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Midtime

[text adventure] Enter Xandra. (Book Zero, Chapter II.)

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A thousand years of darkness pass in an instant; their end comes in one instant of a thousand years.

 

You try to scream: no voice emerges. There is no sensation of air being forced from your throat. You feel nothing when you gasp for another breath, or when you try to scream again. The endless ocean of darkness that seemed to be everything in the world has vanished; in its place there comes a pressing, enfolding, smothering darkness, like a heavy shroud that covers your eyes.

 

You are sealed in a concrete tomb, fitted to the exact shape of your body, to the very tips of your fingers; you cannot even struggle to move, but are swung back and forth as if a giant had made you its toy.

 

You feel phantom figures and monstrous fantasies dance and die before you; before you streams of light and silence twist and flow; until at last you return into oblivion, unable to imagine what it was you were screaming about.

 

In oblivion's starlit reflecting pool you see a book bound in red leather, lying open on a heap of glowing ashes.

 

Another thousand years, and this time they are broken by light. You see a blurred, ponderous Titan of many colours, and a great foghorn of a voice resounds inside your skull; and you fall asleep, to dream of being bound by shackles to a plane of glass, and plunged into fire and water, while gaping mouths gibber and shrill at you from the dim gallery.

 

A needle of pain jabs you in the socket of each eye, and you come awake again: you see a six-sided mural, full of little white facsimile stars, whose abstract arrangements depict an invisible figure with vast and feathered wings. The stars grow brighter and brighter, till you would turn your head away if you could, and the figure reaches out with a formless limb to drag you into its heavenly chamber, into the baited mouth of oblivion.

 

For the next thousand years, you fall. Once, among all the meaningless debris in the churning gut of oblivion, you glimpse the broken remains of a scrupulously paved road, wide steps polished by sunlight, and a majestic door bearing a splendid coat-of-arms. You climbed those steps once, and the doors had been thrown open for your welcome, but now there is nothing beyond them.

 

Light comes again, and stillness with it, and you know now: the red you see must be the hard stone that you lie upon; the still shadow is a roof above your head, encompassed by a deep blue that you can just see out of the corners of your vision, and the moving shadow is a living being, making motions about you whose meanings you cannot discern.

 

You rise up, and greet her cordially; but she gives no response, and you wonder why.

 

You open your eyes - you have not moved from your original position: still face-upwards, with your arms stretched out to your sides. You must have fallen asleep while the idea of motion was still nascent in your mind. You try to speak to her again, but again the words don't quite reach your lips before you open your eyes. You reach out to touch her, to alert her to your presence; and again, you open your eyes. It is impossible.

 

As you can make out nothing of the things you want to see, you resign yourself, at last, to listening intently. In this you are frustrated by a continuous rushing-and-receding sound, something like the sound of waves against the shore: hissing, roaring, crashing, growing constantly closer and louder, as if furious at the thought of your waking. But at the moment it would surely have overwhelmed you, mysteriously, a single voice becomes perfectly intelligible, rising above the cacophony. "You will understand it when you are older," it says. "When you have forgotten it, you will understand."

 

Then, as your heart (it seems) begins to beat, all sense of urgent desire departs from you; only peace remains, and the marvellous cold embrace of oblivion.

 

You are at peace, and a thousand years means nothing to you. Amid the ebbing tide of oblivion you spy something being carried away: her curious smile, and the gentle light of her wings.

 

= o =

enter name.

an adventure for several players.

[[ This is a different kind of roleplaying game from the usual. The system here used is derived somewhat from old interactive fiction games, differing chiefly in the presence of a human moderator (or 'parser'). I will explain the rules for those who are unfamiliar.

 

There is no requirement of registration: any one who may post in this thread may participate, whether by issuing commands, or by providing or dissecting arguments and information.

 

Participants may issue commands to a single player-character by adding '> ' to the beginning of an imperative statement. The player-character will fully obey all submitted commands that have clear meaning and intent. This definition excepts: commands of uncertain meaning or intent, commands based on demonstrably false assumptions, commands that contradict the purpose of many or all previous commands, and commands whose intent cannot be deciphered*. Of course, participants have full power to veto other commands, by discrediting the purpose behind them. Questions in the same format as commands will be answered according to the extent of the player character's knowledge and percipience.

