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  #271  
Old 07-29-2019, 01:07 AM
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Ezechiel returns a hand beside him to squeeze Cerdwen's hand. The place is no less foul and unsettling, but he lends his strength to steady her all the same. Saving a brief smile for her, he listens to Hubert's findings with some piqued interest. 'Gray made it here?' he wonders to himself. Even if they may have another piece of a puzzle, the puzzle itself remains no less baffling to the shadowbane.

The others exchange some words while he is lost in his thoughts. Lifting his head up near the end, Ezechiel shrugs. "Reasonable precaution or no, a fairly safe bet that the inscription is not any instruction manual for that purpose, worthy goal or no." Looking among everyone, he poses the next pertinent question, "So, are we decided on staying the night - elsewhere, of course - to give Hubert the chance to make better sense of the journal?" Even if only to discuss that new verse, the friends need a chance to confer alone.

 
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  #272  
Old 09-23-2019, 11:50 AM
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The Marquis, Thomas, and Shar are unwilling to allow the trinket hunters to leave the dig site to review the journal but concede to leave the ritual chamber and retire to the office where they first met. The threat of cave collapse is still high on everyone's mind, and it appears even Thomas and Shar are forced to stay below. The Marquis' paranoia extends even to his own. Everyone is a prisoner here.

Hubert and Ceridwen, with brief insights from Ezechiel who's memory of his previous life strengthens the longer he spends in Nevermore's Lair, spends the night consulting the journals, every personal note made on their travels, and every scrap of gathered knowledge or inference in the Nevermore lore. Many questions remain, but with as much certainty as they can muster, the Trinket Hunters are certain there are two separate rituals, but only one is original. Thomas was incorrect in the idea of having a 'kill switch' and the second ritual is based on Nevermore's original script. The second was developed amid Vargas' insane ramblings in the journal. Who or what influenced his mind is uncertain. Where the original ritual is designed to return Nevermore to his mortal form, the second is a reverse-engineered, hijacked version of the original magic. The intent is clear: to avoid Nevermore's return. The exact outcome, or if it would even work, is impossible to guess.

The group has a few final choices to make. They can play with fire and hope the mad insights of a lunatic and attempt the modified ritual. The risk of returning Nevermore anyway is present, as is being destroyed or corrupted by the ritual. But the reward is great, they could have some assurance they've rid the world of the worst evil it has experienced in recorded history. Or, they can call Pretelsworth's bluff and flee the dig-site with their knick-knacks and any they can take from Shar and Thomas. If they're wrong, they'll be buried alive with only the consolation of knowing the Knick Knacks will be unreachable for however many decades, centuries, or millennia it takes for someone else to find their tomb. If they're lying, the group could leave with their knick-knacks, and any they can take off the Marquis, and try to find another way to destroy them, or scatter them and protect them from ever being found again; hopefully being more successful than to simply delay the problem another generation or two.
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Last edited by DraconigenaArma; 09-23-2019 at 11:50 AM.
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  #273  
Old 09-30-2019, 01:19 PM
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Their research reveals some answers but leaves the group with yet more questions. This ritual smacks of a double edged sword. One edge might finally snip the last thread of the tyrant threatening their realm. The other edge, even if only a remote chance of freeing the tyrant, lends a uncertain possibility of incalculable magical side-effects. The party is beside itself with indecision.

However, the find of Gray's latest verse dangles a separate avenue before them. Their chatter about it is difficult, what with trying to keep that secret from the marquis & company. The shadowbane decides something. Leaning in to Hubert and Scarlet, he whispers to keep the villainous trio busy. Ezechiel stands up and stretches a little. He says, "Ceridwen and I are going to walk a little." He inclines his head toward the door leading deeper inside, down toward Nevermore's lair. "Hubert, feel free to continue on that one section without us." He exchanges a glance with the skeptical Dwen as if telepathing some voiceless assurance.

Passing through the doorway, the pair continue onward. It is not until long past hearing range that Ezechiel breaks the silence. "We're caught with a gamble of a ritual and find ourselves at the impasse. I thought we could try something different." He glances back. "After that new verse, it seems as good a time to see if we can do anything with it. I figured that you would want to be here." Taking a deep breath, the couple enter the oppressive room.

