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"...keep your guard up. There's humans ahead."

You are Father Richard Anscham, leader of the Church of Mercy. The year is 605, and in your home- the country of Corcaea- the souls of mankind belong to demons.

Having traveled far from your church, far from civilization, you are now deep within the ruins that cover the land. You initially sought a cure for humanity: a cure for the Catalyst. Beset by demons most foul, you were taken from the clutches of death and into the welcome embrace of Mercy. The Goddess has asked you to postpone your search, professing that the only cure to the Catalyst is death. Rather than leave you in the darkness, She has entrusted you with a divine mission: to obtain a Relic that will heal your pain, and the pain of so many others.

Mercy has not been your only ally in your journey. The Gods are with you, Father Anscham, and you are accompanied, as always, by your faithful mastiff, Ray. The two women who have saved your life now travel with you as well. Ofelia and Celegwen seek both fortune and knowledge as they journey with you, but they have not yet faltered in aiding your divine calling.

You and your companions now approach a font of answers, in a towering underground library. Humanity lurks within the darkness. How will you mend the wound within the souls of mankind? Will you find reason through the impending madness?

Archive (First and Second Thread): http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/archive.html?tags=catalyst+quest
Discord (Update notifications, art, music, etc.): https://discord.gg/24cmNWp
Father Anscham's Journal (Inventory and Observations in Prayer): https://postimg.cc/XGDnGQWp
Thread Theme: https://youtu.be/w7Go8dmREhM
stealing first post, great to see this live again
The sight and sound of the imps trailing you has long since vanished. Darkness consumes the path ahead, which you cannot discern even with Celegwen illuminating your faces. The elf's staff seems to devour the darkness around it, but provides little in the way of sight. The only forms you can make out beyond yours and your companions is a towering building on the horizon, its outline cutting through the shade. If you squint, you can discern buildings further beyond, but they are of little concern. You have suffered much to get to your destination. You don't want to get distracted now.

It feels as if you all have been walking for hours in the darkness. The barely perceptible weight of the few torches remaining in your pack is a harsh reminder of how far your resources have dwindled. You're reminded as well of how much you've been through. You'd thank Celegwen and Ofelia for aiding you as much as they have, but you're afraid of making a sound. The abyss of darkness leering around you is punctuated frequently by hysterical screaming, sobbing and laughter from the buildings ahead. It can't be from a single individual, as the voices wildly differ.

Your body aches. The burn in your limbs and lungs from running for your life, marching forward without pause, praying to multiple deities within the span of a few hours, and the stress of your current situation bears heavily on your emaciated frame. Still, you press on, nudged occasionally by your faithful hound, Ray. The mastiff has obediently obeyed your commands to remain silent as you march on, and he's been keeping you on your feet each and every time you feel your strength faltering.

Just when it feels like you can't take another step, Ofelia speaks. The halfling woman has been leading you all diligently through the darkness, and puts up a hand to bring everyone to a halt. She waves to Celegwen, making an elaborate gesture that you discern no meaning from.

The sorceress murmurs softly into the end of her staff, dissipating all light from it for the briefest of moments. Starlight flows around you all in a halo, and the sound of the screaming and laughter on the borders of your mind ceases for a blessed moment. The only thing you can hear is Celegwen 's methodical voice.

"We're here."

Ofelia speaks out, although you cannot see her. Her voice seems to be everywhere. "This is fuckin' weird, Gwen. Can we get a lil' light?"

"I cannot sustain both effects simultaneously, Ofelia. I'm at my limit, after fending off our attackers for such an extended length of time. ...yet, I fear it will be long before we can rest again, if we proceed ahead."

You hazard speaking aloud. Restrained and timid as usual, you would think the sound would be barely perceptible. Unbelievably, your words echoes around you all as well. "You both have been here before- and cautioned me that this place was terribly guarded. Is there no place to rest nearby? I can make out quite a few buildings... although it's difficult to tell if they're occupied. ...surely there must be somewhere we can regroup."

Celegwen replies, "it has been no less than two weeks since we were last here. The patrols have no doubt changed, but there was an abundance of demons in this area last we came. I had hoped that our reckless escape from those small demons would have pulled them away, but there may still yet be some remaining. There are many humans here as well, Father. We were attacked by several of them on our last excursion to this place, and deemed the venture not worth the effort."

The rogue interjects, "we've got us much more important things to search for now, o'course." It almost sounds like she's trying to reassure you, but she's clearly speaking to the elf. "I think Richard and Ray can handle some trouble, but I dunno what else might be up there. It's damn hard to make out anything. I can scout ahead, but the space up ahead is a real pain. Might take me awhile."

>A) Ask Ofelia to scout ahead, alone, while you and Ray guard Celegwen. Give the elf some time to recuperate, and take a breather as well. Decide on a time to go searching for her if she takes too long to come back.

>B) Insist that you all stay together. There's safety in numbers, and none of you are entirely certain what you're getting into. Make a clear path towards the entrance, come what may.

>C) Pray to Spirit to discern exactly what lies ahead. Her blessing can reveal demons, liars, and blasphemers- exactly the sort of humans that no doubt plague this place. Your own spirit is worse for the wear, but maybe channeling Her can help.

>D) Write-in.
Best girl Mercy has asked us to bring our children together, maybe we can bring her light even in the darkest of places?

>D) Write-in.
Ask Ofelia to scout ahead carefully and pray to mercy that the lost souls come to their senses, herding them to us for guidance.
>>C) Pray to Spirit to discern exactly what lies ahead. Her blessing can reveal demons, liars, and blasphemers- exactly the sort of humans that no doubt plague this place. Your own spirit is worse for the wear, but maybe channeling Her can help.
I'd like to see this , lets get crazy and start with a write in

Seconding >>3879605.
You guys are insane and far too good for me.

It would be too much to ask so much of the Goddesses at once, so going to go with majority here. Normally will try to integrate every vote though, so don't despair.

Great shit everyone. Locking the vote, writing now!

This >>3879605 has already gained traction so I'll throw my vote on too.
You recognize that the usual shaking in your frame isn't from tremor or strain. You're deeply unsettled. The sound, faint as it is, of countless men and women lost to the Catalyst is enough to make you weep. You restrain yourself, face wrought with worry, as you turn to Ofelia. You trust her skill enough to not spell out what you need piecemeal. "Please scout ahead for us... carefully. ...there's something I need to do here."

Mercy's words echo in your thoughts, Her warmth and radiance bringing you tremendous comfort. "Gather Our Children, Father. Though the only cure to The Catalyst is death, the afflicted themselves need not be abhorred. Gather Our Children, and find one that appears taken by their weakness. Find one that still possesses kindness in their heart.

The tremor subsides as you hold onto your holy symbol. A gentle heat is radiating from it, easing the pain in your hands and limbs.

You can barely make out her small form, but the halfling's reassuring grin meets you, even in the darkness. "You got it. You both stay safe. If I'm not back in an hour, come for me, 'kay?"

Celegwen places a hand on the halfling's shoulder. "That won't be necessary. Keep your eyes out for yourself."

The blonde nods, and gives the bulk of her equipment to Celegwen. You can barely make out the myriad daggers she stashes inside and around her clothing, and a small pouch with unseen contents that she keeps close to her side. You stop the woman moments before she turns to leave.

"I'm going to pray," you caution her, "to guide my children. It may diffuse their madness. Please... try your best to not hurt them."

Ofelia looks at you with bewilderment. "You think you'll be okay?"

You don't know how to answer. A long moment passes. "I couldn't forgive myself... if I didn't at least try."

Nervously, you continue fidgeting with your holy symbol as both women's eyes bore into you. You glance away, down towards Ray. The mastiff is also looking up at you, clearly aware of your concern. You murmur, "just stop looking at me and go on ahead."

The halfling huffs, and then laughs slightly to herself. "Alright, alright." She turns, and begins to slink off into the shadows. Her voice trails behind you all for moments after she's left.

"Good luck."

The echo dissipates. Celegwen seems to be respecting your request, her eyes averting from you as she asks, "how dangerous is what you're attempting to do?"

You don't look at her as you reply, "the last time I attempted to sway so many at a single time, it robbed me of... blood. Not much more. I may lose consciousness-" you pause, not taking your eyes off of your dog. You give the hound a pat on his side, always relieved to have his company. "-but Ray will see to it that I'm alright. You won't be in any danger, Celegwen. The Gods are Merciful."

The elf seems satisfied with your reply, but obviously is keeping her guard up. "I'll continue the spell, as long as I'm able. I am very tired, though, Father, and wish to rest as soon as we can-"

"There's no need," you interject. "Mercy is with me. ...you can drop the spell."

You glance up, your nerves eased by Celegwen's trust in you. She seems to be coming around a bit, as she murmurs into the end of her staff, releasing the aura around you both that has been enabling you to speak to one another without detection. The starlight fades from view, and the world seems to be entirely black, save for the faint outline of the library ahead. Taking a knee, you gesture to Ray to come to your side, just in case. You can hardly make out your own hands as they knit around Mercy's symbol. You fold your fingers around the outstretched hands, letting the warmth come into you. You can feel the countless cracks along your soul mending, held together in Her embrace.

You don't need to speak. There's no need for words between you. You bow your head, reaching out to the countless souls ahead of you that have likely never felt Her embrace. You think to your first sermon, how lost the people of your hometown were that day- how close they all were to falling from Her light indefinitely. You know that there's no need to speak, but you can't help but whisper a prayer to Her.

"Mercy. The afflicted need not be abhorred. The Father asks not for retribution, but for Your grace. Let Our children into Our arms, that We may love them, that We may guide them. Release them from their turmoil."

A golden light sears into your senses, as the last words leave your lips. Time leaves your senses, as your flesh and spirit seem to part from you as well. You lean into the warmth, Her compassion, as you literally reach out to bring your children to you.

There is a commotion up ahead. Towering on the outskirts of your vision is the border of the library, yes, but as your eyes sear with divinity you can see something more. Figures of humans who have been lost to themselves for time immemorial. You do not know them, or their stories, but you can feel in every fiber of your being that they have suffered.

Celegwen stirs next to you, but you can't speak out to her. Your mouth flows freely with blood, for the first time in years since asking so much of Mercy. She's taking as little as She can, you know, but still the copper is a bitter reminder of the humans you are asking to save.

Their insanity bleeds into the edges of your mind. Years long past, subsisting off of what their captors can give them-


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The trickle of humans that you sense coming from the building ahead feels claustrophobic, trapped. As if there is something that won't allow them to leave. A great number of them, desperate, begging to be saved, to have release from their torment- from the Catalyst. These humans are hardly as much, locked away in their own minds, gaining respite from the demonic yet constraining themselves in a hell of their own making.

One by one, they begin to filter out of the building. You cannot see them, but you can feel them approaching. You waver, the blood loss and strain becoming overwhelming. Still, you reach out to them, to guide them.

Celegwen clearly is still next to you, but you can barely see anything, light consuming your senses. You try to knit your eyes shut, to better feel the people coming towards you, to better serve them. You bring your arms close, praying once more, begging the Goddess to ground you, but the language that pours forth is incoherent, unearthly. Your voice intermingles with Her own, and you do not restrain the prayer as you lead as many humans from the darkness as you can.

You feel yourself cracking. There are simply too many of them. The trickle of humans has been steadily flowing, and there must be 50 of them now heading towards you. You recognize your limits- you wouldn't dare ask more of Mercy than she is able to give through you. You raise your eyes, opened, gold lancing green, as you look upon your works.

Celegwen has her sword and staff drawn next to you, sweating as she looks out over the mob of humans you've brought to them. She's casting a light of her own from the end of her staff, and illuminating the area around you. There are no fewer than the 50 humans you felt, and it seems that several more are slowly making their way towards you. You lean into the floor, struggling as you are with the prayer. The ruins at your feet are smooth stone, almost polished, treacherously slick with old blood and debris. You manage to keep yourself grounded, noticing for the first time that the building ahead is substantially closer than you first suspected. The space and light in this area, as both women said, seems to make little sense to you.

The humans fill an expanse of stone that leads up to a colossal network of buildings. Myriad doors and windows loom and leer, piercing the darkness and little light around you. It's hard to make out anything on the interior, but mercifully, a large volume of the screams and laughter seems to have subsided.

You gaze upon the humans around you and Celegwen, who are inching steadily closer. You release your embrace slightly, keeping them at a safe distance. The majority of the men and women are adorned in rags- it's difficult to discern exactly what age they are from, or how long they have been down here. Many look to be about your age, but many more still are bent and worn. They waver, silently, eyes glazed over with the blessing of Mercy.

It looks like, for a time, you have quelled their madness.

There's no telling how long this will last for.

>A) Try and speak aloud to the humans you have gathered. Attempt to guide them with your voice. Preach Her word and hope that it takes someone. Anyone.

>B) Look through the crowd. Try to find a human that looks to have been down here for the shortest period of time. Question a singular individual, if they can still speak.

