In which the questers press further into Little Rephidim West, and are illuminated.
(Chiaroscuro) (Envoy) (Mircus) (Ocean) (Quest in the
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Little Rephidim West appears as a flower washed by the foaming ocean. The central core, made of some kind of ceramic material, is grayish and washed by lengths of trailing green, its surface eroded by time, and the outlying arms of the paquebot are made of wood, timbers weathered and warped, containing warehouses and living quarters and craft shops. Long pylons extend from the arms for dockings, providing plenty of room between ships; under normal conditions, an airship would throw down lines and waiting crew on the paquebot would tie them down. These are not normal conditions, and the paquebot appears completely deserted, the tattered cloth flags of the Temple and of Rephidim flapping from more central flagpoles.

Now that Chiaroscuro, Mircus, Envoy, Pawtuxet, Naomi, and Roho have reached the safety of the Paquebot's core section, they are confronted with a nearly pitch-black station whose corridors are completely unknown, but which to all evidence has been deserted and reeks of strange acrid death. Roho, soaked and having inhaled an unhealthy amount of the toxic residues of the decayed 'Black Goop', is forced to recover while Naomi and Pawtuxet tend to him, and the others venture forth to locate a new light source and find the weapons cache which was the object of their venture…

Chiaroscuro readies the lantern, and pats the frightened Naomi's shoulder. "Do not worry. We will be back soon as we can." He looks to Mircus… "Which way from here, Mircus?"

Naomi nods, shuddering but trying to supress her nervousness… "Oh-okay, Mister Chipper."

Dead light strips in the ceiling suggest that the station once boasted internal illumination… But there are no visible light controls, and wooden cressets have been bolted to the walls at regular intervals. The corridor in which the three are exploring appears to be a circular one that goes around the 'sea' level of the paquebot; there are two more levels above, and five levels beneath. Irregular stains and fallen or shattered boxes and crates are the decor of the day.

Envoy pauses to scrape at each stain with a bone tool and puts the flakes into seperate paper pouches.

Mircus closes his eyes and tries to reconcile the room he's in with the map he laboriously memorized. "There's a central staircase that should take us there. It'd be… " the Rath'ani points forward into the core, "… thattaway… "

Envoy says, "I guess we should go thattaway then."

Chiaroscuro nods… "Let us go then. Quietly, all." He taps his Rikkorrel on the front right paw, and starts walking slowly forward.

Envoy wonders why they need to move quietly, but then deduces that it well help them hear any unusual sounds.

Their steps almost, but do not quite echo, raising only a quiet whisper in the station's walls.

Envoy puts away her remaining sample pouches, not wanting to run out in case something interesting shows up later. Instead, she uses her finger to check for dusty surfaces.

Chiaroscuro keeps his gaze forward, though darting up to the ceiling at times. His left hand clutches the lantern tightly.

The first door is a short way into the corridor leading toward the central area where Mircus hopes to find stairs going downward. It appears like a large ceramic hatch, with a small recessed area – perhaps where it is intended to be slid into the wall, for there are no visible hinges.

Mircus just looks at the door, then grumbles, "Why are all the doors here so… unique?"

Envoy looks at the hatch, then looks around for instructions like the outer ones had.

Chiaroscuro hmmms, looking at the hatch… running his gloved hands over the surface.

The beam of light from Chiaroscuro's lantern plays over the door, revealing the not-quite edifying words, "C NTRAL AC S C RRID R"

Beneath that are the words, "Do r shu s automa ical y n c se of f re."

Chiaroscuro holds the lantern so its light shines most directly on the door, looking for other messages…

The letters have faded into the surface over years of use. They streak from left to right as if scratched by frequent use.

Envoy knocks on the door.

The knock echoes as if Envoy were beating on a drum. A silence swallows up the fading sounds.

Envoy says, "I don't think anyone is on the other side that can open the door."

Mircus peers at the door and shrugs. "We could always try to open it… " The rathani half-heartedly tries to slide the door to one side…

*Creeeeak* The door opens with a small screeching noise. A dead body thumps against the deck, what must have been a Kavi.