 

(*Should a submitted command fall under any of these categories, the parser will still respond, usually by either requesting clarification, or providing further information. No command will be ignored.)

 

In the case that commands conflict, the players may resolve the discord among themselves; when this is impossible the parser will choose according to its own discretion, preferring commands that have the stronger reasoning, or sometimes those with extraordinarily interesting outcomes.

 

Most importantly, as this is a game about storytelling, you have freedom to form your own conceptions, choose your own goals, and devise your own schemes; to criticise, amend, and compound your ideas; and ultimately, to do as you reason to be right, as reason is itself a power.

 

I thank you for your attention.

 

> Now, wake up. ]]

=X=

book zero. ropes and chains.

chapter i. innocence.

> Now, wake up.

You awake.

 

You are lying on a hard floor, facing upwards, with your arms and legs wide-spread and somewhat numb; a dull ache pervades your entire body, and seems to colour every sense with a mild displeasure. Withal, there is a sweet scent of flowers lingering in the cool air, and all seems quiet.

 

Your eyes flicker open. The light is a little hard to bear, but there is something lovely about being able to see at last, so you blink to get rid of the tears. You are inside a hexagonal gazebo, decorated in a simplistic (though not a simple) style, which strikes you as familiar; upon six petite columns a dome-shaped roof curves above you, framed by a deep blue sky and painted with a pleasant photorealism of an expanse of stars. The understated style of it calls up a strong nostalgia, and you realise it is a feérie work, of the kind that never leaves the gardens of the palace of the fays, but which you were well accustomed to admire once upon a time.

 

The sluggishness of unconsciousness has passed. The thought enters your mind that nothing will happen without your beginning it.

 

What will you do?

 

> _

Edited by Midtime

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This sounds like great fun! :D

 

> Do not move, watch and listen.

 

Observation is always valuable before making any decision. It seems there's no immediate compulsion to move, so we'd best gather our wits and try to figure out what's going on before we do anything.

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> Do not move, watch and listen.

The dominating object in your vision, and thus the dominating content of your mind for the moment, is the painting of the stars on the ceiling. It is a lovely rendition, and shows many more little points of light than you remember seeing in the night sky; nor do you recognise the shape of any constellation among them. Within a broad band that arcs across the entire portrait, the brushwork is so fine, and the points so minute, that though they are individual, they seem to light the blackness of space a faint, milky white. This phenomenon, too, is unfamiliar.

 

But you have seen the painting before; you have looked on it in this place of honour. The scent is familiar, a scent of ionone, you think. The cool air is familiar, though you don't recognise the way it sways back and forth in gentle breezes. The reverent quiet is familiar: no insect chirps in the murmuring leaves, or shrills and whines around your ears. The peace is perfect for recollection; you seem to remember voices, hushed, conversing on topics too vast to think about in the city outside, so loud, so vulgar, and so oppressive to the intellect.

 

Exact memories, however, are hard for you to lay hold of. Names, places, words, languages, images, descriptions, emotions, and meanings confound you with their great number and disorganisation. You are convinced that everything that ought to be present, is present, but without understanding of how they relate to each other or to yourself, they are utterly meaningless. The standing incentive to sort these out falling short of the incredible effort it would involve, you don't trouble your peace of mind too much about it.

 

It is far more pleasant to lie here and listen, and wait in peace.

 

Presently you hear the sound of little footsteps, pattering over the ground, trampling delicate leaves and stems, and quickly approaching.

 

> _

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:O Let's see how it unfolds :)

 

 

> Stand your ground, crouching slightly seeking whatever is making the noise

 

 

If it's something big that will pounce you, you are in a good position to move out of the way or if it is something peaceful, you are in a non-aggressive position :)

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> Stand your ground, crouching slightly seeking whatever is making the noise

In doing so, do you intend to stand up? You have no reason to believe anything is hiding you from view while you do.

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Alternate/Intermediate action:

> Get up.

 

Won't do to get caught off-guard, regardless of the intentions of the being approaching you.

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[[ As the participants have assured me that the conflict of interests was imagined on my part, I'll continue. ]]

 

=X=

{the court of spring}

 

> Get up.

You rise up, reasonably quietly, with a rustling of thick robes. You feel a little dizzy at the sudden motion, but it passes, and you gain a good impression of your surroundings as you stand.