>C) While the crowd is subdued, make a break to find Ofelia. These humans are clearly insane- you would much rather run for the library while there's far fewer people inhabiting it than to risk having a mob on your hands.

>D) Write-in.
>>A) Try and speak aloud to the humans you have gathered. Attempt to guide them with your voice. Preach Her word and hope that it takes someone. Anyone.
question whoever takes it most
>A) Try and speak aloud to the humans you have gathered. Attempt to guide them with your voice. Preach Her word and hope that it takes someone. Anyone.
>A) Try and speak aloud to the humans you have gathered. Attempt to guide them with your voice. Preach Her word and hope that it takes someone. Anyone.
Call back to that one sermon from thread 1 start?
>A) Try and speak aloud to the humans you have gathered. Attempt to guide them with your voice. Preach Her word and hope that it takes someone. Anyone.
>>A) Try and speak aloud to the humans you have gathered. Attempt to guide them with your voice. Preach Her word and hope that it takes someone. Anyone.
Gonna call it here, vote is locked. Writing!
You bow your head once more, thanking Mercy for Her gifts as you release Her.

The gold fades from your vision. You wipe the blood from your face, disgruntled to have to sully your robes, but you have no time to concern yourself with the matter. You attempt to stagger to your feet, and nearly collapse from the effort. Ray is right at your side, leaning into you to prevent you from falling. You murmur a word of thanks to the hound, and to your disappointment, your voice seems to be your own once more.

You always long to be back with the Gods, after prayer. ...but there is another way to share their gifts.

Looking out over the crowd before you, looming overhead, you see the face of burden. These people look aged beyond their years, bent with hunger and torment. Many look wounded, and more still look to be on the brink of death. One, walking towards you all, looks to be on the brink of collapsing outright. You grit your teeth, and try to rise again, only to have to take a knee. Your head is swimming, your stomach in knots. Your limbs ache and burn, not nearly as much from your earlier exertion as from the prayer. You exerted Her will over far fewer people than you have before, but they were far harder to sway. It's a miracle you're still able to move at all.

Celegwen seems to see you struggling to rise, and comes up behind you. Before you can protest, she wraps your arm around her shoulder. You're still a bit taller than her, but she's able to help you to your feet with some effort.

"...thank you," you murmur, trying to wipe more of your blood away, hoping to not get it on her.

"It seems whatever you've done has worked," she says, looking out over the subdued mass before you.

"It won't..." you wince, interrupting yourself to clutch onto your sides. Your lungs feel like they're on fire.

The elf gestures for you to lean harder into her. "Are you going to be alright?"

You don't reply, finishing your sentence. "...it won't last for long. Please help keep me on my feet... I'm not finished here."

Scrutinizing you intensely, Celegwen seems disgruntled, but she obliges, putting up her short sword so she can better shoulder you. "Go on."

You look out over the throngs of frayed and weary heads. You're taller than almost all of of the hunched, swaying bodies, and can easily see to the edges of the crowd with Celegwen's light. It does not appear that anyone is coming. ...yet.

"I hate to ask," you begin, looking to the sorceress. She meets your gaze for a split second before you dart your eyes away. "Can you dissipate the sound around us all? I want them to hear me in the back, but..."

"...no. You'll have to make this quick, Father."

The frown on your face is etched about as deeply as it can get. You won't compromise Her word, even if it's dangerous. It's never stopped you before.

You straighten up as best as you can, through the pain coursing through your back and chest. Your voice, normally so timid, clears as you project it to your children. You know you have to be brief, and choose your words as carefully as you can.

"I know you are lost."

You look as far back as you can, to the last few humans trickling out of the library steps. The grand, sweeping staircase leading to the center of the building seems devoid of any demons. You dare to throw your voice further.

"Do we not all stray? Is it not human- to turn from one another?"

"There is no need to wander. My children- you have been blessed. You have been embraced by Mercy."

Your breath hitches, more blood coming up. You restrain yourself as best as you can, coughing away from Celegwen and forcing yourself to continue.

"She has guided you away from your madness, and into Her light. You need not stray from Her path. You need only accept Her into your heart."

You have to pause a moment to breathe, your chest aching. It feels like it's getting harder to stand, but you redouble your efforts. You almost thought you saw someone move in the crowd.

"You need not practice Her tenets to feel her this day. You need not fear Her. There is nothing to fear more than the absence of Her light. There is nothing- no greater suffering- than to stray from Her path."

Surely enough, there is a figure. A man- someone hooded, but you see his eyes stray from their haze. His head is bowed in thought, not waving in delirium.

"The Gods are Merciful," you finish, desperately wanting to continue but unable to speak any further. You double over, pulling away from Celegwen as you cough violently into your sleeve. You would collapse if she hadn't been supporting you, blood flowing freely from your mouth.

Ray hasn't left your side and seems extremely distraught, whining against your side. The elf sounds like she wants to say something as well, but you interrupt, coughing, "there-! That- that man!"

You shakily pull your sleeve away, bright red blood visible even against the black fabric. You point in the direction of the man you saw, and beg the elf, "please, we need to-"

Another wet cough interjects. Frustrated, you simply point more firmly, and try to pull Celegwen towards the man's direction. She complies, shouldering all of Ofelia's gear and you as you slowly make your way into the crowd.

"Step- aside-" you command, waving an arm at the throng ahead of you. The quelled mass parts gently, moving with complete subservience as you both make your way towards the hooded individual you saw.

(2/3, just barely cut off)
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The man keeps his head bowed, unresponsive, as you approach. You pause. His face is scarred, his skin as pale and almost as sickly as your own- but he seems relatively young and unharmed by the ruins. You're taken aback by how normal he seems.

He doesn't speak, his eyes completely downcast, either lost in thought or unwilling to acknowledge you both. You, Celegwen and Ray come to a stop a few feet before him.

You still don't hear any sound off in the distance. Celegwen seems to make no indication of anything approaching yet, either. Still, she says,

"We need to be brief, Father."

>What do you ask of this stranger?
>Ask him who he is and why he seems in better shape than the rest.
“Step into her light child, you need not fear, you are done fearing, lead these people away from here, seek the surface to safety."
What would you wish for yourself?
What would you wish for another?
Who are you?
Three things to orient an identity.

Posting this for some massive gaylord.
backing >>3879949 and >>3879945
Gonna work these all together somehow. Vote is locked. Writing now.
Quickly, you raise your head, forcing yourself to look at the man. "Step into Her light, my son. There is no need for fear."

The man raises his eyes to yours. They're full of light.

"You are not afraid," you reassure him. He nods in response, and the thoughtfulness on his face does not leave him. This man is remarkable- you have never witnessed someone swayed by Mercy in such a way before. You break the eye contact, coughing horribly as the blood continues to part from your lungs. You struggle to speak, but force yourself to anyways. The sound of many footsteps can be heard in the distance.

"...what would you wish for yourself?"

The man holds his tongue. His eyes, glowing as they are with Mercy's light, sear into you. Celegwen shifts, struggling even with your light frame. She's clearly running out of strength and patience. You wince, straightening up as best as you can to command your devotee.

"Speak, my son... there is little time for us here."

His voice comes out dry and withered with strain. He clearly had been screaming himself hoarse. You can tell the tone was once strong, despite its current state. "I wish to learn," he manages, looking straight through you.

You nod to him. "And what would you wish for another?"

His eyes drag over the crowd around him. "...Mercy."

The sound of footsteps off in the distance is growing louder. Rapidly, you try to ask, "who are you?"

"...I do not recall." The man's voice sinks deeply into himself, as if he could find the answer in his very soul.

You scrutinize his form more closely, but can't make out any sort of identifying markings or crests from his cloth. "You seem to be far better off than many, here- do you know why?"

"I hid," he says plainly. "...they are coming."

The footsteps are unmistakable now. Ray begins growling, and Celegwen starts to pull you away. "We don't have time for this, Father-"

"No-!" you cough, pulling back. There's no strength in you to do so. You manage to say to the man, as resolutely as you can, "lead these people away from here. Seek the surface to safety. Look for the spiders with bells. Tell them that Father Anscham is guiding you-" The elf is firmly pulling you away now. "Celegwen, please-"

"There are demons ahead, Father. You have attracted them once again."

You desperately look to the man, his head bowing as he nods to you. His voice, cracked and frayed as his robes, lingers in the edges of your mind as you are pulled away. "I will."

The crowd, still subservient, seems to be parting as you and Celegwen pull back.

"Can you see what's coming?" You hazard asking.

"A number of demons seem to have recognized our location. They are wielding spears, Father, and I suspect they are poisoned. This does not bode well for us... or for Ofelia."

Ray, dutifully keeping on your trail, outright snarls at some unseen figure beyond your vision. Before you can see what it is, a weapon- not unlike Orgoth's javelin- streaks through the air an impales a woman's head directly beside you. It protrudes grotesquely from both sides of her face and the back of her hair for a moment, the light fading from her eyes.

Celegwen makes a sound as the woman's body collapses to the floor with a wet thud, her skull cracking on the impact.

None of the humans around you turn to move. They are restrained. They are Merciful.

Your blood runs cold.

>A) Command the mob to flee for their lives, and rise to defend them. Pray to Flesh to strengthen you, and charge the demons without fear of immediate death. You are barely able to stand now- but with His blessing, you certainly can make work of your mace and shield.
>B) Use the mob as a human shield. Sneak away with Celegwen and Ray. Try to find Ofelia, and get into the library while the demons are clearly pulled out of it. You are no coward, but these men and women may already be too lost to be saved.
>C) Call out to the man you spoke with, and demand that he lead the crowd to safety. Pray to Mercy to protect you all, and seek out Ofelia. Her talents would be better aided if you created enough of a distraction.
>D) Write-in.
>>A) Command the mob to flee for their lives, and rise to defend them. Pray to Flesh to strengthen you, and charge the demons without fear of immediate death. You are barely able to stand now- but with His blessing, you certainly can make work of your mace and shield.
make enough of a ruckus to give ofelia an opening
>>C) Call out to the man you spoke with, and demand that he lead the crowd to safety. Pray to Mercy to protect you all, and seek out Ofelia. Her talents would be better aided if you created enough of a distraction.
>Light a torch, hold it aloft while hunkering behind the shield.
If Celegwen can throw the spears back without getting poisoned, i think we'll have enough of a distraction
>C) Call out to the man you spoke with, and demand that he lead the crowd to safety. Pray to Mercy to protect you all, and seek out Ofelia. Her talents would be better aided if you created enough of a distraction.
Supplies are low, and we cannot hope to outlast a fucking swarm again. No, now is the time to play smart.
This too
Based, but it looks like the overwhelming majority wants to go a little lower-key.

Working these together, vote is locked! Going to make some food and then will get back to writing.
Sorry bros. Guess we'll have to start making gains for Flesh after we make it out of this place and get some downtime before the next horrific dungeon dive slaughterfest. Maybe the library might have a book or two about exercise and diet and high protein? Maybe Ofelia knows a halfling chemist or two that can make the ancient equivalent of protein shakes?
we are gonna start a training regimen with all the people we rescued. The YOLKED CRUSADE
You look to the rest of the humans you've pacified, now unable to defend themselves against the onslaught. More spears streak through the air, felling another two people. You call out, desperately, "Flee! Flee for your lives! These demons know nothing of Mercy!"

Pain lances your chest like a knife as you call out. Celegwen and Ray continue to pull you back as you unshoulder your shield, bringing it up before you all. You struggle with the bulk of it, emaciated as you are. The thought of shaming Flesh in such a way only makes you more determined to prove yourself to Him. ...you make a mental note to ask Ofelia if she can help you with your weight, and tighten your grip.

"Get down," you command to your companions, letting the elf lower you both to the ground so you all can take shelter behind your shield. Ray leans against you, growling viciously at your attackers and practically begging to be let at them. Celegwen leans you harder against her, sheltering herself behind the wood as a spear grazes past her head.

You say to her, as firmly as you can, "Ofelia will have heard me. We just need to buy her a little time. Stay close."

The crowd around you, parting as it is, slowly begins to disperse back the way you all came. You grimace, thinking of the waves of imps that chased you here, when you see the man you spoke to before. He seems to be taking a number of men and women by the hand, and guiding them in an entirely different direction. It's hard to make out anything in the darkness, under attack as you are, but he seems to have an idea of where he's headed. You bow your head, pleading with Mercy to keep you all safe.

The words scarcely leave your lips, and you feel Her beside you. You feel drained- terribly, terribly drained, but the relief at seeing the spears streak harmlessly past yours and Celegwen's heads is worth the effort. Shouldering your shield in one hand, you begin to fish around in your pack for a torch.

"What are you doing?" Celegwen asks, clearly scared for her life.

"Creating a distraction... so you can fight back."

She looks to you, teeth gritted, and nods.