Mircus squeeks and skitters back from the body!

Chiaroscuro shudders, mumbling "Rik' sammarrin… "

Envoy bends over the body and examines it as best she can without touching.

Though long dead, there are no signs of battle on the corpse. It's just a body that has spent a while decaying here, perhaps dead of natural causes… An autopsy might tell more.

It is dressed in a long white tunic that goes to its knees and loose, coarse brown pants beneath that.

Envoy says, "Maybe whatever killed the others and caused the goop never made it past this hatchway."

Chiaroscuro nods to Envoy… "Indeed… we can hope so." He pushes the body aside carefully, clearing the doorway… and steps through.

Envoy says, "Although, I wonder why he stayed by the door. Maybe he died of dehydration."

Mircus shivers at the body again and follows carefully after.

Envoy checks the level of dust inside the corridor.

The corridor looks unblocked thereupon, although there is a stench of something chemical… Formaldehyde?… even throught the masks. It reminds Mircus uncomfortably of hospital death wards. Things have become rather dusty in the passage of a half-year. Several hatches similar to the first one, though with different faded lettering to identify them, lead off from the hall to both sides.

Envoy says, "Watch for areas of disturbed dust."

Mircus glances thoughtfully at the doors, trying to drag his mind off the corpse behind and the stench within. If he remembers correctly, some of these are janitorial closets… Maybe they'd have something to use as a torch…

Chiaroscuro lifts up the lantern to shine around… and walks with careful tread to each door, reading…

Envoy wonders if the secret weapons locker will be labeled as such.

Not all of the doors are closed; in particular, two are open to reveal several shadowy forms leaning against a bench, next to some giant black sphere-like thing – it's impossible to see more without going in to look, however. And another door, the source of the stench, opens just enough to suggest that the room contains several examination tables.

One door in particular remains closed, but appears to open outward on hinges; the title reads, "J TOR AL S PLI S."

Shadows flicker crazily from objects briefly illuminated by Chiaroscuro's lantern, as if hiding from the light.

Chiaroscuro looks into one of the open rooms, letting the light shine inside… staying at the doorway.

The room turns out to be adjacent to a larger, lower area whose water-filled bottom suggests it is either openable to the outside or contains an indoor reservoir for unknown reasons. Light glints off of several viewports on the sphere, which is studded liberally with strange bumps; the sphere looks as if it is composed of ceramic, and coils of something that looks suspiciously snakish at first are wound to the side, draping partly over some large contraptions.

The shadowy forms leaned over the benches are revealed to be several Khattas and a poodle, also dressed in long white tunics which have been streaked by blackish stains. Various bits of equipment sit on the table nearby, as well as some scientific journals, the sort that would be used fo recording data.

Seaweed drapes from the side of the sphere, and the sour-salty smell suggests that a great deal of ocean water has been spilled here.

Chiaroscuro hmmms… not seeing anything of help in there for finding a lantern… He heads to the J TOR AL S PLI S door, saying, "Let us try this door… "

Envoy studies the sphere and its cabling for a moment, then declares, "I think this is used to explore very deep water. Maybe it brought up something dangerous."

Chiaroscuro nods to Envoy… "We can come back and study it… mayeb it will give us some clues… *after* we find a lantern." He reached for the handle of the door, and opens it, taking a *large* step back as he does so for fear of finding another body.

CLATTER!

Envoy jumps back at the noise.

A number of brooms and mops whose handles must have fallen against the door fall out of the closet.

Mircus flinches at the clatter, then relaxes. Yup. That was a janitorial closet…

Envoy approaches to look into the closet.

Chiaroscuro holds the lantern up, looking into the closet with Envoy… "Do you see anything we can use, Envoy?"

Envoy picks up a mop, and pokes the walls of the closet with the handle.

The closet contains a number of unidentified cannisters, buckets, pails, mops, brooms, soap, some ammonia-based cleansers, small plastic-seeming cylinders with what look like metallic (!) tips on one side, and a strange ceramic-seeming device with what must be a lense on one side, some shiny bowl cupped on the inside of this lense. It looks impossible to use this contraption like a seeing-glass.

