1866-05-10: The Belly of the Beast
The Belly of the Beast
Summary: A Group of Knights Vigilant make their way into an unholy temple, to stem the tide of Elsanna's Berserkers
Date: Mai 10, 1866 IA
Related: None
Artos  Jaren  Lucas  Raelyn  Gunnar  

It has been a strange journey that has brought this equally strange band of travelers to their destination. Three days ago, they were three small groups of strangers to one another. Now, they stand in sight of their destination…a cave tucked away in a small canyon, far in the Northern Mountains. How far? It's hard to tell…the group had to travel through a Faegate to get within marching distance, and it was the kind of Faegate that leaves you very, very sick for a day or so afterwards, so the first day was spent resting.

The next two days, however, have been a steady march through snowy passes and along seemingly-hidden pathways, led by a man who, by his hulking stature and wild, fiery-red hair and beard, is a Tirian Barbarian. And yet each night and each morning Gunnar the Redeemed speaks the oaths and prayers of the One Faith as fervently as any Templar. He does not speak much…he understands the Common tongue easily enough, but his accent is thick when he speaks it. But then, this hasn't been a journey that calls for overmuch conversation…his sense of direction has been seemingly unerring even in driving snows and wind. There have been a few times that the party had to halt and make a fire to avoid frostbite, but thus far they have managed. The second night was spent in a small niche in the rocks, sheltered from the wind and snow. The following day was actually clear.
5rThere has been no sign of civilization. While the group does seem to travel trails, there's no sign of recent passage, but then again that could be the snow filling any tracks almost as soon as they're made.

Along with Gunnar are three other men. The elder of the two is Tomas Thatcher. A former Scout for the armies of Couviere, a veteran of the Thirty Years' War and the Tirian Crusades, and a skilled tracker with plenty of experience in Northern Mountains (though not so much as Gunnar, clearly). The second, a much younger man, with a youthful face that gives him the appearance that he's barely old enough to be called a "man" at all despite his protests that he's twenty summers old, is Julio Reyes, a fishmonger's son from Sunsreach, who was very clearly gobsmacked when The Jaren Cassomir introduced himself, and nearly equally so when Raelyn did the same. To his credit though…he hasn't fawned or pestered with incessant questions, remaining focused on the mission. The final of the three is Master Arn, who according to Gunnar is a skilled healer, and he does bear a healer's kit slung about his waist…along with a stout mace. He is, apparently without a tongue…literally. Likely a good man for keeping secrets….

And now, as noted, they have spotted the location they've been travelling towards for the past two days. At first glance, it looks like a cave tucked into the back of a dead-end canyon, but as it is more carefully studied, it starts to become clear that it is not a cave…but rather a ruin. Something man-made that has been so worn by centuries…possibly millennia, that it has lost many of the immediate signs of being constructed. Indeed, only the faint light shining from the mouth of the "temple" as it has been referred to by Gunnar, gives any sign whatsoever of habitation. And even here, a good half-mile away, there is already a feel of something…off. The kind of thing that makes ones' hackles stand on end from something other than the chill breeze…which may in fact be part of the disturbance…the wind in this area is dead calm…and the silence, as they say, is deafening. Jaren and Raelyn, at least, have felt or seen something similar before…in the ruins of the Old Castle Ironhold, where no living thing now dares tread save a few brave (or perhaps foolhardy) humans.

There is no sign of guards no sentries. Indeed, it almost appears like the light is there to welcome them…except for the fact that it doesn't feel welcoming at all.

While technically speaking the Archbishop Sirrah Lancella named Jaren the leader of this mission, thus far that leadership has largely consisted of tr

While technically speaking the Archbishop Sirrah Lancella named Jaren the leader of this mission, thus far that leadership has largely consisted of trusting Gunnar the Redeemed to do the job he's here to do. He's been fairly tight-lipped, though amiable enough in the few moments of casual conversation that have been had, particularly in camp the previous evening. He's definitely got a sense of anticipation from this mission. They all know the stakes, but they have little idea what they'll find inside this place. Gunnar may have located it, but even he wasn't going inside without back-up. If there are Berserkers, well…Sirrah did dispense with a few black blades prior to their departure, but even that is going to be faint support if there are a few dozen of the inhumanly resilient fellows within. Despite all that, though, When Gunnar looks back to Jaren with a questioning lift of his brow, Jaren nods in silence, indicating that it is indeed time to move forward. There's really no way to approach other than right from the front…they have some ropes and climbing equipment, but not likely enough for the nearly sheer cliffs that surround their target.

Marcus has been little effected by the hardship of the journey or the stakes of their mission. The Wraith has been almost cheerful as he moved through the snow keeping his hand close to the Sidhe steel dagger he'd been leant. Now though, with that feeling of unease and the lack of guards the moment of their task hits him full force and the young man (no older than Reyes to be honest) becomes cold and serious. "This is not going to be easy," he remarks to those within earshot. "Nobody leaves the door open like this unless they want idiots like us to waltz right in. Gunnar don't suppose there's a backdoor you forgot to mention?" he asks as he checks the heavy burden slung on his back that he's kept close for the duration of the trip.

Raelyn had taken one of the black blades for herself, despite already having a Lightsilver sword. Where she got the latter? She doesn't exactly say. But, the Mistress of the Hunt certainly has come prepared. And, provided at least some mild entertainment through the harsh travels with the recorder that now dangels off her hip. But now, her quiver of arrows full, her bow strung and ready, and the swords she carries, the woman clearly is prepared for anything. The closer the group came to the cave, the more solemn the woman became; focused, but intrigued and even a little humored at the onset, to now uttelry focused and even intense.