 

The compass of these surroundings is a spacious hexagonal cloister, perhaps a hundred metres along each side. Clusters of tiny star-shaped flowers, more precious than precious stones, bloom from out the elaborate arabesques that run along the tops of the white marble arcade, and wrap around the top of each of its columns. The cloister encloses a garden of innumerable gold, white, and violet blossoms arranged in inscrutable designs, and six trees whose boughs are laden each with a different vibrant colour stand by the six corners. A path of stepping-stones meanders from a doorway secluded among the arches to the very centre of the garden, where the gazebo sits, carved of carnelian stone.

 

 

> Stand your ground, crouching slightly seeking whatever is making the noise

As you take your bearings of the visible world, you notice that the entire of the floor on which you rest has been defaced with a complicated arrangement of geometrical designs in fine lines of black ink. You cannot make out the meaning immediately, but it is clear that the wide circumscription, marked with carefully reinforced outlets at regular intervals, has formed the basis for the execution of a terrifically powerful magical charm, of which you were yourself the primary patient, resource, and means; that the four irregular triangles, if the letters within them are of great significance, are well placed for the restraint of one's four limbs; and that the detailed spirograph that binds the separate phenomena together still moves and crawls with microscopic forces. The purpose of the ritual cannot be immediately discerned, as your attention must be claimed by the final article of the tableau, who clambers eagerly over the balustrade, and greets you with a Shenkuuvian bow.

 

The little Aisha girl has a most cheerful manner, and a most disarming smile; everything about her, from her neatly curled pink wings, to the satchel hanging at her waist, to the polite attitude of her greeting, seems suitable to the character of a primary-school student. There are little black stains on the fingers of her left hand.

 

"It's good to see you're awake, Miss," she says, looking directly into your eyes. "I am called Caecilia Zhōu Dān Bǎo. I'm to guide you to the exit, Miss."

 

>_

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> Greet Caecilia.

 

You may not remember much, but the common sense you can gather upon awakening prompts you to act even the tiniest bit civilized.

 

(This is really interesting!)

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(This is really interesting!)

[[ Thank you. I hope we can keep it so, in that case. =]

 

(To clarify: Any one may answer the following.) ]]

 

 

> Greet Caecilia.

A suitable course. With what words do you mean to do this?

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We could just go with the tried and true, "Where am I?"... but where's the fun in that? xD

 

> "Hello, mmm... how do you pronounce that again?"

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> Greet Caecilia.

 

You have your wits about you, and have no especial objection to good manners; if a perhaps lesser degree of fidelity to them has shown itself in certain, extremely trying conditions.

 

> "Hello, mmm... how do you pronounce that again?"

 

The girl giggles. There is a slightly nervous sound to it, you think, as if she had expected something unpleasant in the cadence or timbre of your voice.

 

"It's Ca-e-ci-li-a, Miss," she answers smoothly, drawing a finger through the fur on her cheek; " 'ka·ɛ·tʃɪ·lɪ·ɑ. Altadorian, originally. Oh—or if you mean my Shenkuuvian name, it's Dān Bǎo, like a ruby, or a carnelian. That was probably what you meant, wasn't it, Miss?" She laughs, again. "An Altadorian name, a Shenkuuvian name—but no real name, not in here. And I'm pleased to meet you!"

 

"But," and here there is a little note of urgency, "if you please, Miss, we have to leave. You'll understand soon."

 

> _

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> Follow Caecilia, cautiously. Take stock of your surroundings as you go. And take a look at yourself too.

 

Just to make sure, since it doesn't seem like we were quite all here when we woke up.

 

As for following, well, staying here isn't going to achieve much I think.

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[[ Apologies for the delay. I have been working out some details.

 

edit: In the text below, "double-hissied" was an unfortunate byproduct of automatic word censorship. I originally meant something different. Bowing to necessity, however, I have invented a new meaning for "double-hissied" which should be consistent with Neopets lore. It is not particularly relevant, but - as a general rule - don't hesitate to put in a > question about anything that confuses or interests you. ]]

 

 

 

> Follow Caecilia, cautiously. Take stock of your surroundings as you go. And take a look at yourself too.

The girl nods at your assent. "Isn't it a wonderful thing to be free, Miss?" She turns, springs over the wall again, and begins to hurry through the garden, towards the shadowed archway. "Follow me!"