The device starts to roll off as Envoy accidentally hits the shelf.

Envoy backs away. The strange device might explode or something…

Chiaroscuro hmmms… picking up the ceramic device, and examining it. "Never seen anything such as this… "

The device fails to explode. Yet.

Nothing inside this closet looks like a lantern to Mircus's and Chiaroscuro's eyes.

Chiaroscuro brushes dust off from the object, futzing with it in his paws… "Most curious… Do you know what this is, Mircus?" he says.

A small button becomes apparent at one side of the contraption.

Mircus has moved close enough to try to get a good look at the object in Chipper's paws, "Noo… "

Chiaroscuro hmmms… "A button here… " He points it away from Mircus, just in case it is some strange weapon (One never knows, with janitors) and tries to push in at the button.

A feeble glow comes out of the lens! But it quickly fades away.

Chiaroscuro blinks! and tries pressing the button again, more firmly.

Nothing happens.

Envoy hmms, "It's not magical then, or the light would still work."

Mircus looks interested as the device begins to glow, but loses interest as it dies. He wanders back towards the door the party was previously at, taking care not to completely leave the light shed by Chipper's lantern.

Chiaroscuro nods to Envoy… "Apparently not. I would not expect a janitor to have a magic lantern, as well. Some sort of internal lantern, I would presume, though how it is powered I know not… " He keeps futzing with it, looking for other distinguishing marks.

Envoy shrugs. "Technology like that isn't dependable on the surface."

Chiaroscuro hmmms, futzing a little more… just aimlessly twisting and pulling at the object now.

Mircus peers into the dark room. Not a particularly reassuring place to be, given what he saw earlier… He decides to wander back to the others.

The top comes loose! One side appears to be simply a heavy-duty handle, cushioned to absorb impact, and contains one of the small cylinder-like objects that have metallic tips. These tips, however, have blackened to a near-complete sootiness.

Envoy looks back down the corridor, towards the body of the Kavi. It occurs to her that the hatch probably wasn't sealed voluntarily, and that whatever killed people probably acted quickly and moved through the air.

The lens-end of this strange device is a solid unit, apparently not designed to be further disassembled.

Envoy goes to retrieve the notebooks from the bathysphere chamber while Chipper and Mircus play with the light projector.

The mongoose says, "Curiouser… " and looks up at the objects on the shelf. They seem identical… he tries to take out the old one.

It pops out.

The Aeolun vanishes into the darkness, her quiet footsteps fading from Chiaroscuro's auditory senses.

Chiaroscuro sets it on the shelf, a bit away from the others… and tries putting the new one in. He frowns worriedly as Envoy pads off… but re-assembles the device, and tries pushing the button again.

Envoy steps through the door into the dark chamber, moving by memory towards the bench with the bodies and notebooks.

Mircus watches curiously as Chipper reassembles the device…

Envoy uses the mop handle to probe her way across the floor, since it wasn't fully illuminated before.

The device flashes on, off, on, with a powerful beam far brighter than the lantern, stuttering… Then settles at a cone of illumination that lights things up almost as brightly as daytime.

Mircus flinches wildly and sits, hard, as the light hits him right in the face! He covers his eyes and whimpers once, then opens them and watches the dancing spots…

Chiaroscuro smiles… "The wonders of this world are many… "

The lantern's glow appears feeble and weak compared to this powerful device… But how long will the light last? Can it be depended upon?

Envoy pokes the handle into something… soft? Too loose to be a body though. "Chipper," she calls, "can you bring the light over here?"

Chiaroscuro turns the flow of oil to the lantern down, and hands it to Mircus… "Keep this, in case this other lantern fails." He stuffs his pockets with the other light-fuel canisters, and calls out, "Coming, Envoy, one moment!" He shines the light over towards where Envoy was, stepping closer…

The beam of light flickers rapidly, making it seem as if everything is moving backward, then back on to its usual steadiness.

Mircus accepts the lantern, almost fumbling because of all the bright dancing spots in his vision, nods, and just sits there until a few of the spots clear.