The shadowbane peaks back the way they came to make sure they were not followed. Helets out a breath through the cloying air. "If the tablet is here, odds are Gray was here. Like you saw in that strange walled room in Cambridge, there were candles in front of that first tablet. And the verses seemed to emphasize that." He gathers a pair of candles from their nigh bottomless pack. Lighting them, he sets them about a doorway's span apart on the floor. "I'm not a mage nor a scholar, so I'm open to suggestions. But sometimes, simple is a good way to start." He stands before the the candles, flickering pitifully in the gloom. His clawed hand grips Dwen's tenderly. With another breath of the thick air, the shadowbane intones.
 


 
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  #274  
Old 09-30-2019, 02:50 PM
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When they leave the room to proceed deeper into the dig site they are left to their own devices. Since they monitor the way up the great chasm, their enemy sees no harm in letting them roam. Thomas, the most skeptical of all, is the easiest to convince. The obsequious agent is invested in finding a solution to the problem holding his own life in the balance. With much of the old castle now a ruin destroyed and little besides their pathway to the ritual chamber excavated finding their destination without an escort is no challenge. Inside the room is as it was before, the stillness of antiquity making the trio feel like intruders. Nothing has moved since their recent visit. Even the air itself seems to resent the imposition them moving it with their presence presents.

Setting the candles against a spot on the wall, doorway distance apart, Ezechiel recites the words they've spent much of the last year, the lives of friends, and countless emotional units of strife gathering. The poem itself implies instructions, and all the directions are met. Candles laid out in a room buried from the passage of time, apart from the night and day. As Ezechiel begins nothing special happens, even by the end of the first verse it's just a man and a woman in a dark room lit by two candles muttering rhyme. The longer he talks, however, the more still the room becomes. Even in a place as silent as the ritual chamber, both are overcome by the sense the world around them I drifting away. The light dims and something fundamental about the world shifts underneath them. By the fourth verse, the frame of a shadowy doorway begins to appear between the candles. The doorway isn't set into the wall, as the wall no longer exists. Images come into hazy focus beyond the doorway. An abstract, heavy brush-stroked landscape of things as difficult to focus on and identify as the words the poem he's speaking was written in. When he finishes all that remains for Ezechiel and Ceridwen is a doorway to the unknown and two candles, lighting a pathway discernible only as far as the small ring of candlelight reveals. Both feel compelled to walk the path, but both are certain they are missing something. They both know in their gut they're supposed to bring with them something of importance, though neither can determine what.
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Who is truly a hero?
One who will lay down his life for his friend. Not for millions, not for glory, not for fame. For one person. In the dark, where no one will ever know or see.

Last edited by DraconigenaArma; 09-30-2019 at 02:50 PM.
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  #275  
Old 10-11-2019, 01:55 AM
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At the notion of a walk, Ceridwen moves to join Ezechiel, barely needing his reassurance. She hates the place they're in, and the people they're with, and the risk they're putting the trinkets at, and the way the situation is being handled... But she is only one person, and she's annoyingly aware of the fact that the last months have morphed her into the most hot-headed of the group.

Barely through the door with Ezechiel, Dwen asks, "Are you sure we can't just kill them?" the tiny smirk on her lips belying the weighted solemnity of her voice. Quickly the timbre of her voice reverts to its usual cocky humor, and she adds quietly, "I think I'd happily settle for just Shar."

Ceridwen's humor is short lived, and is crushed quickly as they move farther down the passage, back toward the place she least wants to ever revisit. She can't help dragging her feet as they go, but as she falls back, she reaches out for Ezechiel and hurries to catch up. A thousand fears and miseries prickle at her mind, and she's thankful for the distraction when her husband speaks again.

As his plan becomes clear to her, Ceridwen gapes like a fish in response, torn between indignation at the thought that he might have tried it without her, terror at what certainly seems to be (another) potentially soul wrecking ritual, and the shock of suddenly finding herself at the trailhead she wasn't sure they would ever find.