 

It seems you wo'n't be able to take quite such a leisurely pace as you hoped.

 

You take a moment to look over yourself. You are dressed in several layers of thick garments, outermost of which are a double-hissied coat with incredible trailing sleeves, and a sort of protective skirt tied around the waist by a belt: both faded with wear and callous laundering, but well-maintained in terms of their integrity and insulation. You might have had a cloak, also, but all that remains of it is a scrap of purple cloth clasped around your neck, ending in a jagged tear. Thank goodness for that—one could boil under so many layers.

 

Attached to a second belt are a cloth pouch and a book in burgundy leather; these appear to be, for now, your only possessions. You shall have to wait to examine their contents.

 

Which exit: through the entrance of the gazebo like an ordinary person, or through the second window to its right, like your suspect guide?

 

Which path: the scenic one by the stepping-stones, or the straight one through the flowers?

 

> _

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>Exit through the gazebo entrance, then cut through the flowers, keeping an eye on Caecilia.

 

Considering the slightly disoriented state we're in, it's probably best to not be clambering through windows, at least for the moment.

 

(Side note, I love interactive fiction, and this is awesome.)

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Side note, I love interactive fiction, and this is awesome.)

[[ Thank you very much. I don't have that much experience with the original genre, but its very existence is for many reasons a wonderful thing. =] I hope you wo'n't be disappointed, and that you'll continue to participate once choices become more varied. ]]

 

 

 

>Exit through the gazebo entrance, then cut through the flowers, keeping an eye on Caecilia.

You take your first steps since your awakening. You feel remarkably well, as if nothing more unfortunate has happened to you than going to sleep on a hard surface. (Certain parts of your back and tail still ache.) There are many things to question about your present situation, but no shortage of time, you are sure, to question them in.

 

The instant sunlight strikes your eyes, a low rumble begins from somewhere straight above you. (There was a proverb about the sound of thunder in clear skies; it's another thing you can't remember at the moment.)

 

The instant your foot touches the ground, the sweet scent in the air changes, and becomes bitter. (There was a meaning to yellow carnations. Not fascination, though that was one—a different meaning.)

 

A faint wailing starts up.

 

> [...]Take stock of your surroundings as you go.

The sky is darkening, and the courtyard is transforming.

 

The trees are shedding flower-petals like showers of tears.

 

The rumbling from the roof of the gazebo is growing louder.

 

A seamless slab of stone has fallen shut on the archway entrance—

 

No, only half-way shut. It is stopped by a curiously-shaped metal frame. Caecilia calls to you: "Hurry! Hurry!"

 

> _

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> Hurry.

 

Self explanatory. Sticking around at this point seems like a bad idea.

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Additional command:
> Stay alert.

 

While hurrying does seem like a good idea, tripping over something because we're not paying attention sounds like a bad one.

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[[ Again, I am sorry. I had forgotten how intractable verse can be, and have also been at work trying to identify the reason for numerous failings—not even very much failings of my prose itself, but of my ability to write at all. I have failed in this. I am quite vexed with myself.

 

That is quite enough about me, any way. I hope, as usual, rather more keenly that you will understand the below, than that you will receive the above.

 

Don't forget that you are free to ask questions about your surroundings, and to present multiple competitive ideas for discussion. ]]

 

 

> Hurry.

> Stay alert.

You begin to move before the thought enters your conscious mind. You run with your eyes fixed on the ground before you, and a strange terror pressing upon you from behind and above, and a dull sound like a war-drum pounding rhythmically in your ears. Beyond it there is a mounting roar, which masks the noise of your feet stumbling on the slick soil; and aside from that the faint, loathsome wailing that you hate most of all.

 

The sunlight has faded away, and eerie pinks and emerald-greens drift slowly or swirl swiftly over the delicate flowers and leaves. That wailing creeps onward through the air. It burrows through your head as you try to ignore it and burrows down your throat as you struggle for breath. It swells your brain with repulsive images and chokes your lungs with the instinct to scream. You can close your eyes, but not so your ears, and on your ears the voices utter vile things that you cannot understand. Their words are the words of a song.

 

“Where is Forgiveness, gentle and sweet?

When will return our messenger mild?”