The stronger beam illuminates the room, making it obvious that Envoy's broom-handle has found a nest of cables, smaller ones – this rat's nest might have, under normal circumstances, been a tight coil for use in securing the large sphere. The blank eyes of the white-tuniced Khattas and poodle stare upward.

Envoy hmms, and pokes at the cables some more, trying to turn them over to see if there is anything underneath.

The search reveals a hook set into the floor.

Envoy hmms, and checks for other obstructions between her and the notebooks, even poking at things hanging from above to make sure they won't fall on her.

The way appears clear, as long as one doesn't mind getting close to dead people. A small quill sits next to a dried-out inkpot.

Envoy picks up the notebooks, and wonders which of the corpses had been in the diving bell… "Chipper, can you shine that light into the water here and into one of the windows on the sphere?"

Chiaroscuro nods, "Sure.", and walks over by Envoy, then shines the light into the water.

The waters are black… But appear to fill a larger chamber beneath which is completely enclosed, not open to the water, or else it would be completely filled up to this level. The powerful beam reflects somewhat on the wavery glass, enough shining inside to reveal the cramped interior, dominated by a seat in the center and numerous mechanical controls within easy reach. The contraption appears suspiciously like a clockwork snake-egg vehicle to Chiaroscuro.

Envoy hmms, "Only one passenger. It probably would have been the poodle." She begins to read through the notebooks at her accelerated pace.

Chiaroscuro shines the light over Envoy's way, to help her read the notes. The strange vehicle unnerves him for some reason anyway, no reason to look at *that*…

Mircus, by this time, has finally managed to regain his feet, and can see fairly well again. . though some of the spots persist stubbornly… He looks at the cylander sitting on the shelf, then shrugs and stuffs it into a pouch, {Might be a nice souvenir} and slowly and carefully moves after the others to see what's happening.

The lantern light plays over the parchment-like pages, bringing out all the nuances of the archaic paper-making process used to produce this notebook. Most of the pages are blank, but the front documents the scientist, a Dr. Lanzo Settacen, and his project…

This project seems to have been the development of a submersible vessel which would be used to study the sea life and ocean floor… The Paquebot was obviously, from his point of view, the most logical choice for such a device, because it would provide a stable base, without the inconvenience of needing to move far enough away from shore to achieve any reasonable depth. He termed his device the 'Subaquatic Research Vessel', and confided that it had been nicknamed the 'Pearl' by his co-researchers.

Envoy turns to the last recorded page.

The last entry, dated 22 Ante Candlemass, reports that the first deep-sea test of the SRV achieved results beyond their wildest dreams: they were able to obtain specimens of life forms never hitherto captured or studied on Sinai before. The Temple would be most pleased with their findings; Dr. Lanzo goes on to say that the powerful light beams built into the Pearl were instrumental in making the depths explorable, for the particulate matter and algae suspended in it were of such a density that it would have been impossible to see by light from the surface.

Beneath this is some irregular scrawling very different from Lanzo's careful and studied hand.

Envoy looks back to the skin of the diving sphere, noting the seaweed. "This machine probably brought up something from the depths that was toxic. I don't know if the last entry was made before or after it happened though. If it killed quickly, it would have been brought up on the second dive."

We have awakened powers in the depths that should not have been touched, the scrawling goes, translated roughly from the Khattan. We are cursed, and will not survive to see the light of day again.

Envoy hmms…

Envoy says, "Mircus, have you ever heard of a Forbidden Zone that was underwater?"

The second journal appears to be that of the assistant scientist, who details her studies of the seagoing life, beginning with the large gray cetaceans that surfaced fairly frequently. They appear to be friendly, Dr. Raina writes, and have even aided in the rescue of sailors that fell overboard.

The Rath'ani blinks and shakes his head, "Underwater? No, I haven't, or at least I think I'd remember if I had… "

Envoy searches the second notebook for mention of giant (or not-so-giant) squids.

Chiaroscuro listens quietly, idly glancing at the journals. He cannot translate the Khattan scrawl, and the rest seems beyond him.