"No," she agrees to Lucas, with absolute certainty. "It is not. It is very likely some of us will die."

Artos was assigned to this endeavor as one of the few Vigilant on the front. While he may be a tad older than many in the group, he has not let his age hinder it. A fur cloak is worn over his mail and leather, and his usual longsword and dirk, rest in their sheaths. Today, however, the baron has taken advantage of the Vigilant's store of Sidhe steel and added a dagger to his options. The stern man has kept to himself thus far and continues being quiet until his nephew speaks, "I do not like this either, but we have little choice but to walk into this trap. Remember, aim for the necks." He gestures towards his own, "Sidhe steel can do it without that, but best to be sure."

"As many of us will live to make it home as the One wills." Jaren notes in response to Lucas and his sister, and even the bare mention of the One has Gunnar bowing his head and murmuring a silent prayer before nodding. Jaren adds, "But if any of us are dead-set on dying, I would request that at least one of us manage to accomplish our task before we all perish." Jaren notes with the slightest glimmer of humor. Brief enough it's almost hard to tell it was ever there. "Let's go. If we're being forced to spring a trap, we may as well get it over with." And with that, he starts to move towards the Temple behind Gunnar.

The other Vigilants present all fall into line with the others as they march out. It's still several minutes of trudging through knee-deep snow to get to the "Temple." Or at least…it should have been several minutes. It feels…longer somehow, with that gnawing sense of anticipation and dread building as the group nears the entrance. Even more disturbing, as they start to draw near, the air finally does stir…just a bit. A warm, humid breeze coming from the mouth of the cave…and laden heavily with the slightly metallic scent of spilled blood. Warm the breeze may be, but it only produces gooseflesh and a clammy sweat with its' caress. Thankfully, it's irregular and brief…but still unnerving, though thus far, the travelers remain steadfast in their purpose.

Lucas flashes a tiny smile towards Jaren "Solid plan," he remarks lightly before he stands and follows the future king towards the cave. The warmth and the smell of blood though makes him pause a step. The blood was nothing new but the warmth was just wrong and it left him unsettled. "Just when I think I understand the world…" he mutters to himself and draws the Sidhe steel blade from his side taking comfort from the weight of the black blade in his hand. Armed, he keeps moving, serious now, eyes scanning his surroundings for signs of danger.

"I thought I understood the world, once," Raelyn answers Lucas, as they trudge forwards. But her eyes? Her eyes are solidly on the open entrance. "It's not a mistake I'll ever make again." For more than one reason. Absently, she rubs at her neck; only Jaren would have any clue as to why. Keen eyes might notice a small mark there, small, and nearly circular in nature.

"The One has seen us through many ordeals. I imagine it was His will that lead us here. If so? We will do our best to see His will done," she says, devoutly. For once, Jaren has more humor than she. Still, she does smile, just briefly at her brother's light jest.

Artos does not laugh at the jest, he just simply readies himself to enter the temple. He draws his longsword for now, his left hand resting on the hilt of the Sidhe steel dagger. The baron keeps quiet, instead looking about slowly as they approach, for if it is a trap, he would like to see it before it is triggered. A quick prayer to the One is said mutely, but Artos says nothing else.

Winterthorn is drawn in a smooth motion as the band makes its' way to the entrance. There is no greeting, no sign of alarm. No shouts of alert or recognition. Just that eerie silence. As they reach the threshold, another "breeze" passes over them, only now it is followed by another, cooler breeze from their flanks.

It is as if the cave itself is…breathing. Julio looks rather green around the edges, with Gunnar, Arn, and Tomas assuming miens of grim resignation.

Jaren actually pauses, frowning and looking about the edges of that threshold. He swallows visibly…and steps inside. The stench of blood grows stronger, but within the entry one can see that the sides of the cave entrance are worked stone rather than raw. Strange symbols in no language any here speak or read are etched into them, many of them bearing dark stains…old bloodstains by the look of it. As the group makes it deeper into the temple, a new sound can be heard…the clinking of chains. The passageway is fairly broad, wide enough for three to walk abreast, but warm air continues to blow from somewhere within…followed by that cold intake…both stirring the flames of torches spaced in sconces along the walls…at completely irregular intervals, leading to strange pockets of light and shadow.

Jaren pauses, as the pathway widens…into a large chamber. His eyes adjust to the dim light, and Raelyn, who stands nearest him can hear the sharp intake of breath that comes to him.

The chamber widens into a roughly circular affair, with those continued irregularly-spaced torches around its' circumference. There is a wide pit…perhaps twenty meters across, and again while irregularly shaped, there is clearly a stone lip around its' edge. None of that is what draws that gasp from the Queen's Champion.

No, the gasp is for the bodies…

Dozens of them, suspended upside-down. Men and Women, Children and elders, all stripped naked and their throats more….torn open than slit. Some are clearly more fresh than others, but…oddly none show any real sign of decay. Most have faces twisted into rictus of pain and horror, though some look positively serene by comparison. But…regardless, it's a ghastly sight.

Raelyn catches Jaren's intake of breath, he seeing it just a moment before she does. She can feel her jaw tighten, her muscles tense and she can feel the horror, crawling up her skin. But the bodies? The gore? The blood? That is different for her. She can feel the terror. She can understand the horror. She can feel infuriated this happened. But, there's a hardness in her heart that prevents her from letting the atrocity well up inside her. Jaren's seen this side of her, before, too. There are, afterall, whispers about just how cold-hearted Raelyn Cassomir can be.

She pulls an arrow from her quiver - tipped with Lightsilver, and readies her bow in her hand, asking under her breath, "Jaren?" The question is uncertain, as if she were seeking higher wisdom.

