Varanim clatters in the direction of the catacombs, following the Professor's directions. Her senses are out sharp, and as she goes she mulls over what she saw of the Essence interloper. As a thought strikes her, she tries something she hasn't previously--looking into the shadowlands from inside the gem, to see if that's even possible.
The shapes within the gemstone are hazy and indistinct; it's hard to get a good sense of even exactly where you are, without one of the denizens guiding you around. Eventually, the trail leads through one more indistinct hallway and ends before a square grating set into the floor. (...)
Standing in front of the grating, Varanim attempts to shift her vision, casting it across the Shroud and into the world of Netheos... The edges of the vague world around her flicker away to reveal a blasted grey landscape of swirling emptiness -- what passes for an equivalent "location" in the world of the dead.
Varanim is willing to wander a bit to get where she's going, letting her mind adjust to the contours of the puzzle and shifting around the scant clues in her head as she walks. On a hunch, rather than shifting her vision back before opening the grate, she instead reaches for it with her soulsteel arm, across the Shroud.
Her hand grabs on to a grating with a satisfying, metallic CLAAAAANG.
Varanim After a brief, uncharacteristic moment of wondering whether she should have company for this trip, Varanim pulls firmly on the grate.
It comes open easily under the force of her incredible arm, and a panoply of sensory delights, from auditory (low metallic groans and tiny ripples) to olfactory (the stench of rotting), dimmed by the strange muted quality of the gemstone but still quite noticeable, seem to flow out -- odd, given that the grate didn't actually cover the hole, exactly....
Varanim Frowning as the unexpected wave of impressions washes over her, Varanim narrows her eyes and looks around more carefully, inspecting for traces that might tell her more about the circumstances of the grate's sealing.
The grating -- indistinct as is everything else, but rough and ancient in appearance -- is set into the ground beneath it with a set of large metal hinges. The dust of ages surrounds the grating, but underneath just a thin covering of it is a hard rock surface, into which is carved a circular, interweaving pattern of Old Realm characters that are set around the grating:
"As a wolf amongst the sheep, here, that which goes amongst the living; as a rock plunged into the ocean, here, those who rest beyond even death."
Varanim "Huh," says Varanim. She perches there for a minute, hands resting loosely on her knees as she broods down at the inscription. Then she swings lightly down into the opening.
The catacomb below is dark -- deep grey, like a fresh eel or a wet slate -- and, Varanim notes with interest, entirely identical in appearance in both the living world and the dead. It's cut at strange angles, bending and shifting slowly downwards in odd 75 degree bends, its odd geometricity somehow amplifying the strange sounds and smells of the tiny catacomb space.
Varanim tilts her head, senses reaching for the source of the sounds and smells that leaked out above, and walks further in.
The catacombs slip downwards. The Professor stands quite nervously next to Varanim as she presses downwards. "I'm not sure that this is an advisable course of action," he adds warily. "Whatever it was that we've been seeing, it knows these tunnels ar better than we do."
Varanim "But it could have eaten us already," Varanim points out. "And this is really interesting. Why would this place need a shadowland? You lot are already dead. So whose bones were paved over to make way for the hearthstone?"
Varanim "If you'd like, I could mouth something about how I, chosen of the Sun, will protect you. It would be really hilarious if you believed me."
"I... I don't know!," he says, with the tone of someone saying something exceptionally difficult to say. "The Manse was already built when I showed up!"
Varanim "Right, well, I understand it's a novel experience for you, but for some people, when we come across something we don't know, we try to FIND OUT about it."
Varanim counts turns and eyeballs distance, estimating whether they've come full circle on the descent yet.
It seems that they've circled around a few times, and probably gone down about fifty feet from the starting point for good measure.
Varanim "By the way, how many sun eater cults do you know of?" Varanim keeps walking, listening for sounds that they're getting closer to... er, something.
The professor starts to count on his fingers. "....four? Maybe five, depending on the specifics of your criteria."
