saving him from clinging to the roof all day.

Captain Sendrick glowers at the mongoose. "Three things, Waashu-chewer," he growls. "One, where are the weapons. Two, where is the rest of the landing party. And three, why in Dagh's name are the seas boiling over with these pestiferous menaces to shipping?!"

Chiaroscuro wipes squid-juice off his mouth with a paw, and looks at Sendrick… eyes locked firm into his. "One: The weapons are still down in the room where they have been, all intact. Two: They are heading for the large airlock to get out of that snake's-den-on-water… in a way that your Sheol-take-them-all weapons can be brought out. And three… "

Chiaroscuro says, "Because they want us all for their midnight snack."

The poodle captain looks aghast. "So you mean to say, then, that there is no way our mission can be carried out?"

Chiaroscuro looks at the captain… "Envoy found logs in there, telling where the squids came from… and a survivor. Get them out and we can at least tell the Temple half our mission is a success. As for the rest… " He shakes his head. "Those creatures are going to shake this place to pieces if they can. I do not think we will have the time to get all the weapons, or even part, unless you know some way to kill those… those… Nakh-spawned sea monsters with snakes for arms.", he spits out frustratedly.

Sendrick rubs his chin. "And can the rest of them come out the way that you did?" He looks frustrated. "Kavi, much as I would like to shoot every last one of those monstrosities, I do not think we have nearly enough bolts for the task, even if I could be sure that ordinary bolts would do the task."

Mircus, still shaken from recent experience, remains quietly in the background…

Chiaroscuro thinks… "Envoy probably could. Roho, Naomi, certainly. Likely the Eeee survivor." He frowns. "Pawtuxet. She could not… "

The poodle pauses. "So the weapons are irrecoverable. And at least one member of the landing party. Is that the case?"

Mircus flinches wildly, "But we can't just leave someone down there!"

Chiaroscuro shakes his head. "There is the airlock that Pawtuxet can… " He prods Mircus. "You gave them the directions to it, Mircus… tell the captain."

Mircus closes his eyes and breathes deeply before responding, trying to gather himself, "There are eight locks into the core… One of them is bigger than the others; maybe twenty… twenty-five feet across."

Sendrick looks over the side of the Blaze of Glory. "And is it safe to go in that route?" he asks curtly.

Mircus thinks back on the squid attack, the foul air, the poisonous dust… and has to stop himself from laughing in fear he won't stop, "I… "

Chiaroscuro looks at Mircus, and then interjects… "Safe enough to get the rest out. The only great trouble is… those 'Cephanti'."

"And what do you propose we do about them?" Sendrick draws himself up straight, as if preparing to consign them all to death because it would be too great a risk.

"Move the ship to where it'll be easier for the others to get aboard." the mongoose says. "Have the Vartans lift me to the roof… I will get back inside, find the others, and tell them the plan." He swallows nervously, dry-mouthed.

Sendrick's mouth twists. "You'll deal with those sea things as best as you can then, Waashu-chewer. Tasted good, did it? If you find some way to get rid of them – do it. Rephidim needs those weapons."

Chiaroscuro smirks at Sendrick. "Tastes as good as a Waashu."

The poodle turns to Mircus. "And will you be going back with the Kavi as well?"

Mircus shivers slightly, and closes his eyes. His voice is scarce audible. "I'm ready when he is."

"All right. Go, and may the First Ones help you. Because nothing else will prevail." Sendrick barks orders to the Vartans.

Chiaroscuro taps his Rikkorel lightly on the chest, above the heart. "Do not be certain of that." he whispers.

Moments later, the Vartans carry first Chiaroscuro, then Mircus, back to the apparent place from which they came. The Rath'ani's expertise provides vital, for they were off by just a *little*… But having once located the xocholatl packet that he used to mark the way back, they soon work their way through the station and emerge near the main airlock…

… meanwhile…

Envoy, Roho and Dalagask rejoin Pawtuxet and Naomi, who have succeeded in transporting the weapons to the sea-level deck, and are once again gathered before the main hatch. Irregular thuds beat against the hull of the Paquebot, a drumming that reminds them too much of what they are likely to find outside.

Something creaks nearby… And a grill falls to the floor, startling Naomi terribly!

A snout pokes through a duct in the ceiling, brilliant white… followed by the ebon-furred face of a mongoose. "Aha!." He drops nimbly to the ground, and instantly moves to hug Envoy…

Mircus drops to the floor after Chipper, stumbling slightly on landing. The Rath'ani sits, hard, and then just stays sitting, leaning back against the wall, eyes closed.

Envoy blinks, then hugs Chipper back. "Did you find the surface vent?"

Naomi whispers to Roho, "I think I ought to get paid *combat* pay for all this!"

Dalagask glowers from where he's leaning upon another section of pipe appropriated for a cane.