The flow of the air felt like breathing and it conjured childhood stories of dragons. That thought a bead of cold sweat running down his spine and he shudders trying to think of how he would fight something like that when the sight of the abattoir around the pit banishes those thoughts in an instant. "One's mercy," he breathes, it takes all the willpower he can muster not to step back from the horrors laid out in front of him, but he stands firm hand clutched firmly around the hilt of his black bladed dagger. The bodies didn't matter, they had a mission. He makes himself look around and listen for the source of that breath-like wind. That had to be what they were here for.

The t'Acuto baron expected many things from this temple… but this was not one of them. A snarl appears on Artos' face as he tightens his grip on the sword. He steps forward and shakes his head, "Damn beasts." Artos looks about from where he stands, seeing if there is something to be seen in this room other than the corpses. "Clearly these are here for /something/. But what?"

"Save the arrows for now." Jaren notes in a voice barely above a whisper, before glancing to Artos, "It looks like they were draining them into the pit…" He looks to Raelyn again. "They're chained. Even if…well, they're not likely any threat." Jaren ever-so-slowly starts to step into the chamber, with Winterthorn held in a defensive posture, his expression grim.

As the group begins to move into the large chamber, a patch of blackest shadow on the opposite side of the pit stirs…and into the dim light steps a man. An old man with wild, matted, and blood stained beard and hair, stripped to the waist, his sinewy body is covered in ritual scars that mirror the markings found on the walls of the entryway. A zealous far glitters in his dark eyes as he regards the interlopers. Then a slow laugh starts, and after a few moments of that, he speaks in a voice that sounds like dried, creaking leather…speaking words in the language of Tiria, his voice rising to a shout at the end and his hands coming up as though to shove the Vigilants back by force of will alone. Perhaps to everyone's relief no wind accompanies that gesture, but there is, unfortunately, something else.

Because then, four large men with axes also emerge from the shadows, rushing towards the intruders in their blood-stained armor bellowing incoherent war-cries and raising their blades high….

The Old, Scarred Man bellows in Tirian: <You are not of the Heralds…your blood and your souls will feed the Child of the True Gods!>

Bezerkers. It just -had- to be Bezerkers. Raelyn lets out a curse from her lips, and fires that arrow she'd readied, skinking it into one of the creatures kneecaps in an attempt to at least slow the lumbering beast down. She's fought these things before, and she knows that they're not going to go down. Not even with a few arrows in the head. She shouts, "It's us, or them!"

The arrival of Scarred Man jerks Lucas out of his search and the Berserkers set him back on his heels. "Berserkers," he shouts to the others unsure if others besides Artos have had the pleasure of facing the mad barbarians yet. Then it's all about the fight. Lucas back up as the Berserkers charge, he ducks an axe and comes up with his blade driving it at the mad man's thigh. He hits his mark and is rewarded by a fountain of arterial blood as he frees the black steel from barbarian flesh, then he's moving. The Berserker isn't dead or dying yet, he moves slower though and Lucas stays just ahead of him as the Berserker bellows and chases after him heading towards the Scarred Man.

Artos responds to the old man in the Tirian tongue, "We are not of the heralds. But today no one will feed your false gods." The arrival of the berserkers makes the baron somewhat regret his bold statement, though he does look to the group around him and then back to the barbarians, one of which is now sporting a bit of wood in his knee.

The baron knows he cannot out run, out maneuver, or win on strength alone. Artos then moves forward, "I pick them." He keeps his calm and approaches, drawing his Sidhe steel dagger from his belt in his off-hand. Artos is not skilled with dagger or using them in his off hand, but he would at least attempt it today, lacking a shield at this time. One barbarian did not seem to like the t'Acuto's taunt and barrels at Artos. The brute's axe barely catches Artos' shoulder, rending the mail, but leaving a wound more superficial than actually harmful. Artos tries to land a blow on the berserker's neck, but fails to find any success, avoiding a backswing and jabbing his loaned dagger into the thigh of the barbarian, not down, but at least slowed. Seeing his nephew being chased, Artos runs after the second berserker, hoping to at least get his attention away from Lucas. To accomplish this, he yells out "FUCK YOUR MANY, COME AND FACE ME!"

The two Berserkers with stabs to the thigh by black blades do rapidly slow. If in their frenzied state they recognize that those particular wounds are indeed hampering them, they give no sign of it. Thus…Artos is all too easily able to catch up to Lucas' pursuer.

Meanwhile, Gunnar the Redeemed answers the Berserkers' bellow with one of his own and lunges forward, crossing a short black blade and a hand-axe to parry the swipe of the remaining berserker's axe, and shifting it aside with a heave of his arms, allowing him to slash back across his opponents' midsection, leaving a deep gash, before he buries the hand-axe in the fellow's neck. And then again…and then again, severing the berserker's head from his body. Gunnar practically ROARS in the Tirian tongue, a triumphant sound that actually seems to bolster Tomas and Julio, who have both drawn bows and are peppering the Berserkers with arrows…not with as much precision as Raelyn, but peppering them nonetheless.

Gunnar roars in the language of Tiria: <Your strength is false! The One True God grants me victory!>'

As for the one Raelyn shot in the knee, Jaren steps forward and brings Winterthorn up, bracing the flat of the blade against his palm to help absorb some of the tremendous overhand strike the Berserker aims at him. The axe is halted, but a swift knee to the gut causes a rush of air from Jaren's lungs, and a swift follow-up brings the pommel of the axe across Jaren's head as he's doubled over, causing him to stagger to one knee (and leaving a nasty bruise on one side of his face, though thankfully nothing breaks).