Never Quit. I am waiting. Never quit. I am waiting... Gray's last written words begin a chant in her head, and all she can do is close her mouth and nod.

Mark the road and measure it right... Does that only mean placing the candles? Measure it, as... Measure it by what? Three score miles and ten... But Gray left in a room smaller than this. Get there by candle light... gods, what if the candles burn out? Is that why Gray didn't come back? Or did he mean to? What if...
Having no suggestions to add to the mysterious and potentially incomplete ritual, Dwen only quotes the line that is currently sticking in her head, "Many have gone to Predawn, but few come back again."

Even with her obvious apprehension, with the candles set and lit, she doesn't hesitate to take Ezechiel's hand and stand with him, her voice following his. She had to go. She had to find Gray... And with Ezechiel with her, she wasn't even sure if she cared if she never came back. As the uncanny doorway forms, showing the way down an impossible path, Dwen squeezes Ezechiel's hand and mutters, "Zeke...?" but the temptation is too strong to wait for any answer or reason, and she steps onto the path.
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  #276  
Old 10-14-2019, 01:22 PM
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The shadowbane is surprised and mesmerized by the portal appearing. Amid his distraction, Ezechiel feels a pull on his hand. Looking to the side, he starts. "Dwen, wait!" he says. He clings and pulls her back as if afraid to lose her in the strange magics. His tail slips around their held hands. "You feel it, don't you? We're missing something. 'Few come back again,' like you said. We need to make this trip count." He looks around and mutters aloud, "Bringing a candle with us? Should we have the journal with Hubert?" He spies the tablet with morphing script, right where Hubert left it. He parts from Dwen briefly, though his tail lingers longer on her wrist. He picks up the tablet, risking a glance at the headache-inducing script. "Think this might be it?"

 
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  #277  
Old 10-15-2019, 02:21 PM
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Dwen squeaks as she's hastily pulled from the threshold of the magical portal. Keeping her attention on the mysterious path, Dwen answers, "It doesn't matter. It's probably just another defense..."

As Ezechiel muses about what they may need to take with them, Ceridwen sighs and returns her attention to him. We can't bring the journal. If we don't come back, the others may still need it. You know, we could take the artifacts. They'd most likely never be found again... but with such a primal magical force, that might not be a good idea, either. I don't think we should call any of the others, either... again, on the chance that we don't return. Our world will still need them."

As Ezechiel picks up the tablet, Dwen shakes her head. "It can't be. If it were, we would be missing a verse... or eight... which I suppose we might be, anyway... at least the one that Gray took with him. He must have been at least somewhat successful on his journey, judging by his manipulation of Arcos' key. Besides, we found the first verse beside his doorway."

Closing her eyes, Ceridwen turns the verses over in her head again, desperately trying to recall the thorough education Gray had given her. She saw clearly the purpose of his interest in folklore now, but those days seemed lifetimes ago, and she struggles to recall Gray's methods of impartial analysis, teasing the significance out of any simple tale. Of course it's significant, it's the simplest ritual magic, not some nursery rhyme, but...

"I don't think time moves the same way on the other side. It can't possibly, not if the road is three score miles and ten, that would take us, what, three days, moving quickly? Perhaps two at a very determined pace. It says it's outside of here and there, and day and night... so that tracks. The place has its own rules, if we can go and return in the hours it takes for the candles to burn down. It also says that the way to Predawn is three score years and ten... The journey may seem a lifetime to us. If you travel in need and travel light...," she quotes, "So we go as the sorriest of supplicants. We should take candles, yes. And the most basic of supplies. Food and water, and the most rudimentary shelter. It makes sense in the context of a ritual, I think. We leave everything else and hope that the road provides us with anything else we need. We need to go, and quickly. I don't think it would be a good idea to leave the doorway open to anyone who might come by. Besides, the candles. They're burning lower every moment."
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–John Steinbeck

Last edited by MagicallyMusing; 10-15-2019 at 11:31 PM.
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  #278  
Old 11-11-2019, 03:57 PM
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Ezechiel sets the tablet back down at her response. He hums thoughtfully as a claw taps his chin as he looks down. "Not certain about a poorer habit. We already travel rather light."