"Start grabbing spears," you command, striking the flame. You wave the torch overhead, causing the light to blaze forth. Celegwen puts out her own staff, strapping it to her back and bolting away from you.

"OVER HERE-!" You bellow, waving the torch aloft, crouching as far down behind your shield as you can manage. At least five spears streak directly past you seconds after. You wave the flame as best as you can, letting it smolder and smoke into the ruins beyond. The ceiling here is impossibly high- you can't even tell where the ruins end. You keep your eyes fixed on the waves of humans disappearing one by one into the space beyond in the ruins, terribly relieved to see some of them escaping with their lives.

You feverishly pray, hoping against hope that Mercy will protect your own life, as you don't dare to look at your attackers beyond your limited protection. Too weak to stand, you crouch behind the thick wooden disc, nudging Ray closer behind you still. "Stay, boy," you stutter, in between prayer, begging him to stay safe, "Mercy- we'll be alright, just stay. Good boy, Ray- tolerate this transgression, guide their aim that they may be restrained- come on, Ray, stay here with me-"

You're cut short by a strange sound off in the distance. It sounds like something very, very heavy has fallen to the floor. You realize Ofelia has likely taken down one of the demons. You wave the torch frantically, daring to call out behind you, "COWARDS! COME ON! CAN'T TAKE A SINGLE PRIEST?!"

Pain spikes in your temples from raising your voice. Your desire to curl into yourself, fortunately, saves you from another javelin streaking far closer towards your body. You definitely got their attention. They seem to be aiming for the bits of your robes peeking out from the sides of the shield, too loose to properly hold against your body. Your heart is in your throat, and you continue to pray, frantically, for what feels like many long minutes. You dare to wave the torch from time to time, but the pain in your head is building rapidly and you don't dare call out again.

There's another hard crashing sound, followed by three more. After several more minutes, the pain in your head is almost too intense to see, let alone inspect what's happening. You can barely keep the torch aloft, crouched deeply behind your shield, Ray digging into you for protection- when someone taps on your shoulder.

You spin around, wide-eyed. It's Ofelia. She's up to her elbows in blood. She grins sheepishly at you. Celegwen is running up behind her, tossing aside a spear from each hand.

You lower the torch, relieved beyond words to see them both in one piece. It's obvious that the blood on the rogue's arms is not her own- it's black and full of viscera. Obviously a demon's. Her weapons are slick with it as well. She doesn't offer you a hand to get up, and neither does Celegwen. They both collapse next to you on the floor.

The halfling speaks out, first. "Got 'em."

"Yes, you did." Celegwen sighs, exhausted.

You remain silent, wincing with every syllable, your head splitting. You dare to look up behind your shield, still blocking everyone from the direction of the attack. The silhouette of four minor demons is apparent to you. Jagged knives seem to protrude from their bodies like horns. You're reminded of cacti, with how many blades poke and stagger from their bloated forms. It's impossible to tell which ones are from their own twisted bodies, and which are from Ofelia's works. They look to be bleeding out, still as stone. There are no other figures to be seen- no humans. Nothing. You breath a sigh of relief, dropping your shield and also collapsing to the ground.

"Thank you," you say aloud, partially to Ofelia, partially to Mercy, and mostly to the floor. Relief soaks into your tortured frame as you stop moving for a blessed moment.

"You're welcome," Ofelia says genuinely. "...yer gonna hate me for this, guys, but we can't stay here. There were way more up ahead. Way more. Looks like they've beefed up the security here since we last visited, Gwen."

The elf sighs. "Of course they did. Were there any safe passages this time around? Any gaps in the patrols?"

"Oh yeah." Ofelia's smile is tangible. "Richard's stunt got a good number of 'em pulled out. They're all worked up. More are comin', sure, but we got a good bit o' relief here. At least near the entrance. Not sure if you wanna just barrel in there, though. ...there's always all the side passages, but they're guarded pretty heavily. I could try and carve some of 'em up, but I'd rather have you three behind me..."

>A) Suggest that you all go in the main entrance to recover for a few minutes, then back out and take a side route. Defer to Ofelia's judgement as to what's the most manageable. You can't properly think with your head splitting the way it is.

>B) Go straight to one of the side passages. Ask Ofelia what your options are, while you have a few moments of relief. It will no doubt be difficult, but you'd rather not risk entering the front of such a heavily protected building. You can rest when you know you're somewhere safe.

>C) Go straight into the main entrance. Rest as long as you're able, and deal with whatever trouble comes your way. You'll deal with any demons or humans as they present themself- you can't think ahead when you're this tired.

>D) Write-in.
>D) Write-in.
"You have been here before, i trust your decisions, i am more than spent"
Slowing down a bit giving my hands a bit of a welcome break! 4,800+ words in five hours is no joke, damn you guys are great.

Vote is locked, writing now.
Slight delay on the update, will resume writing in an hour at the most. Thanks for your patience guys
Back to writing now. Update will be out shortly.
You don't even bother to sling your shield over your pack, leaving it beside you as you lay against the floor. The light of the torch flickers and grows steadily from your other hand, and it's all you can do to knit your eyes shut. The light is searing your retinas, burning your skull. Ray whines next to you, licking the sides of your robes, trying to reassure you. It's agonizing to speak, but you try to before the headache reaches critical mass. "You have... been here before. I trust your decisions... I am more than spent."

The torch flickers for a few moments in relative silence. You can hear demons scuffling far, far off in the distance, along with the trudging footsteps of the humans you released. You wonder how long the blessing will last, or if any of them will regain their sanity. You can barely think any further, as the headache lances your temples with another flash of pain. Ofelia moves to stand... and leers over you. You draw into yourself, as spent as you are. She flashes you another smile.

"I gotta' get this gunk cleaned off me sometime, and you're looking worse for the wear. Let's head inside. If anyone gives us trouble, we'll give 'em what for."

"Hopefully after a break," Celegwen's voice drags, as she moves to stand as well. "Come on, Father. On your feet."

"I'd like to, but I'll need a hand," you grimace, eyes drifting open. The light is unbearable, but being pulled to your feet or carried blindly would be far worse. You can't help but gasp in pain as Celegwen firmly grabs hold of your free hand and pulls you to your feet, shouldering you with far more ease than you're comfortable with.

Ofelia picks up your shield, pouting as Celegwen gestures for her to hand it off. They don't need to exchange any words for the elf to make it clear that the equipment is far too large for a halfling. They exchange the rest of Ofelia's gear, as you keep a hand to your skull. Celegwen takes the torch from you as well, able to support you with only one hand. She promptly puts it out, muttering, "this is going to attract far more trouble than it's worth." You can't protest, doing everything you can just to ease the building pain.

It's quiet and dark. We're moving slowly. Try to stay calm. Try not to think about who you could have saved. There's time for that... later. Keep moving. Keep it together.

You all proceed with Ofelia in the lead, Ray keeping a close eye on you and Celegwen from the rear. Celegwen, apparently, can see well in the dark, and murmurs a word of direction from time to time. You all pause in front of the enormous staircase leading up to the library. Ofelia seems to make a cursory glance around. You raise your eyes as well while she darts ahead, no doubt scouting for anyone that might spot you. Light trickles in and around the building the closer you get, impossibly illuminating the edges of it through the darkness.

(1/4, long one)
Towering bridges and a labyrinth of columns loom with architecture far taller than anything you have ever seen, even in the capital city. The sprawl of buildings stretches onward and upwards in either direction. You strain your neck to see the top of the foremost structure, as it looks like it digs deep into the ceiling of this portion of the ruins. You estimate this cavern is at least 100 feet tall, but you could be mistaken- there are no webs, no outlets. The torchlight vanishes long before you can properly see above you. Below stretches an abyss, punctuated by bridges. There is a deep chasm on either side of where you currently stand- you mistook the expanse for a normal floor, but it's yet another bridge, tapering onto a large staircase straight ahead. It makes no sense- you saw the escape of over 50 people across the way. You shake your head, too tired and in far too much pain to deliberate over the implications.

"The space has changed." Celegwen murmurs to you. "It's a good thing you're staying close. Ofelia may have gotten lost if you hadn't created such a distraction before as well." She offers you a slight smile.

You can't offer one back, but your grimace at least lessens a bit. You try offering a nod, and the pain in your head spikes tenfold.

Ofelia's voice ramps up the pain even further. "Is he going to make it?" The halfling catches herself, and with a little annoyance, says, "up the stairs, I mean?"

You lean hard against Celegwen, barely able to stand. It feels like a knife is being driven into the back of your skull. Her frown is palpable. "Father?"

"I'll b-be fine," you stammer, trying to get the words out as quickly as possible. You try to right yourself, even, but wind up leaning harder against Celegwen instead. She bends slightly from the effort of keeping you on your feet.

Celegwen slings your shield over your pack with a single hand. You nearly collapse from it, but she quickly shoulders you again. The sorceress takes on almost your full weight, supporting the arm holding you up with her other hand. She gives you a reassuring grimace. "You'll be fine," she repeats, as reassuringly as you think she must be capable of.

"Come on," Ofelia calls, already starting to walk ahead. She's looking off into the distance, squinting, clearly trying to make out anyone that could have followed you. "I'm sure they'll be looking for us. We'll hide once we're inside."

You don't show any indication that you hear her, frowning deeply and clutching still at your head. Your limbs and chest ache as well, but with nowhere near the same intensity. You are a master of restraint, however, and keep your complaints to yourself as you all ascend the stairs leading into the tower ahead.

Celegwen looks at you periodically as you do your best to help climb. She's practically carrying you, and Ray nips at her heels every time she starts to falter or pause. Ofelia runs back frequently, obviously also worn out, but seeming to fare well enough to check on you both. By the time you all reach the top of the steps, you're all about ready to collapse again- but the rogue darts ahead, scrutinizing the doors as closely as she's able. You hadn't even noticed them, vision hazy, mind reeling from the loss of blood and explosive pain in every inch of your body.

The halfling produces the small bag you saw earlier, and takes out a number of small tools. You see her put her gloves back on, fiddling with the grooves of the metal door. A small click causes her to jump back, and tackle you and Celegwen to the floor.

You fall back, hard, the elf cushioning most of the blow. Ray growls, immediately aggravating Ofelia's assault on you- you don't call him off, stammering, "wh-what's wrong-"

The halfling, barely able to keep you all down, looks with utter terror behind you all. The door slowly opens. She's visibly sweating, deathly pale. "Stay down."

"Ray. Down," you command. The mastiff obliges instantly, but continues his growling.

There's a faint ticking sound behind you all- and it suddenly stops. There's a very, very faint sound of something... musical?

"The fuck?" Ofelia asks, looking over her shoulder. You look up, wincing from the pain of doing so as well. You can feel Celegwen stir below you. You flush deeply, realizing how compromising your position is, sandwiched between the two women, and scramble to get off of them. Ofelia permits you to move safely aside, as she slowly walks back towards the door.

From your position on the ground, a safe distance away from them, you see the blonde scrutinizing a mechanical instrument that's come out from beneath the door. It's producing a faint noise- so faint that you suspect it wouldn't be used as an alarm.

Celegwen groans, slowly righting herself off of the floor. "What trap was worth that-"

"It's a music... box? Thing?" Ofelia whispers, seemingly afraid of it. She doesn't walk back towards you both, and you are in no shape to move towards her, so you awkwardly wait for Celegwen to get to her feet and help you up. You say to Ray, "come on, boy," as you all reconvene in the entrance to the library.

The rogue is scrutinizing a small instrument- no larger than a child's toy- that vaguely resembles an organ. You are taken with it instantly- it reminds you of the majestic instrument you've seen once before in the capital city's church. It's emitting a small noise, in a tune that you've never heard before. Celegwen looks towards it with curiosity as well, moving you both in front of the doorway. You hazard a glance inside.

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You gasp. You've never seen so much parchment in your life. Hundreds of books, scrolls, loose pages, and countless sagging bookshelves hug the walls and stick out from them in a room teeming with life. You immediately recognize why the humans you saw earlier were gathered here. There's running water, and greenery overflowing from the little stream running through the room. It's hard to make out the source, but the ceiling stretches on upwards, and you can see many rooms beyond. The pain in your head is hard to ignore, but you almost move ahead, pulling away slightly from Celegwen's grasp.

She lets you pull away completely, but calls out, "Hold on, Father. I know this is urgent, but this object is of great concern. Please wait just another moment."

You hang back just a moment, wavering as your frame is with exhaustion. You lean hard against the front of the building for support instead, watching her from a few feet of distance. You can't help but note how the walls are far from smooth- much like Calunoth's merchant district, the walls here are all painted. You wonder if the humans here are to blame, or someone else- but Celegwen steals your attention away. She starts to conjure something with her staff, then stops abruptly.

"What's the matter?" Ofelia pipes up, having hid behind the door.

The elf is frowning so deeply, you think you might see a single wrinkle form in her face. "I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's get inside."