Pawtuxet turns from the load of heavy artillery, as the others return and waves to them.

Chiaroscuro nods, stepping back from Envoy… "Yes indeed. We got back to the ship and told them quickly what happened… then the Vartans gave us a quick lift. The captain is going to circle around to this side… "

Envoy says, "What are the conditions outside? Are we still surrounded?"

Naomi's eyes widen. "Is it safe? Can we go back now? Please?"

Roho glowers at Naomi, sporting a new collection of bruises and a little shakier step, "*You* should get combat pay?"

Mircus begins giggling uncontrollably from his place by the wall at Envoy's question.

Chiaroscuro nods to Envoy. "Still, with a dozen dozen sea-beasts. And it is them causing that pounding on the outside… in groups."

Naomi eeps at the Zerda. "What happened to you?"

Envoy hmms. "I think you'd all better come look at the labs then. There are specimens of the squids there, possibly an entire juvenile body."

Roho whispers back, "Our guest decided to try an escape."

The Rath'ani girl yipes at Roho. "And you stopped him? You're not as – er, you must be stronger than you look!"

Chiaroscuro looks at Envoy… "If it is quick. The Blaze of Glory will take some time to move around… but not much."

Roho chuckles, "I tripped him, mostly. Envoy did most of the work."

"We should poison the lot of them," Dalagask insists in his high-pitched Eeee which only a few can understand. "We have the weapons! Cleanse this part of the sea, and they'll never trouble us again."

Envoy nods, and leads the way back to the labs. "I have recently learned that some cultures have special reverence for the dead. Maybe the squids do as well."

The labs are better lit by Chiaroscuro's lamp, the powerful beam cutting through the darkness… Though it does tend to flicker badly now, the shaft of light pierces the miasma of the tanks to show clearly that each is inhabited by a small squid, pale ivory in color. Several notebooks and logbooks must be where scientists keep their notes; the glass jars on the tables contain dissected organs and parts of the squid-things. Dalagask mutteres to himself constantly in Eeee about 'Blasphemers'.

More dead white-coated corpses lie here and there, some slumped over benches as if they had been in the middle of some work when whatever happened slew them.

Chiaroscuro hmms, nodding, and following along with Envoy… looking around the laboratory.

Envoy collects the various notebooks. "Do you think the squids want these specimens back?"

Naomi huddles close to Roho and makes small whining noises.

Mircus just follows and watches, apparently in slightly better spirits now…

Envoy taps on the glass of one of the tanks, to see if the body inside reacts at all.

Chiaroscuro says, "Perhaps… though I would not go out of our way to give them back, unless you had a plan?"

Nothing happens… Whatever horrible beast once looked out with those saucer-like eyes, it is now long dead.

Envoy looks over the corpses. "I don't know. The water in the tanks may be toxic. Dissecting them here may even have released whatever killed the rest of the crew."

Envoy says, "I would put one of the tanks at the edge of the hatch, then open the door enough for the squids outside to see it and react."

Envoy says, "If nothing else, they may occupy themselves trying to open the tank instead of trying to kill us."

Envoy says, "Or, we could follow Dalagask's advice and pour poison into the water."

Chiaroscuro thinks on this for a while, taking off his glove to stroke the fur on his chin… and suddenly noticing something. "Doctor! A mask please?"

Dalagask stays near the door, apparently not wanting to go into the lab.

Envoy looks to the foxtaur, "What do you think we should do, Pawtuxet?"

Roho prepares a mask for the mongoose, "What do you plan to try?"

Chiaroscuro taps his claws on a tabletop. "If the poison will work in water, that is possible… but we run the risk of some seeping into air. Are there notes on the poison?"

Mircus wanders to the door and peers down the hall. Finding even less of interest there that in the room, the Rath'ani slumps by the doorway to wait.

The Eeee says nothing, not understanding the Rephidim speech.

Envoy scans through the logbooks for mention of poison.

Pawtuxet looks around in the lab, at the tanks and dissected squid specimens, before turning back to Envoy, "I have no idea… right now, one way seems as good as the other. If it's possible to safely turn over one of the dead creatures to those in the water… well, if they react to it, we might get wiser.

The logs say that these are the specimens brought in by the Subaquatic Research Vessel, and go into some details on the anatomical features, chiefly the large brain case and the abundance of organs apparently dedicated to generation of chemicals – see specimen 15-D (the glass jar of which holds what looks like sheets and sheets of whitish bubbles). It goes into details about the digestive tract, which leads from a horrendous beak that can only be carnivorous, to an intestine system. The last logbook contains notes that, due to increased attacks on the part of larger relatives of the creatures, which have claimed the lives of many, and the recent use of some sort of poisonous substance which have made large sections of the Paquebot unusable, the scientists have decided to attempt to create a poison tailored specifically for these creatures, to be released into the water…

Envoy relays this information to the others as she reads.