She catalogues an assortment of smaller life forms, most brought up by nets from the shallows and dissected, but says nothing of squids. At least until the last entry… Which reads in brief, "The sailors have reported seeing a black sea-going creature of some sort in the water only one hour since our latest expedition with the Pearl. Could a herd of these beings have migrated to this area only recently? We are graced with a bounty of scientific information now. I have asked them to attempt to net the creature for study."

Envoy closes the notebook.

Envoy says, "I want to see the inner side of the access corridor hatch, where the Kavi was. The main hatch had been written on, so maybe he left a message before dying."

The third notebook contains a log of technical maintenance procedures that were carried out on the Subaquatic Research Vessel, and the times and depths to which the SRV was sent.

Chiaroscuro hmmms, and nods… "That one opened easily the first time… it ought to from this side as well… "

Nothing seems to have been written on the hatch's inside.

Envoy frowns for a moment. "Oh well. Might as well look for the stairs again."

Chiaroscuro nods to Envoy… "Best that we hurry and do so. I do not want to leave the others alone too long… "

As Chiaroscuro and Envoy turn around they notice… no Rath'ani to be seen.

Chiaroscuro blinks. "Mircus?" he calls out.

No answer.

Chiaroscuro shudders… "Did you see where he went, Envoy?"

Envoy shakes her head. "We can follow his footprints in the dust though."

Chiaroscuro nods, shinign the light along the floor, and walking along to follow the Rath'ani's path.

Envoy leaves the notebooks near the hatch, and follows after the mongoose.

The footprints lead down the corridor, the smooth chitin plasters seeming almost too pale and unmarred to the mongoose. A station abandoned for a half year shouldn't look so… intact, especially after the destruction that was wreaked on the outside arm.

It passes several other doors that open into labs, more dead bodies evident, some holding their hands to their throats or their noses.

The footsteps pass through an opened hatch similar to the first one, and lead down a short flight of steps that open out onto a huge shaft that runs through the core of the paquebot. The top is lost in gloom, and rafters crisscross the open space like a spider's web of ceramic beams.

Chiaroscuro walks slowly, making sure to stay close by Envoy. "I wonder now… did many of these people survive the first attack, and die later? Did we abandon them to death when I stopped her the first time and did not explore more?" His tail droops a bit.

Envoy says, "I think they tried to close themselves off from the rest of the station when they realized what was happening, but probably not fast enough. It still got out and killed the others."

Envoy says, "There's no signs of black goop in here yet though. It may have been something else that killed them. If they went mad, one of them may have poisoned the air deliberately for example."

Envoy goes on speculating, "I doubt a burst of poison gas from the seabed could have done all of this. A lot of gas bubbling up would have altered the density of the seawater and caused the paquebot to sink."

Chiaroscuro shuddders, and presses Envoy's hand in his, listening to the speculations. "I see… " he says with a quaver in his voice, and slowly steps down the stairs.

Envoy says, "The final messages in the notebooks and on the hatch seem to hint that either the crew were losing their senses, or that this was a managed attack by some underwater agency."

Envoy hmms. "Maybe we could take the Pearl down to see what they found."

The footsteps descend down the stairs. Try as they do to be quiet, their steps nevertheless echo through the chamber oddly. The large number '6' on the wall is replaced by the number '5' on the lower level.

Chiaroscuro swallows… "I would not want to risk such a thing, curious as I am… whatever caused all this might happen again… "

Envoy says, "Of course. That's the whole point."

The foot steps… don't lead further down; instead, they turn off at the fifth level, as if Mircus (one assumes) knew exactly where he wanted to go. They go around the circular inner corridor and then down a hallway to an opened hatch.

Chiaroscuro sighs… "Yes, Envoy, we would gain insight… but would we be likelier than they to survive?" He keeps walking down the hallway, following Mircus's trail.

Envoy says, "They were caught by surprise."

A dead Rhian's eye sockets loll upward staring at Chiaroscuro. The corpse appears toppled to the dusty floor, arms raised as if reaching up in supplication to some higher power.

Envoy notes, "We should try to bring back one corpse of each race we find. Or at least their heads."