You sigh in relief, and stagger forward. You catch Ofelia gingerly wrapping up the musical device in a spare handkerchief, holding it at arms length and delicately bringing it inside.

Celegwen mercifully lends you a shoulder again, leading you into the library. There's a collection of terribly moldy armchairs in a few corners, but the elf offers to help you lean against a desk instead. You collapse against it, relieved beyond words for the break. Ofelia closes the doors behind you all, and murmurs, "not yet. Get some water, Gwen, Richard. ...Ray. I'll gather some moss. There's a safer room ahead."

You genuinely don't know if you can go any further. You're desperate to explore the countless books spread out before you. Your eyes want to devour every word, every spine on every book, but you can barely make out the wood on the aged and stained desk you're leaning against now. It creaks against even your slight frame, reminding you a bit of home. You speak up.

(Options in next post)
>A) You need to rest. This is as fine a place as any. Ask the women to close the doors- see if Ofelia has any way she can secure them. Otherwise, offer to pray to Agriculture to grow some plant life as a makeshift barrier.

>B) You just want to grab a few books. You know there must be more in the other wings of the library- you can make out more bookshelves from here- but you're starved for knowledge. Stash as many as you can carry into your bag while the women scavenge. Push yourself to the other room and collapse there.

>C) You won't protest. Drink some water, save what you can in your own water skin, and trudge on to the safe room. There will be a time for rest, and this is not it.

>D) Write-in.
>C) You won't protest. Drink some water, save what you can in your own water skin, and trudge on to the safe room. There will be a time for rest, and this is not it.
>>C) You won't protest. Drink some water, save what you can in your own water skin, and trudge on to the safe room. There will be a time for rest, and this is not it.
Gonna plug on ahead with these votes! Writing now.
"I know our supplies are low. ...is there any way I can help-"

Ofelia's and Celegwen's faces soften a bit. The halfling says, gently, "just take care of yourself. We'll rest soon. Try to drink something."

You wince, nodding, trying to not collapse. You're embarrassed beyond all reason when you realize that you actually can't walk yourself over to the stream. You give Celegwen a pleading look, too ashamed to actually ask for any more help than she's already given. The elf gives you a small smile, shouldering you again and taking you both over by the water. The sound is heavenly- you haven't heard running water in...

How long have I been down here for?

The thought is jarring, stealing your attention away from the ruins around you. When was the last time you saw the sun? A stream? ...even moss?

Celegwen looks at you sidelong, clearly trying to not make you too uncomfortable. "Father- I know you've been through a lot. Drink. We'll rest very soon."

You blink a few times, hard, the pain in your head still pulsing as you nod to her. She's leaned you down to the floor and you hadn't even noticed. Your hands tremble as you move to cup a little water in them, but you realize they're absolutely caked with the blood and bile you produced from your prayer to Vengeance. Your stomach turns, and you reach for your water skin instead.

The stream is cold, clear, and shows no signs of pollution from any demons. You can see the water seeping into the bookshelves around you, ruining many of the pages. You make a note of the surrounding area, hoping you can come back here again. With shaking fingers, you manage to fill your waterskin without polluting the stream, and stash it away for later. You simply can't handle any more pain right now.

"Ray. Here, boy," you call, as gingerly as you can. The pain spikes every time you speak, but you manage to murmur, "...drink," and pour a good deal of water out for the hound. He wastes a great deal, but you wash your hands with the remainder of the water skin anyways. You refill it immediately when you're done rinsing off the bulk of the mess on your hands, and clean your holy symbol off for good measure.

Celegwen doesn't say a word until you're finished. "Ready?" She asks, moving to take your arm.

You hang your head a fair bit, murmuring, "yes," as she helps you once again to your feet. You hope it will be the last time.

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Ofelia comes over to you both, arms absolutely brimming with greenery. She's grinning, and whispers, "finally!" You see she's shoved as much as she was able into her pack as well. The halfling practically sprints to the stream, sweeping a pot into it and scrubbing her arms down as quickly as she's able. She fills no less than 5 flasks of water, tosses them into the rest of her gear, and moves to leave. "This way," she calls, clearly excited to replenish some of your supplies. She's lagging a bit from the weight of her gear, but you and Celegwen are in no shape to help her. The both of you stagger behind, and you call Ray to your side. With a slight gesture, you motion towards Celegwen, and the mastiff gives her a bit of support as well, nudging her legs when she falters.

You all turn several corners, leaving behind the steady trickle of water. Ofelia tenses around each turn, scouting ahead, doubling back, making sure the way is clear. It's slow going, but she eventually guides you all into lower and lower ceilings, narrower and narrower chambers. There are no windows to speak of, the deeper you venture, and you know with absolute certainty you would immediately become lost were it not for her guidance. The rogue seemingly vanishes from sight, and then reappears from the side of an incredibly narrow bookshelf.

"Hidden room's still here. Looks like it was occupied for a bit. Gimme a sec."

You and Celegwen give her a look that says you couldn't stop her if you both wanted to. The blonde vanishes for a few minutes. You nervously look down the hallways in either direction, seeing no patrols to speak of. The halfling reemerges, and gestures for you all to come inside.

You kneel down slightly, gesturing for Ray to follow you. Celegwen has to release you in order to slink through, and you insist on going afterwards to make sure your dog gets through alright. She settles on staying outside while you help the mastiff into the opening.

On the other side lies a small network of bookshelves. Ladders lay stacked along the walls, climbing up to a ceiling that's altogether too short for your liking. Your hair practically scrapes the top of it, matted as it is with blood, and you duck slightly as you enter for comfort's sake. Ofelia is already setting up shop near the back of the room.

You can barely move, exhausted as you are. Ray lean into you, and you put a hand on him while you wait for Celegwen. She manages to slide into the small entryway with far more difficulty than you had, keeping her chest down as best as she's able. The elf is flustered as she reemerges next to you all, but she still offers you assistance in getting to a decent resting place.

You both kneel down next to Ofelia, and you immediately lay out against your pack, not even bothering to take it off. Ofelia chuckles, but can't possibly be as relieved as you are.

"Get some rest, Richard. I'll keep the first watch while you all sleep."

You barely hear the last few words, as you're already unconscious.



You stir, being shaken awake once again. Someone's whispering at you as loudly... as one can whisper.

"Richard. Richard! I don't know why I always have to be the one to do this shit- RICHARD!"

You wave a hand, a gentle burn searing your arm from the overuse of your limbs. You mumble, heavy with sleep, "what? What is it?"

"Richard, I know you like to sleep like the dead and all, but we can't stay here forever. It's been a several hours. Hope that's enough."

You frown, rubbing the sleep out of your eyes, blearily adjusting to the low light around you. Your headache seems to have finally subsided. Before you can get your bearings, Ofelia shoves a handful of food at you.

"You're not gonna' like this either, but we're not readin' 'til you eat."

Impossibly, your frown deepens even further. You can feel the halfling's scrutiny as you take the package from her hands.

"I did mean to ask you something," you say softly, looking around now that you're waking up properly. Ray is sleeping soundly at your feet, and Celegwen seems to be in a trance as well. They both were clearly also spent.

"Why didn't you wake both of them?" Your frown is going to be permanently etched into your face at this rate.

"Ray can't read and Gwen carried you up here. Eat. ...and is that really what ya' wanted to ask me...? Jeez-"

You continue stalling. "No. I... I want to take better care of myself. I was hoping... I was wondering if you could help me? I'm worried about Flesh-"

Just as Ofelia starts to smile, she lets out a groan.

"You'd probably like him," you hazard, trying to get her support. "His most faithful adherents treat their bodies as their place of worship. I... I could learn a thing or two from them. From you," you offer, looking at her earnestly.

She gives you a firm look. She looks back down to the food in your hands, untouched.

"Start with that. I'll see what I can do."

You take a deep breath, and slowly work at the wrap. It's just boiled leaves, moss, and other edible plant life that you can't quite identify. It's completely tasteless and feels like glass going down. You try and tell yourself that it's worth it, acutely aware of how gaunt and angular every inch of you has become. It's slow going, but you manage the entire thing. You're choking down as much water as you can manage, when the halfling pushes more into your hands. You can practically feel the halfling glaring at you, but she at least is kind enough to not say anything.

(Options in next post)
>A) Pace yourself a lot more slowly. Try talking a bit to Ofelia while you eat. She's trying to help you- even if it hurts, you know this is for your own good.
>A1) Ask her about herself. You barely know her.
>A2) Ask her about her time in the ruins. She sounds like she's been down here significantly longer than anyone other than Celegwen.
>A3) Ask her about Celegwen. They seem to be extremely close- the halfling no doubt knows a lot about her.

>B) Take the food with you while you look through the bookshelves. Try to eat while you read. Maybe it will take your mind enough off of things enough to make the pain manageable.

>C) Respectfully give the rest of the greens back to Ofelia. It might be all you have, but nothing is worth the amount of pain you've dealt with lately. Ask her if she knows of any good recipes she can share with you once you're out of the ruins, and get to searching the shelves.

>D) Write-in.
>A) Pace yourself a lot more slowly. Try talking a bit to Ofelia while you eat. She's trying to help you- even if it hurts, you know this is for your own good.
>A1) Ask her about herself. You barely know her.
Also ask her about recipes somewhere in the convo.
>>B) Take the food with you while you look through the bookshelves. Try to eat while you read. Maybe it will take your mind enough off of things enough to make the pain manageable.
We paid the price of a mile to get here we should spend every waking second inhaling books and scrolls, we can chat with ofelia when we get the fuck out of this shithole, mercy willing.
Noted guys. Leaving the vote open while I get some sleep.

Thanks so much to everyone for the welcome reception back and the awesome participation. We'll resume our normal update schedule for the rest of the thread: afternoons and evenings EST. Be back soon!
>>A) Pace yourself a lot more slowly. Try talking a bit to Ofelia while you eat. She's trying to help you- even if it hurts, you know this is for your own good.
Talk about cooking and theoretical recipes you could inhale
see >>3881710
>A) Pace yourself a lot more slowly. Try talking a bit to Ofelia while you eat. She's trying to help you- even if it hurts, you know this is for your own good.
>A1) Ask her about herself. You barely know her.
Know your party before venturing forth!
Books you can read later, but every second you go about without knowing your party is a danger to you and them
Good shit guys. Can't quite do all of these simultaneously but I'll work 'em together best as I can. Vote is locked- writing now.
Fuck I missed this 10 seconds before posting. I'll get you in there too.
The hundreds of books lining the walls are infinitely more appealing than anything you could normally discuss, but this is a rare opportunity to learn something from your companion. The very little you know about Ofelia and Celegwen hasn't been much of a concern, but it looks like you all will be traveling together at some length... and you are here to document your findings. You set down the food Ofelia keeps shoving at you for a moment, and fish out your journal. You can practically hear her deflate. Your voice is very low, and you don't look over your shoulder as you ask, "...would you accompany me, while I look over these shelves?"

Grimacing, you tuck your journal under your arm, and take a bundle of greens in one of your free hands. With the other, you help yourself to your feet. Your limbs still ache, but the sleep seems to have done wonders for your body and mind. Your frown persists as you slowly work through the food, moving towards the shelves. Ofelia seems to perk right back up as she follows you, your effort to follow her advice plain to see.

"I know you came here to search for a cure of your own... but I don't know very much about... you." The books give you an easy excuse to avoid eye contact as you start, glancing away from her. You hope that you don't sound too awkward as you try to broach the conversation. You're terribly unused to speaking to others at any length like this. As your eyes wander, you see tomes ranging from slender and fairly new to hulking volumes that are clearly straining the wood that they rest upon.

You have so many questions.

Ofelia, coming up barely to the side of your hip as you stand together, looks up at you as she replies, "there's not much to say." The sass seems to be entirely absent from her voice. "I've done a lot- been a whole lotta places- but I don't got a lot to me, Richard." Her voice gets very distant as she continues, "ya' think that's why that cold demon mostly left me alone?"

You can't help but shake your head, tearing your eyes away for a moment from some of the thicker tomes. The books are haphazard, clearly unorganized- it seems like a shot in the dark to locate specific information. Of the few titles you can make out in your own tongue, you see Classical Diction and Magicke of Yeast and Time sitting right alongside Glory & Magnificence of the Wilds and 151 Illustrated Seaxes. You pick the last tome off of the shelf- it's small and slender, the pages relatively unharmed by time save for a thick coat of dust along the edges. You offer the book out in response to her question, silently flipping open a few pages.

The halfling's eyes light up. The book is illustrated, just as the cover advertised, with depictions of exotic and mundane blades from various corners of the world. As Ofelia's face brightens, you whisper back to her, "not a lot to you?"

She leans over, and gingerly takes the book from you, completely enamored with the pages. She flips through them eagerly, saying quietly, "...this is incredible! Okay. ...you know I got a way with knives. Ain't seen nothin' like this before... I make due with what we can find, and the bit I got from home, but this..."