Jaren doesn't lose his composure, despite the strike, though, and as the Berserker draws his axe back, taking two arrows in his throat and one squarely in his eye from Raelyn as he does so, Jaren sweeps Winterthorn in a swift, perfectly horizontal slash, mustering all the strength he can in a one-armed slice…

It's enough though, as the black blade cleaves cleanly through both of the Berserker's legs just below the knee, sending him clumsily falling to the ground…on his back thanks to the shoulder Jaren slams into his midsection with a crouching lunge.

As Lucas starts to draw near the Scarred Man, the old Tirian pulls a blade from his waist…a nasty, foul looking knife that honestly doesn't look like much of a weapon, but that doesn't stop him from lunging towards the l'Saigner scion…even if it's done with relatively little skill, and he just keeps cackling along the way.

A shadow falls over Lucas a second before the barbarian's axe plummets into the stone where Lucas had been running. The brutish barbarian lifts his axe turning to face the Wraith and smiling when he sees the blood running freely down Lucas' arm. The axe swing was nearer than it seemed and a length of clothing, steel and skin had been shorn from Lucas' weapon arm. Had that been all he faced Lucas might have rallied the cackling visage of the scarred man flits into his peripheral vision and his blade finds a soft point drawing blood and earning a shout of pain. Lucas acts on instinct and slams the heal of his palm into the Scarred Man's chin to drive him back and then swings his damaged arm at the Berserker who has turned to glare murder at Artos for his blasphemous bellowing. He snarls something before the blade strikes him most of it lost in his scream as the black steel lodges beneath his collar bone. Lucas hisses a curse, he'd been aiming for the throat but it would do. Lucas is shoved down by the flailing of the Berserker and lands with a thud shouting "Uncle take his head!"

With one Beserker down, and Jaren safe enough, Raelyn turns her attention towards that the Baron is assaulting. She might not recognize the words that are being exchanged, Lucas and Artos on one of the beast, and Tomas and Julio assaulting another, Raelyn turns her attention towards the Scarred Man. Afterall, this is the bastard that seems to be commanding the Beserkers. And, while she might not have any idea -what- he is, she knows he's not normal. Not sane. And, therefore, a threat.

She looses another arrow, this one aimed at the Scarred Man's head, to wipe that shit-eating grin off his face.

It seems that Artos' taunt proved to be of some use. The baron smiles grimly as the berserker faces him, only to see the brute throw Lucas to the ground. Taking no chances, Artos raises his sword and strikes at the thick neck of the berserker, finding some success, though hindered by the layers of muscle. After this, Artos buries his dagger into the back of the beast, and then sending another hack at the neck, the lightsilver being stopped by the bone, followed by one last stab into the neck by the dagger.

The approaching steps behind the baron cause Artos to turn and see the other berserker, the one he had only hamstringed, "Lucas, you'll need to finish this one." He then approaches the limping berserker, and then charges.

Raelyn's arrow flies cleanly through the Scarred Man's head, causing him to halt his attack and turn to face her. He leers as blood runs down both sides of his head, and speaks in perfectly unaccented Common:

"This is only the beginning."

And then he pitches forward into the pit, cackling all the way down.

Meanwhile, Jaren hacks off the fallen Berserker's head with Winterthorn after regaining his feet, turning to see Tomas and Julio being beset by the Berserker that only has arrows sticking out of him. The large man bats Tomas aside, slamming him against a wall, and brings his axe down, shattering right through the bow that Julio feebly brings up to try to deflect it, and biting deep enough into the young Vigilant's shoulder that it very nearly shears off a third of his torso. There's a yowl of pain and fear, but then Julio is stabbing the berserker in the midsection with the short black blade of his own, over and over again, spilling blood over both himself and the floor, until the barbarian slumps over, unmoving…draped over the equally unmoving Julio. Master Arn, having been holding back as it would do little good to have the healer killed in the heat of battle, rushes to Julio's side, but the grim sorrow of his expression makes it clear he knows he's already too late.

… The Scarred Man sacrificing himself was /not/ what Raelyn had expected. She inhales shortly - but is at least glad, internally, this fight is going better than her first harrowing as a Vigilant. Movement catches her eye, and she strings yet another arrow and fires it towards the remaining beserker's axe-hand, trying to knock the thing out of his hands. Or at least, limit his movement and mobility with the heavy weapon. There isn't time yet to mourn Julio. Not yet.

The Scarred Man is dead and so is Julio, but the Berserker Lucas was tasked to kill is not far behind. Lucas drives his dagger into the Berserker's heart and twists before pulling it free. Then the Wraith is moving again coming to support his uncle against the final enemy.

Artos watches as the axe of the beast is swung overhead at him. With a prayer on his lips he throws himself out of its way, dropping his sword so that he does not accidently impale himself on it. The man switches his dagger to his right hand and picks himself up and charges the berserker, swinging the dagger up into the thigh of the barbarian and dragging it as he pulls it out, and thrusting it into the left armpit, the blood now flowing freely, though he is soon grappled, and the beast's strength is evident to the baron as he can barely sink the dagger into the neck of the berserker, allowing Artos to free himself, though now with a bruised rib or three. The dying berserker flails a little bit. It lives, but its time on this world is drawing to an end.

"Damn it…" Jaren frowns deeply as he moves to where Julio is fallen, helping Tomas and Gunnar to pull the Berserker off their lifeless fellow. He sighs heavily, reaching over to close the younger man's eyes, before rising to his feet, looking around as the last vestiges of life leave the Berserkers. "Master Arn…see to the wounds." He glances around, frowning. This looks like a dead-end…besides going down the pit…which looks dark. And deep. And…breathes.

Aside from that "breath" however…the room is again dead-calm.

