Lucent had excavated all relics buried in the sand, made a funeral for his friends and burnt their bones at long last, aided Zahara in creating a monument to their souls... stalling again and again what he had to do. But now, he could not stall anymore, bringing the Circle before the doors of his tomb. "Well... I guess we have to go in. We have to see what is inside."
Varanim "It's traditional when grave-robbing to not stop before opening," Varanim agrees, though her tone is more mild than usual.
zahara "Lucent, do you truly want to know what lies inside?"
Cerin is apparently studying the door, and what lies beyond it.
Lucent "No. Yes. No. Well, more no than yes. But I have to."
As is quite common with Solar tombs from the First Age, the walls are thickly inlaid with disruptive Essence patterns and truly excessive quantities of magical materials -- Cerin's vision has little chance of making it through. (...)
The door reads much as it did before: "Here lies Lucent Copper Haze, blessed servant of the Solar Deliberative in its waning days. May the sun guide his path from here to eternity." And the date upon it remains resolutely wrong. (...)
Otherwise, it's a thick stone door, lined internally with red and white jade, with no obvious handle or method of opening.
Varanim Naturally, Varanim drips blood in her eye to check the view from the other side.
Lucent tries not to look at the date as he begins to test it with pushes of his aura. "Can you open it, Cerin?" A small push, sand moving in a whirlwind about him. "If not, I think I can try to bring it down... but with that many Magical Materials, I am not sure I can."
zahara "It is supposedly your tomb, Lucent. Try feeding it Essence?"
Varanim sees that the air around this tomb, in the world of Netheos, is unusually settled -- whatever natural disturbances there might be in the world of the dead seem here to be calmed by the geomantic design of the tomb, in order to grant the occupant a more restful sleep.
Varanim "Quiet," she notes, frowning a bit.
Cerin Cerin is not unduely perturbed by these facts about the door. He has opened many such doors in his life and generally they turned out to be a little more interesting than doors which did have obvious handles. He nods to Lucent, and then draws a small set of tools from his pockets. He also pulls out a rocket flower, for rivalry. After that, it's a simple matter to push some motes through the desert sand into the traces of white (...)
Cerin jade, and through the now burning rocket into the red jade and allow their natural competition to open the door for him.
The door slides roughly open to the left, revealing a rough stone stairway, leading downwards.
Lucent begins to shake almost imperceptibly... and strides in front of the rest of them without a word, going down the stairs and looking about for any murals, anything of the tale of his life that would say anything about the missing 400 years...
zahara exchanges a glance with the others, and then follows him down, looking about for anything that might attempt to kill them.
Cerin "Lucent, please show a little caution. The door is often considered the first, rather than final line of defence."
Lucent stops, a deep breath to put trembling under control "All the better that I be the first, no...?"
Varanim follows without speaking, gaze roving restlessly around though it strays back to Lucent more often than usual.
As if on cue, black jade blades spring suddenly from the walls next to where Lucent stands.
Cerin "If you don't rush on ahead, there is no reason for anything to be triggered at all," he says as he catches up with Lucent.
Lucent "WAIT!" As soon as Lucent sees the blades, his skin shining like adamant for a moment!
The blades bounce off Lucent's skin and retract once more.
Lucent takes a step back. "Sorry."
Varanim "Is that going to happen again?" says Varanim, which she feels is a reasonable inquiry given her lack of adamant skin.
Lucent "Probably. The sleep of the gold must be protected." He nods. "Cerin, Varanim, Zahara, any chance you can see them? Disarm them?"
Varanim "Not really," Varanim says, then frowns a little. "Hold on, I think I need my idiot twin for this." She turns away, rummaging in her bag.
Lucent breathes deeply, calming down. "Hmmm? Idiot... twin?"
Varanim takes a deep breath and arranges in her mind, like many layered pages held up against a light, the symbols and meditations that normally consume an hour of casting. For a moment a faint web of Essence is visible around her, strange twisting channels writhing through the air, and then she tilts her head back and swallows the silver fishhook she's just pulled from her bag. (...)
Varanim She sways on her feet and seems to diminish as her shadow writhes on the wall in the sudden blaze of Essence. Then she drops to her knees, jerks on the silver thread attached to the hook, and vomits out a mass of blood and sinewy black fluid into her shadow, which swells and then pushes itself upright, a translucent ebony copy of Varanim.
Varanim The original wipes a bit of blood from her mouth, coughs, and shifts over to sit against the wall with a wave of her hand and a sickly smirk. "You kids go on ahead," she says, then she closes her eyes and the shadow stands straighter.
Lucent That is all Lucent can do not to retch himself, trying not to look at the shadow as he takes one tentative step foward, close to Cerin.