You lean in, inspecting the entry she's pouring over. The weapon on the page seems to almost jump off of it, reflecting and refracting light onto the reader. It lights up the area around you both- you can't help but murmur, "This is useful. Keep that page open. ...if I'm not being too forward, why are you so adept with them? It's extremely unusual for a woman- let alone a halfling, to be so..."

Ofelia follows closely behind, using the illustration as a makeshift light as you continue pouring over the shelves. She doesn't seem offended as she answers, "it's unusual, yeah. All o' my sisters are family types. Couldn't get their hands dirty if their lives depended on it, y'know? ...but they're doin' somethin' I can't, too. Sittin' around, waitin', actin' all nice and proper. Manners and bowin' and all that mess. I wanted to help in other ways. My Pa wasn't very understandin' at first, but after enough years o' the work, he came around. I wouldn't take no for an answer, if you understand my meaning. ...I worked real hard to get to where I am now."

You have no idea how to reply. You offer a nod in acknowledgement, at least, still looking for anything that might help you and your cause.

You're rapidly realizing how impossible it would be to search through every tome, let alone translate them. Estate & Economy, Charting the Unknown, and Properties of Matter & Air all leer at you with their gilded spines and withered pages. You move to fish out your journal and pen, but you pause a moment. The halfling's eyes are boring into the untouched food in your hands. Badly wanting to not offend her, you try to work at the wrap. Rather than slowly pick at it, you try inhaling the contents outright. The pain is immediate and intense, but it's at least over with quickly.

You're immediately plied with more food. You'd sigh, but the sharp pain in your throat and stomach makes any sound difficult. Reluctantly, you take the bundle from Ofelia. You notice that she's being unusually quiet. It's not only from how softly you're both speaking, either. She does eventually pipe up, saying, "I hope it isn't too awful. The food. ...I'm used to cookin' outdoors, but it was too risky to make a proper fire in here."

"It's-" you cough, despite how hard you're trying to restrain yourself. It takes you a minute to regain your composure, but you continue, "it's fine. ...I've told you before, it's no fault of your own. I imagine... you can do a lot better with a proper kitchen?"

She beams, "'course I can."

Pouring over the shelves, strange runic alphabets and a few tomes that are decidedly Elvish glare back at you. You make a note to have Celegwen look over them. You clear your throat a few times before offering, "I'm willing to bet there are some recipes buried in here. ...do you have any favorites, Ofelia?"

The halfling's eyes gleam. "There's a buckwheat honeycake recipe that I'm a pro at makin'. It's so much better if you let it sit out overnight, so all the spices come together." She leans in, and winks at you, saying, "I always add brandy to mine."

You chew at the greens in your hand, trying to pretend that it's as good as what she's describing. The pain doesn't abate, but it's a welcome change to have some positive associations with food. "That sounds... really nice. Maybe you could copy it down for me?"

The blonde could not look any more delighted as you offer her a blank page of your journal. She eagerly writes down the ingredients. Your frown deepens a bit, as she clearly has no idea how to use your pen and presses altogether too firmly on the parchment. Restrained as always, you take the barely legible page back graciously and without much criticism.

"Your handwriting is a little heavy, but this looks wonderful," you say dryly, choking down more of the vegetables. Ofelia can't help but laugh.

"Very funny. Try not to sound so excited!" She reaches up to jab you lightly on the side of your arm.

"Really. Thank you," you whisper, letting the ink dry properly before closing the journal.

"...hope you get the chance to try it one day. I'll uh, leave you to the books. Let me know if you find anythin' interestin', 'kay?"

She shoves a few more pieces of food at you before turning to go.

"Ofelia," you whisper as loudly as you dare, grabbing her attention once more. Your eyes grazed over a heavy tome, dog-eared and adorned in an attention-grabbing blue. Belbaina's Cookbook looks handwritten- you fetch it off of the top shelf, where the halfling no doubt never would have seen it. Said halfling comes back over, her eyes going wide as you hand the book off to her. "I could use your help searching. Maybe we can look through this later? Let's wake up Celegwen and get to work."

She nods enthusiastically. "Sure- though I don't have the faintest idea what we could be lookin' for."

Your eyes pour over the shelves covering the small room you're occupying. Periodically, you've heard footsteps off in the distance. You can't imagine you can cover ever book here, especially given how precious time is, but maybe you can focus your search.

(Options in next post)
>A) Search for the oldest tomes you can find. A holy relic is, no doubt, something that has been around for a terribly long time. Look through books on...
>A1) Religion. Mercy has been worshiped by many humans before you.
>A2) History. There is much to be learned from what has already transpired.
>A3) Prophecy. Perhaps someone else has heard of your search.

>B) Search for the newest tomes you can find. You need current information, as recent as you can get. There's no use digging around with outdated information. You need to look for...
>B1) Wealth. Any note of someone coming into an object of great value.
>B2) Corcaea, above-ground. The Church of Mercy itself.
>B3) Corcaea, below-ground. Any information that could pertain to the ruins.

>C) Write-in.
>>B3) Corcaea, below-ground. Any information that could pertain to the ruins.
>B3) Corcaea, below-ground. Any information that could pertain to the ruins.
>A2) History. There is much to be learned from what has already transpired.
Going to do some math homework and then I'll knock out another update. Vote is still open until I get back.
Took me a lot less time than I suspected it would! Writing now.
"Anything regarding the ruins," you say plainly, "anything pertaining to our mission. Look for the oldest codexes you can find... have Celegwen search through anything in a tongue you don't recognize. We'll cover more ground if we divide the search."

Ofelia nods, turning briskly to go wake the elf. You flip through a great number of the items on the shelves, taking care to not bend any spines, gently placing each book back where you found it. A few particularly colorful books stand out, but one looks substantially newer than the rest. The writing on the spine is self-indulgent to an extreme, wrapping around the cover. You pull it off the shelf to examine the intact book in full.

The title reads, simply, On History. Upon opening it, you immediately make a face. It's even worse on the interior- flowery illustrations and decadent script detail gross exaggerations of Corcaea. You flip through the first few chapters quickly, reading as fast as you're able through the purple descriptions of King Magnus... and King Vaughn, King Frederick, King Samuel, and King Thaddeus before him. You have never even heard of the last two, and your curiosity is piqued. You try to skim what you do recognize.

"His Vengeance hath taken from us. And unto his holiness we doth profess the most suffering, as thine visage looke upon the blasted Aerth, thine spoilt grain, and our hearts doth weep for thine people." You wince, trying to eat a little more while you read, grateful as you are to even have the choice now. In between mouthfuls you continue, "...owe to his divine reflexion we doth offer our flesh, 'i this, the hour of our reckoning... profligation of our impulses most shameful might not but now be taken unto his essence, eradicating our manifestations forevermore."

Your voice is hardly a whisper as you read a few more entries aloud to yourself. How have you never heard of these men? "Immutable though the darkness may be, still we seek illumination. Through His Spirit, we have attained peace. There is nought left, but we must endure..."

You can't help but make a sound, practically choking on your food. "...and up from the earth did they come. Titans, great and terrible. ...winged and feathered were their offspring and yet coarse and chromatic were they. Lapidated, they fell deep within the place of their birth, heralds of the King..."

A faint sigh escapes from your teeth as you try to contain your distaste, assuming that the remainder is as fanciful. You flip through a few more pages. "...did tumble and quake a storm so fierce that none doth withstand it... cleaving the land in twain, rending Desolation from that which we now call home... creatures of the sky and earth, whomst reside now on the Throne of Ellor..."

Your frown deepens. This is all nonsense. You flip to the back of the book, trying to gauge just how fanciful it gets. There's an illustration of a man, towering above a castle, raising his hands to the sky. "A fairytale-" you mumble, scrutinizing the pages. The banner underneath the figure catches you off-guard, however. It reads, "Causes of War."

You scrutinize the figure very, very carefully. The man reminds you a fair bit of an elf, but looks terribly familiar. You can't pin how the face reminds you of King Magnus, but the resemblance is uncanny. You go back through the book, scrutinizing the previous entries on each King listed from the last Age- sure enough, they appear almost identical, save for their garments and facial hair. Your frown deepens further, not entirely wanting to chalk this up to a poor illustrator. You flip back through the earlier entries on Corcaea, where the children's stories seem to at least hold some weight. There's talk of a trade route that once ran from the northern continent to where you currently reside- which is impossible, as there is an ocean to the north of the country. Legend written deep in the pages tells of a civilization eclipsed in darkness, wasting away under a red moon, that could only be saved by the return of the Gods. More fanciful yet, are talks of a time when men determined their own fate, existing before the other races, before the Gods exerted their will over the world. ...worse still are the talks of marriage between King Frederick and his many devotees, in the name of worshiping Flesh. You blush deeply, closing the book with a thud, unable to read any more falsehoods.

You slide the tome back onto the shelf and continue your search. You keep your eyes peeled on the topmost shelf, where Ofelia and Celegwen will no doubt have issue spotting anything of interest, but you also search for any books regarding the Church of Mercy. You can at least recognize the name in several other tongues, and hope to spot something of use. Your eyes linger over multiple books that look to be of use, over what must be another hour of searching. You remove Faiths & Heresies of the Old World, Treatise on the Merciful, an old pamphlet that is clearly religious gospel, and an ancient diary that looks to have Her symbol etched into the spine.

You flip over the pamphlet first, easy enough as it is to read. It looks to be written by a woman, thanks to the delicate script, and lists a number of Mercy's tenets along with methods of observing Her. You fondly tuck it into the side of your journal before flipping open the diary.

You drop it from your hands immediately. The cover appears to be made of a thick, human leather, "LIES" etched into the dried flesh in a harsh script. It falls open as it hits the floor. You can't help but grasp onto your holy symbol, looking around and at the book, expecting something dreadful.

No one seems to stir, other than Ofelia and Celegwen moving through the shelves closer to the entrance of the room. Silence pervades the library. Nervously, you move to catch the book with the side of your shoe to close it, but your heart drops.

Inside the pages is obviously the writings- the musings- the confessions of a mad man. The handwriting is already frenetic on the page, and it rapidly escalates into viciousness. Love and obsession clearly drove him to the brink. You realize you may be looking at a chronicle of someone taken by the Catalyst.

Gingerly, you pick the book back up and tuck in under your arm, alongside your own journal. This could be crucial for your research, when you have more time.

You flip through Treatise on the Merciful quickly. The pages are all etched in the margins by bored priests. You can't help but be slightly amused by them, admiring the caricatures drawn in the margins alongside their notes. "We've run out of wine. These copies will take much longer. Oh, my hand. Let the reader's voice honor the writer's pen."

The contents of the Treatise itself are miserable. Full of criticism of Mercy and Her practitioners, it paints a scathing image of the Church. You practically want to burn it, but out of respect for the men who penned the book you slide it back onto the shelf.

The last book, Faiths & Heresies of the Old World, looks far more promising. Crudely written, you paraphrase a few interesting entries as you start reading from the top. It looks to be an account of lost gods, detailing an elaborate pantheon for halfling society that encompassed every grain, tree, rock and animal. The sacrilege of elven society is elaborated on at great length, detailing accounts of divine punishment throughout human history towards their people, and the animosity it brewed between your cultures. You suspect that the historical relevancy is a little outdated, reading further on a number of peoples who worship a God of ice deep to the south, and a fertility culture on an island far beyond the coasts of Corcaea. More interesting to you than any of this are ancient accounts of worship of your own pantheon. It eerily mirrors your own experiences.

"Upon prayer to the God did our most devoted suffer... most hideously... from the mouth and eyes... they could not be saved..." you cringe, flipping ahead, looking for anything relevant to your quest. There is an entire chapter on Mercy, though the information is terribly outdated. You scrutinize the tome more carefully. It's large and rather heavy, but you decide to take it with you as well. You hardly have anything in your pack at the moment, and assume it won't be any trouble for the time being.

Ofelia nearly scares you half to death, speaking up suddenly. She's standing right next to you, though you didn't hear her approach. "You're going to ruin your eyes," she teases, "and your heart at this rate, too."

You give her a tired glance, letting your pulse calm down as you whisper, "any luck?"

"Yeah. Couple a things. I don't know how the hell Gwen knows so many languages. Guess she hasn't forgotten everything. Come take a look."

Snaking back through the piles of books that Ofelia has clearly left in her wake, you resist the urge to put them all back before rejoining Celegwen. Ray is still sleeping beside her, clearly having been exhausted. You set down the remaining food you couldn't finish next to him, but he doesn't stir. You make note to wake him properly once you're done searching.

Celegwen is absolutely surrounded with books, parchment, scrolls and journals, each one seemingly older than the last. She looks up to you with a slight smile.

"Good to see you on your feet," she says genuinely.

It's frustrating how timid your voice sounds as you reply, "...I couldn't have made it... without your help." You try and tell yourself it's because you're all speaking so quietly, as you continue, "...I see you've been busy."