Tomas glances towards Jaren, looking aggrieved for Julio's loss, but his words are calm, "He knew the risks, m'lord. Just wanted to do his part…" He cocks his head towards the fallen Berserker, "If a man's time comes in a battle…not many better ways than takin' one with you. One watch over his soul."

Raelyn cautiously follows Jaren to the edge of that deep, deep pit, trying to fathom why the Scarred Man would have sacrificed himself so, and the uneasy feeling the pit gives her. Not to mention the look on Jaren's face doesn't set her at ease, either. She assures Tomas, "He will be remembered. When there is time for remembering." She places the bow over her shoulder, as if uncertain what is to come next, and what she ought to do. Waiting.

Artos takes a breath and joins the others, his voice stern as he says, "The dead will stay dead. What can we do now to avoid others joining them?" His face has returned to its stoney neutrality, though he ontinues looking around. "Surely there is /something/ here we can work with. Last thing we need is this journey to be in vain."

With the Berserkers dead Lucas comes to a halt catching his breath. The wind comes and echoes through the chamber and then again, as Lucas watches Julio be cared for and mourned. Though something draws his attention away from that sad scene and he glances towards the wall, he waits until the wind returns in and out before he steps closer feeling along the stone. "There's a passage here," he calls to the others as he searches for a latch to open the way.

Cliche though it may be, it's the nearest torch-bearing sconce that proves the trigger, and with it, the stone slides aside to reveal a rough-hewn passageway…and stairs moving downwards.

Arn tends to Artos and Lucas' wounds as best he can, while Jaren glances towards the new pathway, his expression grim. He moves near that entrance, pausing for a moment, and taking a deep breath, letting it out slowly before noting, "Into the depths then. Tomas, Gunnar, bring some light. Everyone else….stand ready." And once again they gather…and begin the descent.

At first it's much like any rough-hewn passageway. As they get deeper, though, the temperature grows more warm…and the walls grow slick with some sort of…residue. After several minutes of descent…they almost look…organic.

Needless to say, Jaren and the other Vigilants set the example of very pointedly not touching anything if they can avoid it….

There's a point between being hardened to blood, and death - and then, being disturbed on a more visceral level. Raelyn can feel her heart shudder as the walls take on the near organic sort of look. She keeps her distance, minds her steps. Years of practice in the forest make the effort of it easier. "One have mercy," she breathes. "This is not right."

Artos recovers his sword before the descent, though he sheathes it and keeps the dagger out for now, no sense trying to wield a longsword in a passage. He physically appears unshaken by the change in the passageway, though internally the baron begins to have feelings of concern and doubt, and deep down perhaps it is fear. Such a fear that overrides any curiousity as to what the change might be, and what would happen if Sidhe steel touched it. He responds to Raelyn's remark, "Indeed. This is not right."

Lucas nods. "You'll get no arguments from me," he replies as he studiously avoids touching the passage walls. He keeps his dagger close however, unnerved as the rest about where they are going.

Thankfully, the passageway eventually empties into a large chamber….vast even. Here the stone does not appear worked at all, but the walls retain that strange organic look to them. At least…what little of the walls that can be seen, as the cavern disappears into blackness on seemingly all sides. The temperature is uncomfortable warm here, particularly for those that are still wearing winter gear from outside. The stench of blood is strongest here, and there's little doubt as to why…just enough dim light from the torches high above reaches the ground to leave a slight glistening…on a massive pool of blood that dominates the center of this chamber, somehow remaining uncongealed. It's large enough that it would surely have taken years of sacrifices to fill…likely thousands of souls. Barbaric blasphemies of the highest order. But whatever rage may come from the dawning realization might well have to wait.

For within the pool…something…stirs.

Lucas' breath is sucked in at the first signs of movement in the pool. "Abyss," he hisses as he hefts his blade defensively. "Tell me I wasn't the only one who saw that?"

"Good God…" Jaren mutters under his breath as he realizes just what that pool is, though his eyes widen when he comes to the realization that there's something rather large within that pool, nodding to Lucas, "You weren't. Spread out a bit…but not too far, and stay ready. I've no idea what unholy terror dwells down here, but I've little reason to suspect it will be friendly."

"The monsters…" Artos snarls as he sees the pool of blood and the… living room around them. When the movement in the pool catches his attention, the dagger on his hip is soon out, "You were not. Though let us hope that we are both just seeing things, for if this pool serves any purpose, it certainly is not a holy one."

Raelyn was already peering over the center where the Scarred Man had sacrified himself. It's the movement in that water that spurns her to action. She re-equips her bow, and draws another one of the Lightsilver arrows she'd brought along. And, she takes careful aim, holds in her breath, and lets the arrow fly where the movement was last seen in that liquid, watery pool of blood. Then? She waits to see what will happen while drawing, slowly, another arrow from her quiver. That should be answer enough for Lucas.

Lucas doesn't need to be told twice and he steps sidewise keeping his eyes on the pool while at the same time deftly avoiding the walls. "Nothing here is likely to be friendly. I still do have a store of alchemicals we can use to set this place ablaze," he suggests still watching the pool.

There's no roar of pain or surprise. There's really kind of an eerie degree of quiet to it all. The slight hiss of something moving in the fluid, the, the sloshing of something alive rising from it, with the heavy "dripping" of blood that accompanies it. The shape is indistinct in the shadows…roundish, certainly, but not…constant. It's actually physically uncomfortable to look upon, as though ones' eyes have difficulty focusing upon it for fear that seeing it with clarity would be more than the mind could withstand. A wave of nausea does indeed strike those assembled, as evidenced by Tomas not-so-quietly emptying his stomach just off to one side.

Then there's a…pulse. Like a heartbeat that vibrates the air itself, only more than vibration accompanies it. For a split second…the world simply goes mad.