Other logbooks conjecture as to the habits of these creatures, characterizing them as perhaps deep-sea predators – the large brain capacity, of course, goes to the purpose of analyzing chemicals found in the water and tracking down smaller creatures, and perhaps generating species-specific poisons.

At first, the logs suggest, the poison only sickened a few; others were unaffected. Later, they began to affect others in a far more negative fashion.

Envoy drones on, not adding any real emotional context to the words.

The final entry reads, "The anti-Cepheid poison has been designed and is being synthesized now by our chemists, First Ones help us all. I only pray it is not too late to use it. Let our knowledge gained here not be in vain."

Chiaroscuro listens intently to Envoy… remembering all that he can of poisons from his bar'itz training. His fingerclaws tap, tap, tap on a table.

As the rest of the group converses about squids and poison, Mircus remembers something. He glances cautiously at the nearby Eeee, and clears his throat nervously, "Uhm, hey – I never did apologize… "

Dalagask's head snaps around to Mircus. "Apologize? For what?"

Envoy closes the log. "It doesn't say if they tested the poison or not, or where it was kept."

Chiaroscuro thinks… "And no word on the nature of these poisons. It would be good to find the second-to-the-last compound made… "

Mircus fidgets nervously, and looks rather embarassed, "Well, in the water purification plant, I… that is… "

Envoy listens to Mircus a bit, then asks him, "Where are the chemistry labs?"

The Babelite bat pauses. "We are at war, your nation and mine. No apologies are necessary for doing what is our duty."

Mircus apparently doesn't hear Envoy – after all, he's using a different language right now… He looks slightly shocked at what the bat has said, "But… I wasn't trying to… and you had to have thought… "

"It is my duty to escape to my homeland," Dalagask says remorselessly. "Yours, as soldiers of the infidel nation of Rephidim, to fight your own battle. If I die, let it be doing my duty." He waves a hand dismissively.

"Mircus!", Chiaroscuro says in a loud tone.

Mircus looks confused, "I'm not a soldier; I'm a (erg… what's the word?)… I make maps… EEp!" The Rath'ani's head jerks to point at Chipper, "Um… yeah?"

Roho's ears pick up the conversation, and he comes over to whisper to Dalagask, "Don't be a hero. You are already going to make it back to your homeland alive, you don't need to escape. And if you try and fail, I can make no promises for your safety; you've already tried to kill me and Envoy."

Chiaroscuro turns to Envoy. "Ask him again… " He looks at the logbooks Envoy was reading, seeing if there was something she might have missed on the final pages.

Envoy says, "Where are the Chemistry labs, Mircus?"

Dalagask says to Roho. "That is true. But neither will I stand by and throw my life away if you choose to be foolish." The bat glances over to the winged being wasting her time on the books. "What are they talking about?"

Mircus blinks, and pauses while he tries to remember, "Um… up a level down corridor number two… Why?"

Envoy says, "There may be a poison there that will affect the squids without killing us as well, Mircus."

Roho ignores the second question, and answers, "We have no more wish to die than you have. My job is to see to it that nobody dies, and that now includes you."

Dalagask pauses and then nods to Roho. "All right."

Mircus' head tilts to one side, "But why do we want to kill them? I thought we just wanted to leave."

Envoy says, "We have to keep them away from the hatch after we open it, Mircus."

Mircus shakes his head, "I still don't see why we want to kill them… Couldn't we make them think we were somewhere else?"

Chiaroscuro says, "We want to leave with the weapons if we can, as well." He goes over to Pawtuxet, outlining a plan: He, Roho, and Envoy will journey to the lab Mircus has indicated to try to find the poison. Mircus will go back to the roof, and signal the ship. The rest will wait by the airlock, ready to depart as soon as possible, especially if there are no suitable poisons.

The next hour finds Pawtuxet and Naomi preparing the weapons to be rushed off of the Paquebot, Mircus shinnying through the ventilation ducts to signal the ship to be ready… And Chiaroscuro, Envoy, Roho, and Dalagask head upstairs to find the labs in which the bat claims that he saw the poisons. The station rocks again, the time between the attacks growing shorter and shorter. That must mean that even more of the creatures have gathered outside. Sendrick must be chewing his fingernails off.

The chemistry lab is filled with large quantities of ceramic piping and numerous strange devices, the purpose of which none of them understand; presumably, these are used to combine chemicals into other chemicals… But more promising are a stack of long, thin cylinders, each with spigots at the end. Nearby them, another cylinder has toppled over from where it would have been connected to some sort of feeder pipe. Dead people are scattered all about, Kavis and Khattas and canines twisted in agony…

The bat gestures to the tanks, which have been marked with several sets of hazardous symbol markings. "The weapon," he murmurs in Eeee. "By which those despised Cephantei shall be destroyed."