Envoy pokes the horse in the stomach with her mop, to see if it's filled with black goop.

Chiaroscuro looks to Envoy, with a expression of distaste… "Why?"

*squish* hard to tell with a six-month-dead corpse.

Perhaps an autopsy would show more… Unfortunately, Dr. Roho is still recovering from the effects of his exposure.

Envoy says, "Because we don't know if it might be important."

The corpse happens to be next to a door marked 'G NERAL STO ES', the letters faded. Several crates stacked nearby are empty.

Chiaroscuro nods… "This being true… I have no great desire to carry around the dead, when we will possibly come across more certain information."

Envoy nods, and looks at the door.

Dust faintly swirls in the light-generating device's powerful beam. It flickers again.

Chiaroscuro shines the flashlight around. "The footsteps seem to stop here… very little dust." He looks at the door. "I think he may have gone through there… "

Envoy knocks on the door.

The beam suddenly dies away, leaving Chiaroscuro and Envoy in complete darkness.

Chiaroscuro calls out. "Wait, Envoy… " He starts to undo the light with extreme caution. "How long do you estimate that light lasted?"

Something creaks.

Envoy says, "About half an hour."

Chiaroscuro pockets the old cylinder, and digs in his pocket for an new one… "That is not very long at all… Keep a watch for more closets that may have these devices."

Envoy says, "Alright."

A voice calls out, "Who's there?"

It sounds faint…

Envoy calls back, "Envoy and Chiaroscuro!"

Chiaroscuro calls, "Mircus? Is that you?" as he slides a new fuel source in, and starts re-assembling…

The strange light beam clicks on as soon as Chiaroscuro finishes screwing the top back in, going *FLASH!* Spots swirl before the mongoose's eyes just as the door creaks…

Envoy blinks rapidly as her own eyes are dazed.

… and someone screams. The scream is quickly followed by a loud crash.

The door is open by two inches. Spots dance before Envoy and Chiaroscuro's eyes, making it seem as if the darkness is filled with floating balloons.

Envoy pushes at the door with the mop. That voice was too far away to belong to someone opening the door…

Chiaroscuro blinks furiously, trying to clear the spots from his vision… "What? Mircus? Are you there?"

… and the door opens! … to reveal Mircus blinking at the bright glow of Chipper's lantern and the poking of Envoy's mop.

Chiaroscuro lowers the light down… "Mircus? was that you calling out earlier?"

Mircus rubs at the back of his head and reaches down to get the lantern nearby on the floor. "Yep. Didn't know who was knocking." He stops for a moment, still rubbing at the back of his head, "You know, your face can be really surprising in the right light."

Envoy says, "Thank you."

Envoy says, "Did you find anything in there?"

The strange device's light probes into the General Stores area, revealing a long-dead Jupani, some brownish substance crusted around his muzzle, a large number of opened crates, a scattering of small brown objects, and opened and emptied food packages. We won't discuss the lack of a litter box.

Mircus nods, his face brightening slightly. He reaches into one of his pouches and hands Envoy a package. "Sure did!"

Envoy holds the package up to the brighter light.

The package has been wrapped in yellow paper of some kind which feels a little oily at the bottom. The front is printed with a line-art graphic of some sort of palace, and text beneath that reads "FINE ABU DHABI TRADING CO. XHOCOLATL." Beneath that is the text, "Suitable for eating, cooking, or melting for a high-quality beverage. The preferred dessert of Emirs!"

Envoy hmms, and hands the package back. "It's probably not safe to eat anything while in the paquebot."

Chiaroscuro nods to Envoy. "Anything else, Mircus?" he says, peering past him at the dead Jupani in the room.

Mircus accepts the package; it disappears into a pouch. He then blinks, and pulls something out of the pouch he just stuffed the Xocholatl into and offers it to Chipper, "Ohyeah… This was over there by… well… over there." A small book…

Chiaroscuro looks at the book, flipping it open…

The book appears to be a personal diary, with fancy brass naval insignia on the front. The opening page reads, "Lieutenant Ahab Dhuaran, First Officer of the Paquebot Little Rephidim West."