Down is up, Scent is hearing, touch is taste. A moment lasts a century, and silence is outright deafening.

It's only a half-second, but it is extraordinarily disorienting, as the tiniest fragment of the Chaos that fuels this creature seeps out.

Jaren staggers back and drops to one knee at the onslaught to his senses. He manages to hold onto the contents of his stomach, but only barely. He opens his mouth as though to speak, but can't yet form words, and it's questionable as to whether anyone would really hear him at the moment anyway.

Clearly Artos was not seeing things, though before he can respond to Lucas the source of the movement rises from the pool. A bit of vomit rises into Artos' mouth, though it is spat away quickly before the baron is forced back a bit by the sheer disorientation. He blinks and stumbles a little, effectively stunned for the moment as his brain tries to wrap itself around the situation, the pulse in the room, the abomination in the pool. Nothing is right about this.

Raelyn tilts slightly, as her balance goes askew, and the arrow she'd been holding topples from her hand, bounces onto the floor. She doens't notice and drops to the sickly, wet floor not seeming to mind the near-organic, unnatural nature of the cavern now. One arm clenches at her gut, and she swallows back the bile that is building up in the back of the throat.

Lucas drops to his knees fighting to keep the bile and half-digested food behind his teeth. He fails and it empties onto the floor in a series of hacking gasps. What was this place? How could it exist? The questions pound against his control like a battering ram each one demanding answers he does not have. Steady! he shouts at himself unsure if he spoke the words or thought them for his head is pounding too hard to register which. "Steady," he says this time making himself form the word with his lips. "Steady," with each repetition he tries to push back against the encroaching pressure of uncertainty and take command of his mind and body.

Thankfully, the disorientation was but a moment, and does not seem to be immediately forthcoming again. The bulk rising from the pool doesn't seem inclined to leave it…but it doesn't need to, as…tentacles? Pseudopods? Some sort of extension of that indistinct mass of semiliving material lashes out. Tomas is the first struck, a solid smash across his body that sends him flying against a wall, flopping to its' base and not making any motion to immediately rise, but there's wheezing that speaks of him not being dead at least…yet.

Jaren still has Winterthorn in hand when a fleshy appendage lashes out towards him. Instinct and reflex cause him to lash out, and sure enough the offending "limb" is partially severed, causing a quick withdrawal…and causing three more to focus their attention on him. Two more are cut a fair bit shorter with swift slashes of the black blade, but the third crashes against his left side, and Jaren too is sent sprawling a few meters away, grunting with pain as the sidhe-steel blade skitters from his grasp a few feet away.

Thankfully, these tentacles…don't seem to bleed. Oh, they drop blood from the pool, but when severed they prove to just be…flesh and the approximation of muscle. Also thankfully, for the moments those attacks were focused on Jaren, they weren't focused on the others, though with the Queen's Champion down it looks like they may indeed be turning back towards the others.

"Jaren!" Raelyn's scream is torn from her throat, and she begins to shoulder her bow with one hand even as she runs towards Jaren - and more specifically Winterthorn. She grabs the heavy, long-lived family sword and hefts it to Jaren. Wild eyes watch the appendages, the pool to make sure that nothing is coming towards her as she moves to shove the blade's hilt back in her brother's hand and help him to his feet. Tomas? Well. Someone else can help him, perhaps. Her concern is Jaren. And once her brother is grabbing his sword, she's drawing her own Sidhe-steel longsword she borrowed from Sirrah.

Artos is glad to have sidhe steel, though he is not sure if it is needed here. Again, he shifts the blade to his left hand and draws his lightsilver longsword, praying a silent prayer that it will suffice instead of a dagger he is not familiar with. Artos approaches the fallen Tomas to drag him a bit away from the fight and to quickly check for a pulse. The baron looks to his nephew, "Now might be a time for fire."

Lucas had retaken his mind when the disorientation passed and when it did his body quickly follows. The young Wraith rises and moves to assist Jaren when the Queen's Champion is attacked but is too late to stop the tentacles. His uncle's suggestion earns a nod. "Agreed uncle, get the wounded out," he says and begins removing the bundle from his back one eye kept on the thing in the pool.

Jaren does manage to get to his feet and get the blade back in his right hand, but his left hangs limply at his side, with Jaren gritting his teeth against pain and noting, "That thing hits hard. I think my arm's broken."

That doesn't stop him from slicing off the edge of another tentacle when it draws near, then gesturing with his head to indicate the direction Raelyn should go, "We'll draw its' attention while Lucas works!" He calls out, swinging at another appendage, though it doesn't quite sever this one, just cutting it deeply. Still enough to make it withdraw, though. "Work fast!" He calls out to the Wraith.

Tomas coughs up a bit of blood as Artos sits him up. He's breathing…a raspy, rattling wheeze that speaks of things likely broken within him. Master Arn moves up alongside as well, giving the man a brief once over before meeting Artos' eyes, and shaking his head slightly.

"S'all right. *kaff* Knew the risks." Tomas assures Arn when the healer looks back to him sorrowfully. "Ey! Lord Wraith…Make me a pyre worth a song or two!" The veteran Vigilant manages to shout out towards Lucas before it trails off into coughing up more blood.

Gunnar moves over near Raelyn and Jaren, proving that mundane blades seem to work just as well as Sidhe-Steel when it comes to cutting those lashing tentacles. His battle-cry is an inarticulate roar, but the spirit is unmistakeable…not that it does anything to cow this entirely inhuman foe.

And as the others work, the beast does indeed seem to focus its' attention on those that keep damaging it, though it doesn't seem the creature is exactly infinite, so to speak, as fewer and fewer of those appendages seem to be coming…at least for the moment. It could just be…regrouping?"