A discolored blotch suggests that some wide quantity of toxic chemicals must have been spilled long ago.

Envoy translates for Chipper while looking over the symbols and cannisters.

Chiaroscuro nods. "We would best avoid that one, then. It probably killed the crew as well. See if there are others that are intact… the more recent the better, likely."

Envoy blinks at the confusion of pipes and cannisters. "How do we determine when a cannister was filled?"

The logbook for this lab only seems to list orders for chemical synthesis, dates, and times. The last order indicates twenty cylinders of a compound identified as 'Cepheid neurotoxin'. The work start date is marked as some time seven months or so ago, and the end date… is unmarked.

The cylinders appear identical. Twelve are filled, the rest are empty.

Envoy figures that the cylinder nearest the broken one was the last filled, and says so.

Dalagask runs a hand over one of the filled cylinders. He squeaks, "By myself, I couldn't carry one of these. Perhaps with all of us working together… "

Chiaroscuro nods to Envoy, and looks at the work orders preceding the last one. "Mayhap there is something similar, that will be less hazardous to people… "

The other orders appear to be for much smaller quantities – the descriptions suggest antiseptics for wounds, antivenins, other attempts to combat the squids' poisonous goop that grew steadily more virulent. An entry quite a bit ago reads, "Ethanol, one cylinder."

Envoy says, "We can use small doses, which should be safe enough. If the Cepheids are as chemically sensitive as the biology reports suggest then they may back off once they get a taste."

Chiaroscuro says, "Safe enough… hmmm. If there is such a thing with this poison. Such a risk… "

Envoy gathers up some of the rubber tubing in the lab, trying to find the longest length.

This particular tube looks as if it might be suitable – some ten feet long and of a width that looks like it will fit tightly.

Envoy coils up the long tube and carries it on her shoulder.

Some time later, after some rather nervous hauling, the four manage to wrestle one cylinder back down to the main airlock, along with a suitable amount of tubing that could… hopefully… be used to direct the poison somewhere other than 'the immediate vicinity'. Naomi looks nervous.

Chiaroscuro explains to the others… "What we will do is use the tubing to release the poison. I will be the one to do this… the rest of you wait in here. If nothing happens in 10 minutes… everyone *try* to get out through the ducts." He gives a rough guide of his and Mircus's path, including noting the bar of xocholatl that marks the tunnel.

Chiaroscuro says, "If it works… keep your masks on tight, and we will make a break for it. Doctor, be ready with your medicines if any are overcome. Everyone goes together, and fast, and no one left behind. Understood?"

The inner airlock opens slowly, creakily, revealing a dank compartment thirty feet long, twenty-five feet wide, about ten feet high, the inner walls slick ceramic. Cryptic writing on the outer airlock door reads, "WARNING: Both doors will open at once. DO NOT OPEN if outer airlock indicator shows blue."

A lamp near the outer door is darkened. There's no way to tell what color it might have been when lit.

Chiaroscuro readies the poison and tubing, mutterchanting in a fast tenor voice. Even Envoy, who has heard much of his Kitellian speech, can barely make out anything.

"Try not to kill them if you can avoid it Chipper," Envoy encourages.

The mongoose waits nervously as Pawtuxet pulls open the outer door… And light pours through the outer hatch, making the lanterns they carry unnecessary. It breaks through a breach in the docking arm that lies outside, showing that the floor has been heavily damaged and the wall rended too, on one side, so that the sea can be seen clear to the horizon on that direction. Squid tentacles lash up immediately as soon as the door begins to open, trying to grab whatever is inside the airlock…

The docking arm is in poor shape, but there might be enough left of the internal structure to make a run for the warehouse on the far end… Or to climb up to the roof section through the stairs located a short distance down the corridor. The only trick is to avoid falling in the water.

Pawtuxet yikes and padpadsteps backwards, as the door glides open.

Envoy watches nervously from the inner door.

Chiaroscuro tosses the tubing forward, just managing to dodge a tentacle… then *twists* on the spigot!

Squid tentacles lash out at the tubing, contorting it as a fluid begins to rush down the length of the rubber. The darkening hits the water…

More tentacles snap into the airlock, squids rising with fearsome glowing eyes as if to try and grasp at those tasty morsels within…

Chiaroscuro presses back against the inner wall off the airlock, ready to run, dodge, fight…

A tentacle stiffens and then convulses, lashing against the side of another of the Cepheids – Cephantei, Dalagask calls them. Could the poison be having an effect? A keening noise fills the air, and the ocean erupts into fury…


GMed by Lynx

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Today is 5 days before Ring Day, Year 28 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6127)