Cerin looks ahead, down the stairway, which goes down a ways before splitting off into three different upwards-leading stairways, and sees what he might consider the usual array of tomb traps to snare the unwary: a spiked pit dropoff here, a falling boulder there, a spray of boiling-hot liquefied gold around the one corner, an instantly-deadly nerve poison coated on the handrailings around another....
zahara blinks. "Well that was new."
Shadownim spreads her inky hands. "One of these days I'm going to use this spell strictly as directed, and no one will recognize it." With that cryptic comment, and a lingering look at Lucent's turned back, she follows the others while her normal body stays behind.
Cerin "Please all follow me carefully," he says. And then he walked down the stairs, leading people around the spiked pit dropoff there, stopping momentarily to wedge the boulders triggering plate here. A brief pause to think and lead people around the fine web of essence that will cause molten gold to vomit forth, until finally he stands at the bottom of the three flights of stairs. "Touching the banisters is likely to prove (...)
Cerin spectacularly fatal unless you are unfazed by poisons." Then he tries to decide which way to go.
zahara pokes her hand at Nim's shoulder to see if it will go through.
With Cerin helpfully pointing out the traps, it's a little easier to advance safely, and within just a short time, they reach the landing at the bottom of the stairs. Here, they see, the stairways have been helpfully (?) labelled: "Loss," "Emptiness," and "Conclusion."
Shadownim feels pretty solid to Zahara, for an animated shadow.
Lucent steals a furtive, nervous glance at Varanim before looking up at the stairways, not furtive at all, but even more nervous, gaze darting from one to the other... until he decides. "Loss." He points.
Cerin sets off slowly to climb the stairs of Loss, avoiding touching the banisters and on the lookout for more traps of a mundane or magical variety.
The stairs lead upwards to a door, the word "Loss" emblazoned once more across it -- one which Varanim notices immediately has a necrotic energy embedded in it, one that would probably be rather sub-desirable for an alive person to touch.
zahara follows along behind, musing at how much better they've gotten at robbing tombs since the first ones
Shadownim "Wait," she says immediately.
Shadownim "Cerin. Do you do necrotic spike pits also, or should I take a look?"
Cerin "Oh? Yes, I was just about to ask you about what you thought that did. It's intended to be rather unpleasant, I imagine?"
Cerin stands aside to let the ghostly 'nim forward
Shadownim "Hm, for the living. Right now, I don't exactly qualify." She moves forward to touch the door.
On the dead side of the Shroud, the pattern seems almost inviting; certainly it has no sway over one who is already dead. There's an Essence lock in here somewhere, and Varanim is able to find it after a few moments of rooting around inside the door's innards.
Lucent ::Take care.::
Lucent whispers out. It was hard to watch even her shadow putting herself at risk...
Shadownim "Don't worry, worst case I'll be horribly rent asunder and snap back to my body like a piece of evil taffy," she says, answering Lucent's silent admonishment as she slips tendrils of Essence into the door. (...)
Shadownim Then she considers the outward form of the door, the symbolic ramifications of the "Loss" marking, and fuses those two schematics together in her head as she sends bits of Essence questing into the depths of the lock. A key that the dead need not fear, but the living must pay, which could be cheated by one straddling the line...
Shadownim As she concentrates, her forehead resting on the door, her free hand traces out the symbol for "Acceptance."
The door slides easily open, its lock sated by Varanim's carefully-chosen answer. (...)
On the other side of the door is a large chamber, perhaps fifty feet in cubical diameter. In the center is a dais, and on that is a black marble pillar, and on that is an elegant golden vase, and sitting within it is a single white flower, preserved by Solar magic these many long centuries. (...)
What is perhaps more notable, however, is the decoration of the walls: for mounted throughout them are circles of shining gold, and with each step the group take into the room, a few more of them wink out into darkness.
zahara looks around for anything written in multiple languages about how evil lies here, etc etc.
There are no words in this chamber, only the rapidly dwindling suns which, in quite a short time, have faded to nothing.
zahara "What do you think? Vaguely ominous?"
Cerin "Perhaps a little more than vaguely," Cerin remarks as he steps forward to study the flower.
Lucent looks away from the fading circle and at the white flower, trying to remember what that means.
Lucent "The Circles are the dwindling of the Solars." He notes, "When we stopped being reborn."
Lucent ::I-I am fine.::
Lucent "White was death, for us. It means someone died." He looks around. "Emptiness, now."
Shadownim turns her eyes on the room for the subtle traces that will tell what happened here, if it was more than the simple placement of a flower.
zahara paces forward guardedly, looking at the suns more closely
Varanim sees the events that occurred here quite clearly, as no one has been here since the tomb was first erected: mournful Kashaen leaders placing the flower, other lesser Exalts sweeping through and ensuring that the tomb has been built to proper specifications, and finally the door being sealed behind as they leave.