Mircus' eyes fall on an empty lantern nearby, and he remembers what he came down here for. He starts poking around looking for lamp oil while Chipper reads the journal.

Most of the text deals with gripes over the solitude of the station and the rarity of female Jupanis at this duty posting, and the petty gripes with which Ahab must deal, but near the end, a few entries deal with the scientific discovery. "Since the scientists brought their find aboard, we have known no peace aboard this station. We have sighted numerous black creatures which resemble those that the scientists saw below, and at one point a crewman was dragged overboard by their tentacles when he and another loyal canine ventured to capture it with a net… "

A later entry says, "… have been forced to retreat to the central core of the station. Large reddish creatures have appeared that gout death-dealing streamers of some noxious black fluid, which instantly kills any crewman who is exposed. We are dealing with monsters! I have ordered the scientists to investigate ways to kill these monsters, and we are making every attempt to improvise weapons. The central core at least, appears strong enough to withstand their assault, thank the First Ones."

Chiaroscuro gasps… "I think this clears up much of the mystery." He hands the book to Envoy at the page with this entry.

Another entry reads, "… attack failed. An experiment went wrong – what, I don't know – I have barricaded myself here. Can't trust anyone else. They're all incompetent fools. The First Ones have returned and they are judging us… "

Envoy hmms. "But not how the people in the core died. Or what was brought up from below to instigate these events."

The final entries ramble off into incoherency. At one point, the Jupani lieutenant describes how he was brought from the General Stores down into the depths to visit a grand palace filled with much treasure and scantily-clad Himarian Jupani women, and vouchsafed many secrets of the world, only to awaken in the squalid prison that he had created for himself, not knowing if any of the 'monsters outside' were still roaming. The last line reads simply, "Death is the final freedom."

Envoy wonders if the presence of female Jupanis prevents attacks by monsters. She'll have to investigate that later…

Chiaroscuro nods, worriedly scratching at his headfur.

Envoy says, "So at least this one went mad from some cause or combination of causes. Did he think the Rhian was a monster, perhaps?"

Chiaroscuro says, "It is possible… " he re-reads the entry carefully. "He mentions 'an experiment went wrong'. That could be significant."

On closer examinations, the brownish objects turn out to be some sort of twisted ties of dried leatherish material, of a grainy composition. Several have been gnawed upon.

Envoy says, "Rawhide chewies. Must have been a large Jupani compliment here."

Envoy says, "He could have run out of fresh water in here. If they died of thirst, then we probably shouldn't run into any cannibalized remains… "

Chiaroscuro shudders… "Envoy… when we have time, I must remember to give you a few guidelines on things it is best not to mention in conversation." He looks over to Mircus. "You found more lamps?"

Envoy blinks at Chipper, then nods.

A voice calls from outside, "Miirrrrcus! Envoy! Waashu-chewer!" It sounds high and female.

Mircus looks up from a pile of something that he's poking through, "Um… Just this one." He holds up two lamps, one lit, "But I did fill these up."

Envoy doesn't mention the possibility that some of the crew could have begun offering sacrifices to the monsters then. "That sounds like Naomi."

The voice is faint as it calls out, "Where are you? Hello? Someone, please answer!"

Envoy calls out, "Hello!?"

Chiaroscuro hrms? at the voice, and then nods to Envoy. "We had best return… " He calls out, "We are in here, Naomi!" and goes to the door, shining the light out into the hall…

Envoy nods, "We should return and try to signal the ship that we're still alive… "

A female Rath'ani stumbles through the door, holding an improvised torch – surgical bandages have been soaked in some gelatinous substance and tied onto a stick. "Thank the First Ones! It's horrible, there was a thumping noise from outside, lots of them, it wouldn't stop. I managed to light this from the little burner we were using to make Roho's steam-medicine, and went to look for a window so we could see outside. And… the sea's filled with those black things!" She throws herself into Mircus's arms sobbing, the torch held just out of scorching range.

---

GMed by Lynx

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Today is 20 days after Candlemass, Year 25 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6124)