Lucas yanks the bundle off and sets it on the ground. "Won't be long!" he shouts as he continues to work and out comes a bit of flint and some rags saturated with oil. Tomas words are noted and he meets the man's eyes while he nods in reply. Then it is back to work plunging his knife into the bundle to let the acrid liquid spill out onto the floor and trickle towards the pool. "Watch your feet!" he calls to the others as he begins making himself a torch from the rags and a stick that was in the bundle.

Artos nods at the healer once he gets the grim news. He moves to where he dropped his longsword to drag Tomas and joins the fray. The lightsilver is soon spattered with red as he cuts into.. whatever they are. Artos roars in rage as he cuts into it, lacking the grace and finesse that some may have, or the power of youth, but Artos still has some skill with a blade that the beast is now aware of.

Raelyn, after assuring herself Jaren is armed and not fatally wounded, gives a short nod. She's certain her brother has suffered more grevious wounds on the battlefield, and he still has one good arm. She? She has two. And she's a bit lighter on her feet than some here. She dances forward and swings the blade to hack at one of the tentacles aiming for her, shearing it in two. She yells to the team, "We have to get to it's body. This is getting us nowhere. Fire will end it, but we have to kill it first. Get it -out- of that pool!"

"That may well not be an option, Rae. We may have to take our chances with the flames ending it." Jaren calls out, grunting with pain and exertion as he lashes out towards another tentacle, "Start making for the exit! We'll leave a trail of fire as we go, and see if we can't burn this whole place down to a cinder!" Jaren starts to move back towards Lucas, mindful not to get any of the strange liquid he's using on his feet, and indicating for the others to try to cordon off the Wraith while he works.

Gunnar responds readily enough, moving into position on one of Lucas' flanks, hacking at Tentacles as he goes.

Tomas just smiles grimly, lifting a hand to his side, breathing shallow.

The creature…still shows no sign of leaving the pool. That however, may be the least of the worries, as it soon becomes apparent that the next wave of tentacles aren't coming from the beast…they're coming from the walls…and the floor, Or more like growing from them, though apparently it is not without effort, as the pseudopods take a few moments to form, giving the opportunity to cut them before they fully appear, but there's so many of them that it's only a matter of time before they outpace the defenders..

"Good God…" Jaren blinks in horror and astonishment, "I think the creature IS the temple!" Or at least part of it, it seems…which would certainly explain those really nasty, organic-looking walls and floors.

Artos is not pleased with the situation, but noting the living walls he nods, "Makes sense. Though I will need to look into this if I get out of here." His tone lacks urgency, though there is steel behind it. He hacks down one of the tentacles growing from the wall, "But yes, burn it all!" For the sake of wondering, he drags the Sidhe steel dagger along a fleshy portion of wall as he joins the others in exiting, hoping that it might result is a favorable outcome.

"Abyss!" Lucas curses as the tenticles begin to emrge from the walls and floor. He strikes the flint to his blade and the spark sets his torch alight which he jabs into the side of the temple before retreating with the bundle still spilling fluid on the floor. "Go," he shouts at the others. He'd never seen Leonor's Fire used, but from what he'd seen at the old castle in Lonnaire it wasn't going to be a warm and cheery fire so much as a hellish conflagration. Watching the last of the fluid spill on the floor he flings the bundle back towards the pool and then throws the torch after it, running as soon as the brand leaves his grip. "Go! Go now!"

"One help us all." Raelyn rarely shows worry. Concern. Even less so, dread. The battle in Ironhold that got her to be part of the Vigilant was terrifying to some degree. But this? It is unnatural. Horrific. And it's messing with her mind. She hews at the growths from the walls, the floor as she begins to back up, so that she can be near Jaren and they can tag-team the rapidly extending growths.

"It has to have a heart. A head. Something," Raelyn breathes, almost shuddering. Her eyes follow the fluid and vials, and the torch. Hopefully Lucas' attempt is going to be successful.

"No Rae…that's just it…it doesn't." Jaren replies grimly, gesturing for the others to head back up that long stairwell, and taking just a moment to glance to Tomas, whose eyes have now glazed over in death. Which means he's there when the ENORMOUS fireball erupts at the edge of the pool, and the terrific wave of heat blasts over them, enough that Jaren wonders if his hair is all singed off as he too turns and follows the others up the stairway, "Go! Go!"

Gunnar and Arn lead the way, occasionally hacking at Tentacles as they ascend the stairway, but after that fireball, the entire temple begins to shudder, and while the tentacles grow from the organic portions of the walls and floor, they don't seem nearly as…directed. More like panicked flailing. Still, enough to slow progress to something less than a dead sprint, though they still make decent time.

Though a little less than halfway up the stairwell, just as the walls are starting to look like stone again, there's another "pulse" of unreality, which drops Jaren and Arn, at least, to their knees for a moment, though they're quickly struggling to get back up and keep running.

Jaren's words seem to horrify Raelyn even more. But, she's still got her wits about her. And, when Jaren calls to run, she runs, not even bothering to look back. She, too, stumbles and falls when the 'pulse' odd, and reality-shattering. She does manage to drive the longsword into the floor's organic nature, so she doesn't topple over entirely. She shivers, inwardly, and then she's reaching for Jaren's hand as she uses the sword to push herself up to her feet, "We have to get out of here," she says weakly.

Artos stops to ensure that Lucas is following when the fireball erupts. He resumes hurrying, cutting at tentacles when they prove to be troublesome, at least until the second pulse hits, the baron stumbling and falling forward, though Artos does manage to not impale himself on his own sword, instead dropping it and recovering it as he rises. Artos then looks to the others, "Indeed, haste is our best hope, that fire will burn for a while, but I do not know if that creature will be able to retaliate before its doom or not."