He glances up. "You may be on to something with the trinket bag, Dwen. Maybe just a feeling, but let's go check on Hubert. We can say that we want to test a reaction if an explanation is needed. But I'd rather avoid tendering one to our hosts." With that, the shadowbane moves back toward the hall. He does voice but eminently feels relieved to leave the oppressive room.

 
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-G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles (1909), XVII: "The Red Angel"
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  #279  
Old 11-18-2019, 08:00 PM
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Hubert doesn't look up when the duo returns at first, continuing to focus on the journal trying to understand the second ritual exactly did. He partly wonders if the artifacts themselves were meant to fill in some of the gaps he was seeing. A moment later though, he looks up and is updated by the others on what had happened with the door. "Interesting," he says, looking back at the journal. He wonders if they might be able to modify the 2nd ritual to make use of the poem. Having a certain outcome would be better than an uncertain one even if there was a chance someone else might stumble upon the poem in the future. However, he objects to the idea of sending one of the artifacts they have through the door. "I don't think that is a good idea, bringing only some of the artifacts could prevent us from being able to complete any ritual on this side of the door and the others would ask what happened to it. However, this does give me an idea that we could potentially make use of it in the ritual; that we are modifying it to produce a better result. If you do want to see what will happen if something is sent through it, mmmmmmm, we do have that cursed mask in the bag that isn't an artifact."
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  #280  
Old 01-02-2020, 02:01 PM
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Keeping his voice very low, Zeke leans into Hubert's ear. "Worst case scenario, we are lost with the artifacts. Regrettable, yes. Yet then, they cannot be used to restore the tyrant, and he remains trapped forever. Best case scenario, we come back with them to our same predicament but perhaps wiser. There seems no greater risk to the world if the trinkets disappear." His eyes dart surreptitiously toward their hosts. "I can't see a real downside other than the obvious risk to ourselves. Let us try this, Hubert," he encourages.

 
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  #281  
Old 01-04-2020, 08:27 PM
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Dwen rolls her eyes at Ezechiel's comment about traveling light, but makes no response. Zeke might travel light, she muses as she crouches down to one of the candles holding open the magical doorway, But I have all manner of things in my pack not directly related to survival.

She leans over the candle, intending to blow it out, but freezes, her mind caught in a cyclical conflict like a bear trap.
Better to let it burn... there's no telling what could happen if the portal is left open and unattended. Even with those bastards occupied, disarmed and shackled physically and magically, I wouldn't trust them as far as... But if we close the portal, there's a chance we won't be able to open it again... Hell's bells, I should just go in, and Zeke can do what he pleases about it... But the candles have already been allowed to burn down while we stood here and bickered, every second could count... But I could finally find Gray and give him a few pieces of my mind. Maybe I could even bring him back, and if we can't open the portal again, I'll never forgive myself... But we can't leave the portal open without purpose, there's too much potential for harm... taking one last quick glance at the open portal, she quickly blows out the candle, worried that if she hesitates at all, she'll lose her resolve.

Already regretting the decision, Dwen scoops up the candle, pours the melted wax into the corner of her jacket, and moves quickly to do the same with the other, finishing by sweeping her foot over the area to scatter the dirt, not even wanting to leave an imprint of where the candles stood. Her heart in her throat, she follows Ezechiel out of the oppressive chamber without looking back.
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  #282  
Old 01-06-2020, 08:57 PM
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"I don't disagree that sending the artifacts though the door is inherently a bad idea," Hubert clarifies lowering his voice as well, "What I'm suggesting is that if we do it then it should be done with all the artifacts and not just the ones that we have. If we can't come back with ours, we risk a break down in the little cooperation we have preventing us from being able to secure the others. Even if the tyrant can't be restored, we've seen the damage even one of these artifacts can do on their own. We can always send ours through the door at anytime, we need to be careful if we want to ensure we can send all of them through." He pauses for a moment to ease the tention then continues, "If we make the poem part of the ritual aimed to prevent Nevermore's return, then that is our best chance to send all of them through the door at the same time."
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