Shadownim "Left by mourning Kashaen, inspected, and then left in peace," she says briefly.
Shadownim ::...If you decide you're not fine, remember you're here with friends.::
Lucent "Just them?" He bit his lip. None of his friends. ::I said I am FINE.::
Lucent makes the way up the stairs to Emptiness.
The door, once again, is emblazoned with the word writ large, but this one seems to be protected differently: Cerin notes almost immediately that there appears to be a space-distortion effect in place, and anyone who passes through the doorway will wind up.... elsewhere.
Cerin smiles. The last time he had seen a trap like this had been the Auric Temple.
Lucent "Something wrong?"
Cerin "A minor essence distortion effect, intended to send trespassers ... elsewhere."
Lucent "... oh. Probably on the bottom of a volcano or the like. Can you stop this?" He looks at Zahara. "It may work like Sorcery, pehaps you could shatter it?"
zahara "I could try, yes. Unless you have a less explosive way, Cerin?
Cerin "I do, but it could take some time. Countermagic may be best."
Lucent takes one step back from the door, pulling Varanim away before realising he is touching a necromantic shadow and pulling his hand away.
Shadownim looks over at Lucent when he pulls away but says nothing, standing a little stiffly aside and waiting for Zahara to clear the way.
zahara nods and rolls up her sleeves. "Stand back, then," she says airily, and when they have done so she casts Adamant Countermagic with a word and a quick gesture
The space-distorting trap shatters with an audible "clink" and the door slides open. (...)
Shadownim ::You've got a lot of nerve, looking at me that way while you're wearing that armor.:: Varanim's mental voice to Lucent is flat.
Here, the room is quite different: black curtains hang on the walls, and numerous pillars rise up from the ground, of different heights and widths, and atop each one is a bowl, each unique, beautifully crafted in its own way, some tall and some short, some colorful and some plain... but all of them are empty.
Lucent ::I am still myself inside this, not a blob of necrotic Essence, tainted and shadowed.::
Lucent hovers his hand over the bowls... "Can you see their circumstances like you did before?"
Shadownim There is a brief pause, then Varanim says aloud, "I can see how they were left; anything else will take longer." And she turns her opaque eyes on this room as the last.
Lucent ::... sorry. Just... sorry. I am too nervous right now, can...::
Lucent ::... we just leave the armor topic for later?::
Lucent ::I swear I did not mean that, it is just hard for me to get used to... you, like that.::
Cerin examines the bowls, trying to determine how and when they were left.
Shadownim ::The topic, consider it left for later.::
The process here was quite similar to the other room, but here Varanim sees the person who was directing the motion of the Kashaen as they filled the room with the bowls: a shorter woman, with long silver hair, dressed in mourning clothes, who carefully directs the tribesmen as they go about their tasks.
Cerin's glance confirms for him that the date of the chamber's assemblage is, indeed, that listed on the outer door.
Cerin "There was a woman here, with long silver hair. She wore the clothes of mourning as she directed the placement of these bowls."
Shadownim "Hm. The dates seem to match," Varanim adds with a brief look to Cerin to see if he concurs.
Lucent "Hmmm. I... never knew anyone with silver hair. Who would be here, like that."
Lucent "Any clue to who that was?"
Cerin nods to the ghostly 'nim
Cerin "I am not sure," he says, as he considers the signs she has left, what kind of a person that would be, almost stepping into her head.
Lucent ::I did not mean that. Trust me. I am just... nervous.::
Cerin gets glimpses, little fragments of the woman's intent: following the instructions that had been left to her to the last detail, keeping a secret. Her presence was calming to the Kashaen, though they knew not her real purpose here. She made very carefully sure to get every last part right.
Shadownim ::If you want to drop a subject, Lucent, it's customary to stop picking it up.::
Lucent ::Not the armor, but how I reacted to you. Think... nothing of it, please?::
Cerin "She was here to make sure that everything was done correctly. Very correctly. Though quite what her purpose in doing that was, I cannot be sure. It was not for perfection's sake."
Lucent "So there is a purpose here beyond being simply a tomb!" He announces triumphantly.
Shadownim ::It would be best if you didn't try to instruct me in thinking.::
Shadownim A brief pause, then, ::I'm sorry. Let's talk later, all right? I can see that I'm upsetting you.::
Shadownim Aloud, she says, "It occurs to me there's something upstairs that bears checking. Scream really loud if you all run into trouble, okay?"
Lucent ::I was not... sorry, just... I did not mean to hurt you. I do not want to hurt you!::
Lucent "Will do..."