The elf offers you a seat next to her. "Yes. I don't know how much help this will be, but we've found an absurd amount of information regarding the ruins. It's mostly historical accounts of what these buildings were once for, but I hope there will be something of greater use for you in their pages."

You look over the stacks of books around her, bewildered. "How much have you been able to translate so far?"

She proudly smiles at you as she says, "five pages."

Straining to keep your calm, you ask, "of which book...?"

The sorceress holds it up to the light, coming of course from the book you found for Ofelia earlier. Celegwen reads, slowly, "Architecture of the City of Lights, Ostedholm.. I suspect this is our current location."

"What has it said...?"

"There was a lengthy introduction, crediting the architects of the city. I believe I am halfway through it."

You take a deep breath, fiddling nervously with your holy symbol with your free hand. This isn't going to work. At least you seem to be on the right track.

(Options in next post)
>A) Target books that are on the layout of the ruins. You suspect that if a holy relic is in a place this miserable that it would be heavily protected, or at least not easily accessed. If nothing else, you might learn how to better navigate out of your current position. Maps don't require nearly as much translation- no doubt you can make faster work of them. You can even make out a few maps that the women have found on loose-leaf parchment from here.

>B) Ask Celegwen if she can dissipate the books that aren't related to the relic. She got a fair amount of rest- surely she's up to it. Though the thought of destroying so many priceless works of literature cuts you deeply, your search is for an object greater than all of them combined.

>C) Pray to Mercy for guidance. You can recognize that searching this single room likely won't turn up any more results, and it sounds like the patrols are back outside. You'd hate to invoke Her for something so small, but the only thing more precious than your resources right now is your time.

>D) Write-in.
>A) Target books that are on the layout of the ruins. You suspect that if a holy relic is in a place this miserable that it would be heavily protected, or at least not easily accessed. If nothing else, you might learn how to better navigate out of your current position. Maps don't require nearly as much translation- no doubt you can make faster work of them. You can even make out a few maps that the women have found on loose-leaf parchment from here.
>>A) Target books that are on the layout of the ruins. You suspect that if a holy relic is in a place this miserable that it would be heavily protected, or at least not easily accessed. If nothing else, you might learn how to better navigate out of your current position. Maps don't require nearly as much translation- no doubt you can make faster work of them. You can even make out a few maps that the women have found on loose-leaf parchment from here.
>A) Target books that are on the layout of the ruins. You suspect that if a holy relic is in a place this miserable that it would be heavily protected, or at least not easily accessed. If nothing else, you might learn how to better navigate out of your current position. Maps don't require nearly as much translation- no doubt you can make faster work of them. You can even make out a few maps that the women have found on loose-leaf parchment from here.
>B) Ask Celegwen if she can dissipate the books that aren't related to the relic. She got a fair amount of rest- surely she's up to it. Though the thought of destroying so many priceless works of literature cuts you deeply, your search is for an object greater than all of them combined.
Come on people, delegate! There is no reason we can't do both.
>Invoke Spirit to grasp the contents of all the books as rapidly as your mind can take.
Time for some high octane BOOK INHALING
>A) Target books that are on the layout of the ruins. You suspect that if a holy relic is in a place this miserable that it would be heavily protected, or at least not easily accessed. If nothing else, you might learn how to better navigate out of your current position. Maps don't require nearly as much translation- no doubt you can make faster work of them. You can even make out a few maps that the women have found on loose-leaf parchment from here.
Also seconding>>3883520
We are in shape and have frens for emotional support to deal with spirit i don't see why not make the most of our time here.
>>A) Target books that are on the layout of the ruins. You suspect that if a holy relic is in a place this miserable that it would be heavily protected, or at least not easily accessed. If nothing else, you might learn how to better navigate out of your current position. Maps don't require nearly as much translation- no doubt you can make faster work of them. You can even make out a few maps that the women have found on loose-leaf parchment from here.
Blessed voters, what a thing to come home to. Done with classes for the day, gonna blast this post and hopefully get a few more updates out today! Vote is locked, going to combine all this. Writing now.
Looking to the loose-leaf maps littering the piles of parchment, you say to Celegwen, "I know this sounds crazy... but is there any way you can dissipate all of the books that don't pertain to the relic, its maps, the ruins, and the Church of Mercy?"

The sorceress blanches, obviously upset by the suggestion. "That would be nearly everything."

You nod, looking equally distraught. "I know."

Celegwen looks to her staff, propped up next to one of the ladders beside her, and the many books beyond. "It would be a terrible waste- but I assume these books can't possibly all be saved or preserved."

Ofelia groans. "Fuckin' scholars. Get on with it! The patrols are back... I don't think we can stay here much longer."

You give a pleading look to Celegwen. A long moment passes between you two, but it seems to do the trick.

"It's for a good cause," the elf rationalizes. "I will try. Please, stand back."

Quickly, you rise to your feet and nudge Ray awake. The mastiff wakes immediately, happily licking you and then seeing the food laid out for him. You drag the bundles of leaves and moss away from the stacks of books, leading your dog a safe distance away. You give him a brief command to stay as Ofelia creeps over by the entrance you all came in from, clearly keeping watch.


With a grand gesture, Celegwen takes her staff and rises, sweeping her arms and the gnarled wood over the piles of books laid out before her. Darkness engulfs the pages, twisting and warping the space around every painstakingly written word. You cannot discern the language the elf is speaking as she methodically utters her incantation, but it doesn't matter. You can see the pages disappearing before your eyes. One by one, the stacks of books begin to slide and crumble onto one another- you almost reach out to stop them from falling, but you realize that they aren't making a sound, even as they collapse into the void.

The darkness seeping out of Celegwen's weapon spreads further, down the myriad shelves and stacks that Ofelia left in her search. Hundreds of tomes are consumed, leaving only starlight in their wake. You watch, awe-struck, as Celegwen finishes the spell, dragging all of the remaining tomes from their shelves and into piles surrounding you both.

The sorceress gives you a broad smile, leaning hard against her staff as she ends the incantation. The starlight fades. There are no less than 100 books remaining. The stacks stand nearly as tall as you both. Ofelia looks like she wants to do a slow clap, but stops herself. "Very impressive," she whispers, "but how the fuck are we going to get through all of them?"

You give Ray a pat on his side, and look up to the halfling. "I'll take care of it. Thank you, Celegwen," you murmur, averting your eyes to the remaining books. There's a colossal stack of papers containing only maps, another with many books detailing only religion, and several more on architecture and the study of history.

Ofelia and Celegwen both look at you nervously as you knit your fingers together. You glance to them both with equal hesitation. "I'll be alright," you say as reassuringly as you can.

The halfling crosses her arms, whispering with a good deal of irritation, "sure. And what do you suppose you'll have to clean up after this?"

"My Spirit," you reply, closing your eyes and bowing you head. "...nothing more."

You don't see or hear anything in the silence of the study. You bring your hands close to your chest, leaning into the prayer as you speak out to the Goddess. You keep your voice a whisper, but can't help pouring yourself into each word.

"Spirit. ...I have strayed far from your path. Guide me. Take from me once more. Grant me your sight, that I may learn. Grant me your essence, that I might strengthen my own. Aid me! Through the wisdom of the immaterial, restore my most essential being-! My mind. My soul. Lend me your eyes. Lend me your Spirit!"

White light streaks through your veins. From the tips of your fingers, the brightness snakes around your arms, up beyond your robes, around your neck, through every pore and into your eyes. You glow with divinity, feeling the Goddess within you as you look out onto the stacks of knowledge.

You can see everything.

The information flows into you.

You see it clearly now. Every path, every winding corridor. The labyrinth that is the lost city of lights. The history of a people who worshiped Mercy's radiance, and integrated it into their being. Those who wished to use Her gifts for selfish purposes. A bloated hive of humans, unable to understand the meaning of restraint. Those who built until they collapsed under the weight of their own hubris.

There are holes- huge holes in the knowledge spread out before you. You know the interior of the buildings, the layout of their foundations, the strange systems of pipes for water coursing through many places once used as homes or sites of worship- but you do not know how they fell. There are holes, and it bothers you deeply, as the information courses into your veins, into your mind, into your Spirit.

You lean into Her gift, needing more. Your head feels fit to burst, as exhausting as it is to take in so much information at once- you can barely contain the labyrinth in your mind, but you need more. There are levels below the city. Great caverns, that were excavated and explored. Prisons made to contain those who fell from Her light, and were unfit to see it. Grand stretches of open air, underground gardens, and countless demons...

...you wish to stop the intake of information, but you can't. More knowledge floods into you, of the fall of Ostedholm. Consumed by demons, madness, and the depths of the Aerth. You see the true name of the very world you reside in. You know the Aerth has taken in many more civilizations. You know there is mention, countless mention, of other ruins. Other homes. Other prisons.

The ruins are not just prisons. You unclasp your hands, bringing them to the sides of your skull, as if you could keep your head from splitting from all the information being poured into it. Maps upon maps brought back by explorers and travelers who wished to see the world. Men such as yourself, seeking knowledge, seeking answers. Looking for a cure.

Tell of objects, great and terrible, brought together, housed in the greatest font of knowledge that this country had known in an age. Stashed away beneath the depths of a tremendous library, a testament to mankind's works. Ran and looked after by the devout, the wise, the sane- until the bitter end.

Until the Catalyst.

You take a knee, still clutching at your head, and try to repress a scream as the information continues flowing into you. You manage to hiss, "stop, please-"

There's still more. There's so much more. More history, more ruins. Snaking and winding under half of the country, deeper than the tallest buildings within the capital, more dangerous than anything you could hope to encounter on the surface. ...as reported by these men, as written by these survivors. The Catalyst worked its way through, taking them, robbing them of their humanity. Each and every last one of them.

You fall to both knees, curling into yourself, begging, "stop. Stop. Stop."

Drawings, murals, diagrams- painted on the walls of the ruins. Stories told by the survivors, before and after they turned. There are books written by demons in here, those intelligent enough and sadistic enough to wish to chronicle their exploits. Gratuitous descriptions of their methods, their murder, their madness. Your head feels beyond the point of bursting. You can't help but moan, trying to contain all of the information, begging Spirit to release you.

Spirit is not Merciful. ...but she does listen.

You feel Her leave you, the white flooding from your eyes and veins abating. It's a slow process, as She drains away from your body, leaving every inch of you feeling empty. The pain in your head subsides almost instantly, replaced by a vacant, cloying, nothing.

Ray is already at your side. You hadn't noticed him, but you wrap your arms around him instantly. The mastiff leans into you as you try not to sob.

Celegwen and Ofelia both walk over. The halfling speaks out first. "...Richard?"

You are too overwhelmed to speak, and don't respond. You can hear footsteps just a few yards away, in the hallway outside the room you're in. You know every corridor, every path leading through the building. The hallways are designed to shift as needed, enchanted to completely reorient themselves weekly. You know that the demons in this area are newer than the ones you read of, and must have been turned from humans that had explored down here and fell to the Catalyst. You know nothing of the demons you've encountered before, of the passages leading to this place, of the strange space leading up to it, of Malimos, of anyone, of anything, but... you know with absolute certainty that if this place contains the Relic, that it will be in its depths.

You clutch onto Ray, burying your face in his fur, utterly embarrassed but unable to help yourself. You need the comfort. The mastiff patiently leans back against you with no protest. Your entire being feels like a vase that's been overfilled and then shattered to pieces. It's almost more than you can stand to sit upright, kneeling as you are on the floor. You cringe away from the stares of both women and murmur, "please don't look at me."

There's a slight sound as they both obviously shift in place. You don't look up to confirm if they listened. Celegwen's voice speaks out.

"Do you need anything, Father? Is there any way I can help?"

Ofelia chimes in, "yeah. Seriously."

>A) Refuse any help. Try and compose yourself. Show some restraint, shove down the building anxiety, and let the women know that you know how to get to the lowest levels of the ruins. This is no time to break down.

>B) Talk a little to Ofelia and Celegwen. You've had brushes with death almost on a daily basis for weeks, and you're barely surviving. Vent a little, and see if it helps. They've been nothing but understanding- you're sure it would be alright, even if it's hard.

>C) Ask for some time to yourself. You need to sort out your thoughts on your own. Spirit challenges you in a way no other God does- and you rarely, if ever, rise to the occasion. See if a little space and self-recovery will do you some good before you set out again.

>D) Write-in.
>B) Talk a little to Ofelia and Celegwen. You've had brushes with death almost on a daily basis for weeks, and you're barely surviving. Vent a little, and see if it helps. They've been nothing but understanding- you're sure it would be alright, even if it's hard.
Fuck Spirit's bullshit. We need to talk and reach out to stay sane damnit.
>B) Talk a little to Ofelia and Celegwen. You've had brushes with death almost on a daily basis for weeks, and you're barely surviving. Vent a little, and see if it helps. They've been nothing but understanding- you're sure it would be alright, even if it's hard.
Talk a little about what you just learned, more how you feel about it than what. They can deal with making sense of it one piece at a time.
Pretty much unanimous, nice write-ins. Locking the vote, writing now!