Varanim "One of the pack up there has a shadow biting into his caste mark, and now there's a similar mark on the acutal sun. They're all aflutter about it. Anything familiar?"
"Hmmm," he says, glad for the momentary intellectual distraction. "There were the Bitten Suns, although they were an extremely minor sect. And the Dark Swallowers, but I'm not sure if the iconography fits. Although..." (...)
Jardis' reverie is suddenly and shockingly broken by the sound of the the black-cloaked creature barrelling down an intersecting hallway towards them, bellowing DOOOOOOOOM in the process.
Varanim "Hold still." Varanim's lips thin with annoyance, and she snaps several short syllables that curdle on the ear, ending by raising her left hand and making a fist with a clang. Her cast mark blazes as the floor erupts with grasping skeletal hands.
The hands grab and yank at the creature's spinning cloaks, dramatically slowing down its approach, though in no way halting its horrific moaning. (...)
The Professor chooses this moment to spook, and runs headlong back the way he came, hands waving comedically about above his head.
Varanim "Why do you have my face inside you?" Varanim asks the creature, not really expecting an answer as she considers her next spell.
"ALL BEINGS SHALL PERISH! ALL SHALL BE CONSUMED!"
Varanim "Boring. Try another one." Varanim cups her hands together and breathes into them, then silently mouths a few words. A pearly wisp of light coalesces in her hands, and she hefts it for a moment before lobbing it at the creature.
Varanim "Now, let's find out if you're really dead, or just in drag." Varanim pauses for a moment, fingers caging the ball of light as she watches the flickering passage of the cloaks. An instant before a small gap should open, she flings the spell into the center of the creature.
The tiny light of Lethe flings towards the creature's center, tugs on its cloaks for a moment, grows bright and brilliant for a brief moment... and then gutters out.
Varanim As it gets closer, Varanim laces her fingers together and inverts her hands, knuckles a-cracking, until the palms face up. She sincerely hopes she'll live through the next few minutes to see what passions pull this thing.
The creature's black cloaks spin even faster as it draws near to Varanim's location, and as they stretch out the edges become jagged black daggers that strike out rapidly at her casting form.
Varanim twists and ducks in the face of the onslaught--not like a dancer, exactly, but perhaps like someone who has spent many hours compiling the statistically most advantageous motions of combat, and fused those equations into Essence and flesh. She grins around the words of the spell, dodging through the ember streams of her own anima.
Varanim "Tell me," Varanim demands as her spell catches the first of the creature's threads.
In the air around the creature, Varanim sees the beginnings of a ghostly vision coalescing around the creature: the sight of her manse, from whence the gemstone originates.
willows left the room.
Moments later, a sharp rain of icy spikes begins to rain down on her from the rapidly spinning, icy air around the black-cloaked creature.
Varanim "Goddamn academics--they'll give tenure to anyone," Varanim grunts as she steps closer to the creature, actually spinning under one of the whirling cloaks to gain some shelter from the icy rain.
The clouds around the creature shift and turn again, forming the ghostly image of a shapely woman, her features almost impossible to make out except for one: her brilliant green lips.
Varanim "We have to stop meeting this way," Varanim says to the vision as she melts backward, away from the creature's cold interior.
The spinning wave of black cloth begins to wrap around itself and twist into a vicious, jagged drill that bites out towards Varanim.
The edges of the cloak bite into Varanim's shoulder with a harsh, cold edge, and a plume of steam rises up from the wound.
Varanim "Dammit!" Varanim runs the odds in her head, lightning-fast, and the answer is clear. She pulls her hands apart, breaking the spell, and flips backward in retreat.
The beast follows her for a long, worrisome moment, but eventually breaks off down an alternate hallway.
Varanim "Later," Varanim mutters grimly after it, then heads for the surface and eventually the outside world.
At the grating to the catacombs, Varanim runs into a surprising arrival: the Dry Land Crocodile, a rather sizeable machete in one hand, and the Professor, hiding as much as possible behind his rather sizeable body.
"....Oi," is all he says.