Shadownim ::Later. Lean on your friends, Lucent. That's what they're for.::
Lucent ::You are one. You are MORE than one! I will be waiting...::
Lucent "So, time to go to the last one." He nods. "And see what manner of FRAUD this place is!"
Cerin "Likewise, Varanim. And do be careful on the stairs."
Shadownim "Don't worry," she says to Cerin, in a cheerful tone that's a little eerie from the animate shadow. "I have great lungs for girlish screaming." She waves and pads out.
Lucent ::Be careful. Please.:: Lucent walks out, towards 'Conclusion'.
This door is about twice the size of the other two, falling as it does in the middle-most of the three stairwells, and it's quite clear to Cerin almost immediately what this door is looking for: a specific flavor of Solar Essence.
Lucent "Well, what is the horrible doom in THIS one?"
Cerin "The truth, I suspect."
Cerin "It awaits your essence."
Lucent "Waiting for the next incarnation?" Light blooms out of him, the glass-like light covering them all as Lucent presses his palm to the door and closes his eyes. "I am here. Let me in."
The door slides open soundlessly, and the contents await the Solars likewise. (...)
At the center of the room, risen up from the floor, is a golden sarcophagus, an unmistakably familiar face visible in the bas-relief design. (...)
zahara watches quietly.
What is perhaps more interesting, however, is the decoration of the walls, spread out in a great triptych of brilliant golden leaf on black rock: (...)
On the left, the image of a vast dragon, its maw dripping, tearing itself up from the Earth itself, which shatters in its wake -- and far above, in the sky, a single star foretelling its arrival; (...)
Lucent looks up, confused.
On the right, endless waves of thorny vines, choking the landscape and all that lives upon it -- all emenating from what looks to be the emblem of the Twilight castemark, with a tiny bite taken out from the center; (...)
And in the center, seven figures, rendered in gold, though their forms are abstract: three turn to face the dragon to the left, three turn to face the dragon to the right, and one raises up an infant in its arms. (...)
Looking carefully, one can see that the sarcophagus seems to be looking up at the center diagram with approval.
zahara "Well. That looks just great."
Cerin "Fine craftsmanship," he nods in agreement to Zahara.
Lucent "What... is that all about? I never saw... never went through anything like it."
zahara shakes her head a little. "Is that a different dragon about to destroy the world?"
Cerin "This might not be things that you have done, but things that you have yet to do. The dragon and vines both appeared in my visions from the Orrery. And the twilight seal took an important role in Spring's visions from the Cathedral of Dead Stars."
Lucent "So you are saying that they had a vision of what my next incarnation was to accomplish, and left it here as a guide?" He nods to Cerin. "Which means it is something I have to do. That we have to do." He nods. "An evil twilight, vines, a dragon, a child..."
Cerin "That is a possible interpretation, yes. Otherwise I cannot think who the dragon might be."
Lucent "Hmmmm." Lucent is taken from the murals to look down at... his sarcophagus.
The image he sees is clearly his own face, wrought carefully in gold, though he is portrayed wearing no glamorous grave-goods: no fancy armor, no carefully placed weapons... merely a traditional burial robe, as any Kashaen elder might wear at their own funeral.
Lucent "I am me." He touches the sarcophagus. "I am real. This is a fake."
zahara notes Lucent's attention and says "If a primordial essence leaps out of there and flies off into the sunset I am going to be incredibly irritated."
Lucent repeats like a mantra as he pushes it open, with the help of the armor, as if it was paper
But all that is inside the sarcophagus is exactly what one might expect to be within the sarcophagus of an exhumed Solar tomb: an ancient skeleton.
Lucent gazes into its hollow eyes.
Lucent "No Primordial Essence."
zahara "Maybe it's stuck inside the bones! YOU DON'T KNOW!"
Cerin examines the bones, both for primordial essence, and more practically, for signs of how and when their previous owner died. He also checks for solar essence, because he's not entirely sure that will be there.
Cerin stares down at the bones, and there's no mistaking it: these are the bones of a Solar Exalt, killed in the year shown upon the door, in battle: and not just any Solar Exalt, for the bones that he is looking on perfectly match, in every respect, those currently sitting inside the young Zenith standing beside him.
Lucent "Then Cerin can devour it, we see it is all a big fake, and go home." He answers, hopeful.
Cerin "Hmm. How odd."
Lucent "Evil primordial Essence?"
zahara "That didn't work LAST time." She points this out while eyeing the bones
Cerin "These are definitely your bones, Lucent. And the date upon the tomb is accurate."
Lucent "... no, they are not. I am here. I am alive. I am real. I... am."
zahara "Perhaps someone copied you. Or you have a twin!"