Hell yeah, probably will get 3 updates in today at least. A little something to listen to while you guys are waiting.

You pull yourself away from Ray slightly, still keeping an arm around him to reassure yourself. He whines, licking the side of your robes, clearly wanting to help. You hold him closer, and dare to glance over to Celegwen and Ofelia. They were absolutely still staring at you. Having been found out, they both immediately begin inspecting the walls of the library. You wince, drawing back into yourself. The thought of anyone seeing you is unbearable. The words of the clergy cling to the back of your mind, exhausted as it is.

Ugly son of a bitch.

No better than a demon.

Ofelia tries again, "Richard. I know you're upset. Can you please talk to me? To us?"

"I feel helpless," you murmur, bringing your legs up to your chest rather than kneeling. Ray leans against you, whining still.

"You looked pretty damn cool, like, just a minute or two ago-" Ofelia starts, but you hear Celegwen firmly punch her in the arm.

The elf seems to walk over towards you. You dart your eyes back over for a moment, and see that she's sitting a short distance away. Ofelia quickly comes over to join her. You turn your face away again, ashamed of yourself.

"Why, Father?"

The kindness hanging off of Celegwen's voice somehow makes you feel worse. "I don't deserve for you both to be so... so kind. I don't deserve the Gods' blessing. I can't save any of these people."

The elf presses you further. "Is that not what we're here for?"

You take a long pause, battling the urge to not break down. You draw both of your arms around your legs, and Ray immediately is against you, nudging his head under your arm. You allow him to, the close contact easing the emptiness in a minuscule way. Your chest aches. "There was no mention of the relic. I don't even know if what we're looking for is here. It doesn't matter. I... I could read every book in this Gods-forsaken place, and it wouldn't bring back..."

Your voice catches in your throat. You put your head down, continuing through choked words, "...all the people who were lost here. We've been walking through a graveyard... and fighting people who didn't even know what they were doing wrong. Everything is wrong. I can't cure them. I can't heal what's happened here. I don't even know what I'm doing- there's so much that I don't know, and yet... it feels like the more I learn, the worse off I am-"

A sob starts to catch in your throat. Ofelia mercifully speaks over the sound, scooting a little closer but still keeping fair distance. "You didn't know. ...and you've been fightin' for your life. You haven't done anythin' wrong."

You hang your head further, burying your face in your arms as you're wrapped around yourself, trying desperately to choke back tears. Your breath keeps hitching as you struggle to not weep. Trying to keep your voice down is only making it harder. "I haven't done anything- anything right either-! Innocent men and women killed- all because of me. I've thought I've been doing the right thing- I've put you all in danger- haven't even found a single lead... just look at me-! Flesh is ashamed of me. Spirit knows it. Knows my failings. I'm... I'm..."

You can't finish the sentence, crying into your robes. Both women seem to be giving you a respectable amount of space, or they're too preoccupied with the implications of your words to respond.

The silence is agonizing, enough for you to continue. "I'm weak. I'm not a king or a God or a sorcerer. I can't do anything on my own- and even when I try, even when I devote my life to what I love, I can't do anything right. I waste away. I abuse Their gifts. I get overwhelmed. I'm weak-"

You look up for a moment, terrified. There's something on you. Someone.

Ofelia, small as she is, seems to be able to hug you from where you're sitting on the ground. You tense, every hair on your body standing on end, unable to respond. You've never, ever been touched like this before. ...save for your mother. You look to Celegwen for help, or an easy out.

She seems to notice, and comes over, hugging you as well. You can't be any more on edge- the tears evaporate as your mind scrambles to make sense of what to do.

Her voice slightly muffled, Ofelia says quietly, "you're too hard on yourself. We've gotten ya' in some trouble, too. You've saved mine and Gwen's life a couple times now- ya' gotta' stop actin' like there's no good in ya'. It's not right."

>A) Pull away from both women, and ask for some space. Respectfully ask them to not touch you like that again. You appreciate their kindness but you can't forget your position- and you honestly just don't want anyone that close to you. You've been through enough. Try explaining to them why you are so hard on yourself.

>B) Permit Ofelia and Celegwen to hug you a bit longer. You're panicking, but on some level you're getting some extreme catharsis from a little contact. ...it may not be human contact, but it's something. You just need a minute to digest exactly how you feel. (How do you feel?)

>C) Let your friends give you a hug. Let them comfort you. Let someone into your life. Sure, you're not certain if your heart will ever stop racing, but you need some good in your life. You've trusted these women thus far, over far more substantial things- let them in a little closer, and finish venting.

>D) Write-in.
>>C) Let your friends give you a hug. Let them comfort you. Let someone into your life. Sure, you're not certain if your heart will ever stop racing, but you need some good in your life. You've trusted these women thus far, over far more substantial things- let them in a little closer, and finish venting.
>C) Let your friends give you a hug. Let them comfort you. Let someone into your life. Sure, you're not certain if your heart will ever stop racing, but you need some good in your life. You've trusted these women thus far, over far more substantial things- let them in a little closer, and finish venting.

Hug them back and cry all over their clothes.
this >>3884283
Quality shit. Locking the vote, writing now.

You know she's right. Ofelia isn't lying to you- she genuinely thinks you're a good person. Celegwen is hardly protesting, too. Your hands tremble as you lift them from your knees, and awkwardly wrap them back around your friends. You're still young, but 24 years has been far too long without having anyone in your life to hold. You try to muffle your tears as they escape, hating how ugly the sound is- but you're so relieved that it's difficult to care. It feels so good to hold someone against you.

Relief pours over you in waves. You can't help but sob against your friends, burying your face in Ofelia's sleeve as she tightens her arms ever so slightly.

You don't want to the moment to end.

None of you feels the need to say anything for a long while. Ray's panting interjects from time to time, but it's difficult to hear him. You try to muffle your sobs, and apologize through the tears, "...sorry- for ruining your.. shirt.."

You can sense Ofelia waving a hand dismissively, still keeping her arms around you. "No big deal. Don'tcha worry 'bout a thing."

"I'm- still... worried," you sob, struggling to speak, your voice breaking as you try to keep your volume down. "...about where- we're headed... what might- happen... this place... the people that... were here... the ones that... haven't... left..."

Celegwen lifts her head up from your shoulder, and whispers, "I promised to help you. I understand the risks. I'm... sorry for being so hard on you. I did not understand at the time how much you're struggling with, Father. You are much stronger than you give yourself credit for. ...do try and keep your voice down, though."

You nod your head, sobbing harder, unable to speak. Ofelia pats you on the back, clearly not minding that you're soaking her shirt. "Hey, hotshot. It's okay. You've been through some crazy stuff- but Gwen's right. Remember what we said before? No one else we've met down here had their shit on as straight as you. Gimme just a sec, Richard-" Ofelia pulls away from you gently. You reluctantly let her go. Celegwen is still against you, and you flush deeply as she pulls you in closer. Ray hangs back a bit, clearly having no training or idea as to how to respond to the situation.

The elf gives you a smile that catches your heart in your throat. Gently, she whispers, "it's alright."

You bite your lip, trying to still the tears, but they're still coming. You hold her close as well, placing your chin over her shoulder and burying your face in your sleeve to not get tears all over her bare skin. The elf's slender sleeves don't do you much good, but as she's much closer to your own race's height, it's even more reassuring to hold her next to you than Ofelia. You don't need to pretend she's a human woman. You're simply relieved beyond words to be next to a friend.

A few more minutes pass. Ofelia's voice speaks out over you. "No one seems to be payin' us any mind. Either the patrols are deaf or they're just used to the sound from the other people down here... oh, Richard- my bad-"

Your sobs redouble. Celegwen holds you a bit tighter as you choke out, "do you- think- any of those people... will make it... to the surface?"

A long silence hangs in the air. Much longer than you'd like. Celegwen replies, "I don't think any of us can answer that with any certainty."

Ofelia adds in, "I hope they do. They sure stand a better chance now than if they hadn't met ya', right?"

You nod. It's all you can do, distraught as you are. At some point, Ofelia steps away from the door and comes back to hug you again. You knit your eyes shut, sobbing, for once not having to deal with any immediate or lasting pain.

You can feel time wearing on all of you.

Your tears finally start to subside after what feels like half an hour, maybe more. You can't bear to break away from them, so you try talking at a little more length. Your throat is dry, cracked from crying for so long, but it still feels so good to be so open. "I've... been raised my entire life... to not... trust anyone. To keep... people away. It's... it's so terrible. I know you... must have thought I was crazy... leaving so soon, before... I didn't mean... I didn't mean anything by it. It's... it's just... hard... thank you. Both of you. I won't... I won't let you down again. I-"

Celegwen pulls back from you for a moment, looking at you sternly. You're too exhausted to shrink away, and merely wince at the eye contact. You note this is the first time you've looked straight into her eyes when they aren't glazed over- the irises are silver, the whites speckled with flecks of purple and black. You would never be able to tell at a glance. You dart your own eyes away after a moment, as she says with a smirk, "it's alright, even if you do. I know you're trying as hard as you can, Father. That's more than enough."

"You humans got too short a life to live for all this nonsense," Ofelia adds, her voice comically muffled next to your hanging sleeve. "I've said it before and I'll say it again: it's not right. People ought to be good to one another."

The halfling pulls away a bit, holding up a finger to you. You watch her as she slinks away towards her equipment, and takes out a handkerchief for you.

You're unable to resist asking, "...why do you have so many of them?"

"What? These?" She waves the cloth around delicately, then sticks it firmly at you. You take it without complaint. She answers, "people always get upset when they're away from home. I figured I'd need plenty where I was goin'. ...looks like I was right," she smirks, before breaking out into a cheeky grin. You can't offer her one in return, but your expression at least softens a good deal. You pull away from Celegwen at last, drying your face and not wanting her so close while you do so. It's hard to not feel ashamed for your behavior, but your friends were as understanding as you could have ever hoped for.

You look at the handkerchief awkwardly, unsure of whether or not to hand it back to Ofelia.

"Keep it," she says. Your green irises dart up to her for a moment, unsure if you heard her correctly.

"I couldn't..." you protest.

"I don't give a shit 'bout yer customs, keep it."

"You're... you're sure?"

"Yeah, 'course. You gotta make it up to me by takin' better care o' yourself. The less I see ya' usin' it, the better!"

The corners of your mouth almost pick up as you tuck the cloth away in one of your pockets. "I... I can do that."

Celegwen moves to stand, looking at you earnestly. "Do you think you'll be alright, Father?"

You sniff, looking out over the countless books surrounding you. It's a wonder that you feel so much better, even after having prayed to Spirit. A ghost of a smile crosses your face as you murmur, "...I think so."

"OhmygoodnessCelegwen, did you see that?" Ofelia practically trips over herself, leaning in toward you. You shirk away, the smile fading as quickly as it came.

"See... what?" you ask, wrapping your arms around yourself.

The sorceress is also grinning. Otherwise, she elegantly doesn't acknowledge Ofelia's teasing. "If I'm not mistaken, Father, you understand the content of this material now, do you not?"

You pull a bit further away from Ofelia, who is decidedly infringing on your personal space. Ray bounds forward, pushing himself in between the two of you, eager to help. "Yes. ...Ofelia, please. I'm fine."

The halfling sarcastically deflates, putting a hand out to stop the mastiff from slobbering all over her. She goes back to her equipment, and sets to readying her things. Your hands are still trembling, but it's a lot easier to still the rest of your body, given how much relief you feel. You pick up your journal, the diary you acquired earlier, and leave the rest aside. It takes seconds to stash your new findings, gather your things, and ready yourself to go.

Ofelia immediately thrusts more food into your hands. Your frown is back in full force as she asks, "so. Where are we going?"

(Just over the limit, 3/4)
The lowest level of the ruins is a several day march, if you all pick your path carefully. You don't know when the buildings last reoriented themselves- and if you don't make it below the ruins of the city within a week of the last change, you could be caught between buildings, or worse. You know you want to get to the lowest level of the ruins- into the caverns beneath the city of lights. The question is how.

>A) You're taking the shortest route possible to the lowest level of the ruins. It will be extremely dangerous- imps and minor demons surround the levels you current occupy, but you may ultimately save time. Time you can't afford to waste. You can take advantage of the strange geography here, now that you know it like the back of your hand- it will take only a day, if you all push yourselves.

>B) You're taking the safest route possible. You've endangered your friend's lives several times already. You'd rather take the extra time to pick out a path, away from the patrols, to descend. You'll be cutting it close to the safest window to travel down here- it would likely take several days of pure marching, let alone time to rest. ...but you know they're worth the precaution.