 

But how sweet their voices are, resounding high and low, beyond the very straining of your ears, full of alien progressions and cadences, timed to the rapidly pounding rhythm of your heart!

 

“Trampled beneath a murderer's feet,

Mercy is robbed of her only child.”

The melody of continuous pitches and the words you do not understand spew out from the earth, and its shivering grains are filled with a roar that does not grow softer; the one rakes at your ears, and the other clutches for your heels, and strange light swims on the surface of your vision. Wasn't the shelter you sought only eighty-seven metres away? Surely you have endured long enough already?

 

“White-winged Pity, and Love lily-crowned

Went forth to answer a lost lamb's call.”

 

You are not yet half-way across. It is not with so little an effort that one can escape the gaze of the sky. What a vast, vast, dreadful sky! It curses you and you cannot answer.

 

“Sought for a lamb, but a murderer found,

Silent their song now, and deafened to all.”

Suppose that you press on, that you strive with all your being to escape. When will you turn back from refuge? How can you bear to confront something you have spent everything to avoid? How can that be prudence?

 

“What has become of Peace and his pride?”

“Succoured a murderer, sickened and died!”

You were almost there.

 

She blooms from a flower-stalk and rises in a spray of fantastic light. She is as tall as the spectre of fear, and the wrath of kings is engraved on her sculpted white face, and horrors of mercy are wrought in the grain of the shaft of the adamant spear whose two prongs sparkle in the secret light as she raises it to the sky.

 

“Heart of a murderer! harder than stone!”

“Justice is left with one way alone!”

High above her head she lifts it with her long marmoreal arm, clad in proud and glittering mail of black and hateful war. You do not understand, and if it really is hatred in her narrow pearly eyes the meaning of it is obscure to you. But in this moment there is no allowance for the extent of your knowledge. In this moment there are only the fay—the alien creature—who stands with firm grip ready to strike you down, and you, fleeing towards her in terror or in shame.

 

Perhaps in the bare nucleus of your present experience you will realise why it is possible to proceed, if it is indeed possible. You cannot achieve anything without a purpose, after all. Blind terror or urgency cannot drive you on.

 

“Spill blood! Spill blood! Spill, blood, spill!”

“Spill blood! Spill blood! Spill, blood, spill!”

Answer, then.

 

Why wo'n't you die?

 

And, if you wo'n't, what will you do?

 

> _

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> "Get out of my way! I'm in a hurry!"

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> "Get out of my way! I'm in a hurry!"

You are certainly desperate. Why, what for? Is it such a terrible thing to yield?

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>Stand your ground.

 

I don't think this creature is going to react well to threats. And while it seems that we're terrified and this might be an awful choice to make, sometimes it's necessary to face your fears.

 

 

(By the way, I think it's worth the wait. That was a fantastic passage.)

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Worth the wait indeed! ^_^

 

Regarding my previous command, I was mainly considering Caecilia's fairly pressing advice - regardless of obstacles, it doesn't seem like stopping would be a good idea considering what's going on around us. I just picked the most direct alternative I could think of. xD

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(By the way, I think it's worth the wait. That was a fantastic passage.)

Worth the wait indeed! ^_^

[[ I really shouldn't be taking so long. The fault falls mostly to my bad habits and lack of preparation, I think. Still, I should find my feet—sooner or later. I promise, at least, that I will be quicker about the next one.

 

The business with the question in the last post is also entirely my fault—I was far too vague in specifying what I wanted. The question "Why wo'n't you die?" really meant "provide a reasonable raison d'être for our character", and whether you could or (as I expected, given the few resources you had to work with) could not answer satisfactorily would have decided the result. At any rate, it would be silly to penalise you for an error on my part, so I wo'n't. Thank you for your patience. ]]

 

 

> "Get out of my way! I'm in a hurry!"

You cannot move. It is as if a tyrant force has fixed you in place, stopped your heart with a vice, compressed you into a single sliver of time. The fay's pearly eyes gaze at yours for instants upon instants, lustrous with immaterial visions. She looks at you as if there is something visible behind your eyes, inside your mind. She looks at you as if she were examining the crystalline heart of a rough gemstone, or scrutinising an old headstone for a name scraped away by the nails of time. Shafts of iron disturb the fog of meaningless memories inside your head, seeking a solid core.