The wave of heat rushes over him as Lucas runs and he cries out in pain. He shrugs out of his burning furs as the right side of his face blisters in the heat. He swings wildly at the shape of a tentacle as it lashes out from a wall and he staggers back towards the group, only to fall with the new pulse of disorientation. Gritting his teeth, he drives his dagger into the wall to pull himself up as he begins to lurch towards the group once more.

Jaren grits his teeth as Raelyn grabs the hand of his broken arm (seeing as that's the one that's free) but doesn't otherwise complain, instead gesturing forward and resuming the climb just after Gunnar and Arn. As the group ascends, they can see the floors and walls becoming less and less "organic." There's no solid dividing line between what is and isn't though…more like a gradual change.

Not that there's much time to admire the architecture, as those flames soon can be seen in the stairwell below, and the entire structure seems to shudder more violently still.

Gunnar and Arn break out onto the ground floor, stumbling as the temple shudders. They glance to each other and silently nod, with Arn making a sprint for the exit while Gunnar moves to help the others along, being relatively uninjured. By the time everyone catches up and is accounted for, there's yet another "pulse." By the time they dust themselves off and get about halfway to the Temple entrance…there's another pulse still…sooner than the last, and longer. The entire temple lurches beneath them as flames start to lick the walls. The floor may well burn their hands as they push themselves up, but push themselves up they do…and finally, mercifully…they emerge outside the temple, though none seem to be resting on their laurels, instead pushing onward to put more distance between themselves and the unholy structure which is beginning to be wreathed in flame.

"Lucas…what was that alchemical? I've never seen anything burn like this…" Jaren comments to Lucas as they finally start to slow, a few hundred meters from the temple.

Raelyn isn't exactly apologetic about grabbing Jaren's broken arm - better to grab a broken arm than lose a brother entirely. As they make they way out, lurching, stumbling, and Raelyn at least finally succmbing to vomitting after the multiple reality pulses, and the group now stumbles towards freedom, her mind isn't on what alchemial was used. Her mind instead is focused on, "What the hell was -that-?"

"Something my grandmother made," Lucas replies as he too begins to slow. He smiles and it is a grisly sight with one side of his face all raw and red. Still there is humour in his expression. "And I am with Raelyn, what was that thing?" he asks sparing a glance back towards the burning temple.

Artos finally makes his way to the surface, weathing the pulses with the near falls one would expect. He nods after Lucas speaks. "That fire will likely suffice." He then shakes his head and looks back at the hopeful pyre for the beast. The baron waits and ponders and shakes his head, "I know not, but I will be sure to check Garfana for any record of it, as I suspect similar efforts will be made in Sanctum. I just pray it is dead, and stays so."

"I don't know but perh-" Jaren doesn't quite get to finish that statement just yet, as one more "pulse" erupts, and this time…it lasts several seconds. Indeed, the flare-up of raw Chaos pushes in on the edges of sanity for all present, stretching whatever defenses they have to their absolute limits…

And then…it ends. The burning temple collapses inward and downward, the stone from above filling the burned-out void below. It is wise that they traversed as far from the temple as they did, for the ground for several dozen yards in front of it crumbles and collapses inward as well, leaving a burning, smoking mess of fiery stone in a chasm that now makes this little dead-end canyon that much deeper.

Meanwhile, Jaren retches up the last bits of any food he had in his stomach, trying and failing to push himself back to his feet, and finally settling for curling up in the fetal position in the cold snow for…well, a couple of minutes at least. Thankfully there's enough heat from the fire that hypothermia need not be a concern just yet…though it will be later, given that just about everyone has likely sweated quite a bit in these past several minutes.

As if once wasn't enough, Raelyn - having already lost what bits of food where in her stomach, proceeds to get a case of the dry heaves with that last pulse that rocks through the area, and them. It causes her to fall to her knees, and her eyes to water heavily. She plants her hands onto the ground, and it's only the sense, the feel, of her limbs touching the ground that provide any measure of sanity in that span of time. Finally, when her stomach has ceased lurching, and her vision begins to clear, she spits onto the ground, taking a handful of the white snow and putting it into her mouth, then spitting it out to cleanse herself of the taste of bile.

She heaves, heavily, and doesn't say anything further for the time.

Artos also joins the others in emptying his stomach's contents. He rests his hands on his knees and wipes away the remnants from his face with his sleeve. Once he has taken a moment to recover, Artos straightens his posture and shakes his head, "We had best get moving, last thing we need is to be caught out here like this. The sooner we can take the gate out of here, the better."

Lucas too is soon on the ground he vomits up what's left in his stomach and then moving aside flops back in the snow. It feels good but he knows he'll pay for it later when the cold sets in. "My uncle is right," he says. "We should get going if there are more barbarians around they will know we're here." He nods towards colapsed and burning temple.

"Give…give Master Arn a few moments to look over our wounds and do what he can. My arm needs to be set, for one…" He partially lifts his left arm…it looks like the break must be below the elbow. "Sirrah might know more of whatever…that thing was." He concludes his thought from previously, then looks to Arn, giving the man a nod, and sure enough he quickly sets to work applying what first aid he can…which is more significant than one might think with the application of certain salves and some alchemical painkillers.

In any case, the group is soon as ready as they'll be for the two-day trek back to the Faegate, but their guide is here and in good health, and their healer is close at hand. They have taken losses and wounds…but as far as can be ascertained…it would seem their mission was a success.

Though the final test will be laying eyes upon the battlefield to come. But that's a sight for another day.


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