 

They find nothing; time resumes; down comes the spear.

 

You feel its blow, and black shapes burst against your vision. You are pinned by your neck against the ground, like a stricken serpent. The two prongs are buried almost completely in the wet earth; you are firmly trapped between them, well able to heave and writhe and grind your muzzle against the dirt, but no more than that. Between the pain and the numbness you can hardly tell what is happening around you. The wind rushes furiously, and the earth shivers and quakes with the rumbling of her mighty wings vibrating. Now a hard heel digs into your spine, and the battle-choir swells, and the metal grip on your neck begins to shift.

 

"Brighter than bright are the poppies' red hues,

Blooming triumphant from barren despair!"

 

Louder and louder is the thunderous rumbling, like many metal boots tramping across the ground, like the tumultous beating of legions of pairs of wings as an army draws near. A babbling accompaniment like the shrieking of a child's voice is scarcely audible.

 

"The life of the lifeless their colour imbues:

How do they hope, then? What is their prayer?"

>Stand your ground.

You struggle to rise, or to free yourself. You struggle to calm the tightening desperation within you. You search your crumbling heart for a light that you can see by, rather than a light that confounds your eyes—for ground to stand upon, rather than the ground that is quaking and shifting and ready to swallow you up. You delve into the murk of random images and jumbled ideas and, like the fay that did the same, you find nothing. It is an endless emptiness, and nothing binds it together, nothing contains it, nothing gives it form, and within it there is not one mole of courage, not one pennysworth of bravery. You are a stone falling through mist.

 

If your memories of the past are a drifting fog, then your experiences of the present are a raging river. There is no understanding to be found in either, no certainty or resolution of what you are. Though your brain is choked with fear, your mind feels just as passive and removed as it has been since you woke up. It is as if, though the former struggles to live, the latter has settled its affairs, and just waits to pass on. Blind instinct cannot even split the earth or classify the invisible stars; therefore it is unimaginable that it could compel a disaffected soul to action. That sensation—of being severed from one's material nature—should disquiet you, but instead feels like a description of something from a book of alternative philosophy: a peacefulness beneath the idea of the self, you can imagine it being called. Perhaps it is the peace of immortality.

 

Your senses fade and become dull. You cannot see anything at all. You can hardly feel the force of the spear's prongs very slowly rotating your head to the side, and you can hardly hear the noise—that babbling voice—

 

You can breathe again.

 

Slowly your surroundings return. You spy the Aisha girl standing at the door, her eyes shut in concentration and her voice rapid and unintelligible, and you spy the tail of a creature of white foaming water gushing out from her shadow. Screams of laughter reach your ears out as you realise that you are free, and scramble to your feet.

 

"Under the chestnut slumber and wake,

Innocent martyr, child of the snake!"

 

An incredible force runs into you from behind and carries you bodily through the low opening under the half-fallen slab of stone. You feel the shocking cold of water, and the giddiness brought on by sudden motion, and then you are laid gently down on a solid surface.

 

"Whither escape you, guilty-of-none?

Vengeance shall teach you what you have done!"

 

=X=

As the rushing of water fades, there is a cacophony of bending metal and the doorway crashes shut behind you.

 

The sudden darkness is calm and still. Footsteps echo on the floor, and the soft panting of the Aisha's breath draws gradually nearer.

 

You rise up cautiously. You can just begin to make out around you an arched tunnel whose smooth walls are illuminated very faintly by the light of the opening at the far end. Both the floor and the walls are warm to the touch, but the silent flow of air along the tunnel is palpably cool and strangely odourless.

 

"I'm sorry if you didn't mean for me to do as I did, Miss," says Caecilia's voice by your right shoulder, slow and hesitant—"but I really did think—Søren did say—"

 

Her head is downcast, and as she shifts from one foot to the other, you notice a thing of metal hovering by her other side. While the details of it are not quite possible to discern, it is about as tall as she is, and formed from joined rods bent into the shape of the ankh, or staff of Qasala. The curved upper part and the intersections of the rods glow faintly red in the darkness. Though not visibly bound to anything, it follows exactly the motions of her arm.

 

"—It looked like trouble, Miss," she ends quietly, "so please pardon me for interfering."

 

> _

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> "You are a very talented young girl." o_O

 

Understatement. :P

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