>C) Write-in.
>A) You're taking the shortest route possible to the lowest level of the ruins. It will be extremely dangerous- imps and minor demons surround the levels you current occupy, but you may ultimately save time. Time you can't afford to waste. You can take advantage of the strange geography here, now that you know it like the back of your hand- it will take only a day, if you all push yourselves.
>>A) You're taking the shortest route possible to the lowest level of the ruins. It will be extremely dangerous- imps and minor demons surround the levels you current occupy, but you may ultimately save time. Time you can't afford to waste. You can take advantage of the strange geography here, now that you know it like the back of your hand- it will take only a day, if you all push yourselves.
>A) You're taking the shortest route possible to the lowest level of the ruins. It will be extremely dangerous- imps and minor demons surround the levels you current occupy, but you may ultimately save time. Time you can't afford to waste. You can take advantage of the strange geography here, now that you know it like the back of your hand- it will take only a day, if you all push yourselves.
Bit late for an update unfortunately, but I'll be back in the early afternoon as usual. Thanks for your patience, guys, hope all the updates from today made up for it. Vote will be open until I get back.

Make Cel remember conjure food and water already
I was seriously wondering when someone was going to mention what slow-going it's been. Bringing this up for sure. However, this directly conflicts with

So we're going to lean towards the majority. Locking the vote- writing now!
"We're heading towards the lowest level of the ruins... there are caverns down there that once housed many demons. There were caches as well... of magical artifacts, even deeper below the Aerth. I strongly suspect we'll find the relic there, if... if it's to be found in this portion of the ruins at all."

Celegwen and Ofelia both look to you, having gathered their things and clearly readied to go. You pause a moment. The rogue pipes up, "assumin' you know the way, then?"

You frown. "I do. ...I'd like to take the shortest route we can. This building reorients itself periodically... I'm deeply concerned for your safety, were we to be caught in it."

Ofelia pales, but the sorceress seems entirely unphased. You glance over to the elf, clearly addressing her despite avoiding her gaze. It's rough to speak at such length, but you feel like it's important enough to warrant saying. "...we won't get very far if we don't resupply. Celegwen, is there no way you can conjure any food or water? We could side-track here to gather what we need, but I wanted to ask... I recall that you were able to do so... before."

"...we've been running for our lives and watching our every step for days. I simply haven't had the time to try," Celegwen explains, patiently. "I was able to withhold my fundamental knowledge of the arcane from the demon that took so much from me- but I cannot relearn these skills without time and practice. It's taken me over 200 years to master the art, and I had much of that stolen from me, Father. ...I cannot possibly hope to relearn everything I once knew, in the little time we have here."

You pause again.


A cold sweat hits you. It would be unbelievably dangerous. You've never prayed directly to Her before. You've always, always exercised the utmost prudence with Her. But with where you're going- what you want to do- you genuinely don't know what to expect. You could lose your way, or be lost without resources. You might not have time for scavenging if you're only going into greater danger. You normally would never be able to give back the elf her lost time... but you're far from a normal man.

The fear is impossible to mask as you inquire, "how much time do you think you would need?"

"Only a few days to grasp the start of the spell. I would need much, much longer to master it. Conjuration is incredibly taxing on me, but I recognize our need is great."

You nod, thinking to yourself. Demons do not subsist as humans do. Their sustenance is not food or water but human emotion, in whatever twisted form they prefer the most. You know this, and your heart sinks. The library may be the last place for a long while that any of you will see any resupply.

Mother Aimar of the Church of Time has only written to you once, on the day you returned as the Father of the Church of Mercy. She formally welcomed you into your rank, and nothing more. You have never been able to speak to her at length, and know very little of her practitioners. The church itself is nestled deep within the Folorast mountains, several weeks by foot at best. You've never found the need to journey to see her, and have respected Time enough to never invoke Her.

...you have no idea what you'd be getting into. You've only heard whispers, warnings- caution against ever trying to turn back the sands.

>A) Pray to Time, despite the warnings. Grant Celegwen the days she needs in order to relearn conjuration. Your need is great. You are willing to take the risk, and you aren't willing to wait until you're desperate. You don't want to waste any more time or resources, and this is a gift that no one else could possibly give your friend. One that could ultimately save all of your lives.

>B) Stay your hands. Double back to the library, gather as much food and water as you all can carry. No matter how many demons have repopulated the area, you're more willing to contend with a challenge you know you can face. If things ever get dire enough, you can always attempt the prayer then- but you'd rather wait.

>C) Write-in.
>>B) Stay your hands. Double back to the library, gather as much food and water as you all can carry. No matter how many demons have repopulated the area, you're more willing to contend with a challenge you know you can face. If things ever get dire enough, you can always attempt the prayer then- but you'd rather wait.
>>B) Stay your hands. Double back to the library, gather as much food and water as you all can carry. No matter how many demons have repopulated the area, you're more willing to contend with a challenge you know you can face. If things ever get dire enough, you can always attempt the prayer then- but you'd rather wait.
"As i see it, the only things that will be down there with us are going to be demons... so i suggest we might... find a way to consume them?"
>>B) Stay your hands. Double back to the library, gather as much food and water as you all can carry. No matter how many demons have repopulated the area, you're more willing to contend with a challenge you know you can face. If things ever get dire enough, you can always attempt the prayer then- but you'd rather wait.
>B) Stay your hands. Double back to the library, gather as much food and water as you all can carry. No matter how many demons have repopulated the area, you're more willing to contend with a challenge you know you can face. If things ever get dire enough, you can always attempt the prayer then- but you'd rather wait.

[A] raises a good point in that the need is great, and there could be something nasty waiting back at the library, but there's no telling how high the cost would be praying not only for "free time," but for someone else. This is Time we're talking about. Mercy makes Richard bleed, Flesh burns him alive, Agriculture drains his nutrients; it isn't out of the realm of possibility that he would either undergo some kind of deep freeze or have a "Stop-status" put on him for his prayer to Time. That's also assuming Time will even grant the prayer.

But on that subject, does Richard know what appeases Time? I know he's never prayed to Her, but just wondering.

Also sorry for the wall of text.
Some really good points here. You guys did inspect the corpses of those extremely old imps before, that were essentially blood and dust, but haven't really examined any demons at length. Their flesh and blood is decidedly rotten, but it's not outside of the realm of possibility to purify their corpse. Say, through Flesh. Might not be a blood-to-water-to-wine kind of deal, but it may be possible. You'd need to kill a demon first and see if it's edible, and consider the ramifications of imbibing one, and consider if your allies would agree to it, of course, but definitely something to consider!

Richard is aware that Time is best appeased by respecting Her wishes. He is unaware of the consequences of praying to Her, but even as a child was taught how to best respect every God. She in particular is revered through those who manage and structure their time wisely, people who fill their hours and minutes with the things that they genuinely love and wish to pursue. Conversely, indolence and sluggishness is a direct affront to Her. You are, by definition, a pretty holy man, and don't need to worry about having displeased Her. You've spent your life on noble pursuits, tending to the Church and filling your days with the things that matter most to you.

The concern comes not from offending Her through your actions, but the very threat that arises from praying to Her directly. To do so directly contradicts Her teachings.
oh and no need to apologize for any wall of text, I seriously welcome the discussion!
So essentially, Richard doing his job meets Her standards, and isn't going to get him any brownie points.

> "...but the very threat that arises from praying to Her directly."
That's what I was afraid of.

Yeah, praying to Time is likely best left as a last resort, if at all. Thanks for the insight!
>So essentially, Richard doing his job meets Her standards, and isn't going to get him any brownie points.
More so that your obsessive devotion towards getting shit done and taking care of business exceeds what anyone would reasonably expect of a priest. He could probably do with a vacation or some downtime and not have to worry about falling out of Her good graces unless he did something really fucking crazy.

Praying directly to the Gods is, by all rights, pretty crazy though. Hence the way most people react to you. Glad I could be of some help!

I've got some stuff to take care of today but I will absolutely try and get at least one more update out later tonight. Vote will be open until then.


Fine. If no one else wants to pray to time, could Spirit restore her lost knowledge?
Could you elaborate on what you mean by "restore her lost knowledge?" I want to be sure I understand the question.
If the demon ate her memories, could Spirit restore them? The magic related ones at least?
>>B) Stay your hands. Double back to the library, gather as much food and water as you all can carry. No matter how many demons have repopulated the area, you're more willing to contend with a challenge you know you can face. If things ever get dire enough, you can always attempt the prayer then- but you'd rather wait.
Memories have a bit of overlap between Time and Spirit. Spirit aids in how you deal with memories, while Time aids in the loss or retention of them. It wouldn't be possible for Spirit to restore a heathen's memories from hundreds of years of study. You could try and rekindle the feelings Celegwen has regarding her magic through Spirit, but it wouldn't be possible to infringe on the other Goddesses' domain without some serious issues.

Having said all that, you can still certainly try! I'm going to go finally finish some Halloween decorations and I'll be back to write the next post. Vote is still open until then.
Done with the yard decorations, absolutely got assaulted by mosquitoes despite wearing multiple layers of clothes and spray. Dammit. Will still update tonight, just going to have a bit of a delay. Thanks again for all of your patience everyone, seriously appreciate it.
Meds seem to finally be wearing off, thanks for bearing with me guys.

Looks like B was the overwhelming vote!

Going to omit this, just due to it directly conflicting with so many other votes. I appreciate the question though, hope I was able to shed some light on it.

Vote is locked! Writing now.
You echo Celegwen's words back to her. "Our need is great..."

Fidgeting with your holy symbol, you keep your eyes downcast, conflicted. You are hardly a coward... but you can't help but feel like one. Especially when lives are on the line and you can't even make up your mind. Your verdant irises fall on your hanging robes, your thin wrists, and you grit your teeth. Your need is great, but there is no telling how high the cost may be of invoking Time here. You would ask Spirit for Her aid as well, but you know it's more prudent to respect the will of the Gods.

Besides- there is another way to gather resources before you set off. One that doesn't require invoking Her.

"We need to double back to the front of the library," you explain, your gaze still averted. You pour over the dim room, now that the light source has been put away. There's a faint glow coming from the wooden panels around you that permits you to see through the darkness. Celegwen and Ofelia have left the place in disarray, but you can't mind too much anymore. You have long since realized that you may be the last person to ever read the tomes of Ostedholm. "We'll gather as much food and water as we can carry. I understand that the patrols will likely have returned, but..."

You can feel the two women scrutinizing you as you trail off.

"But what?" Ofelia asks.

"...but I fear it is our best option."

Ofelia sighs sarcastically. "We're headin' into certain danger. Whatever are we to do?"

Celegwen chimes in, her smile evident in her words. "Surely, we fair maidens are better suited to a safer path."

You can't help but be amused. You kneel down, scratching Ray behind his ears as you say to them, "I'm glad you're both alright with it. We'll move quickly... I suspect it will take a full day of hard marching to reach the lowest level of the ruins, barring any interruptions."

"Let's get goin', then," Ofelia says, her smirk subsiding. "You leadin' the way, hotshot?"

You give Ray a pat on the head, and motion for the mastiff to follow you. "Good boy, Ray. Here, boy. ...if it's alright with you, Ofelia, would you please keep ahead? I can direct us, but your eyes are far better than my own."

"I see how it is." The halfling is already heading out of the room, her voice dropping to incomprehensible murmurs as she jokingly rambles to herself. "...usin' me as a meat shield, eh? I make a pretty poor one... of all the nerve..."

You all slowly file out of the room you've been occupying. Ofelia slips out first, motioning for everyone to safely follow. "Hurry," she whispers, "this place is swarmin'."

Celegwen leaves next, struggling once again to get through the narrow opening, but managing to get her chest down enough to pass by. You pat Ray on his side, guiding him towards the exit. He's obviously nervous, ears back, tail down. He can clearly sense the danger ahead. "Come on, boy," you whisper reassuringly, "good boy, Ray. ...going to do something real nice for you when we get back home. ...we'll get you a steak. Big as your head. Just a little while longer, boy. Come on. Let's go."

The mastiff complies, eventually, making his way out. You're the last to leave. Your eyes linger a moment on the spot you and your friends occupied as they hugged you for the first time. You try to sear the image into your memory, desperate to hold onto some good in the world.

You turn and leave. It's effortless to slide out into the hallway- and you're immediately pulled by your robes. You nearly let out a gasp, but put a hand to your mouth to muffle it. Celegwen puts a finger to her lips as she finishes pulling you behind the turn in the hallway. Beside her are Ofelia and Ray. They both look terrified.

Celegwen keeps the finger to her lips, pointing to your right. You follow her hand, and see two imps skittering along the ceiling just down the corridor. They're decked to the teeth with knives.

You take your hand off of your mouth, placing it over your holy symbol instead. Its warmth is faint but reassuring, as always. Your pulse slows, as you take the gold in your hands and look to your companions. With your free hand, you gesture towards the opposite end of the hallway. You all immediately take off.

You and Ofelia wordlessly coordinate your return to the front of the building. She stops you all frequently, ducking around countless corners, slipping behind protruding columns of stone and weaving between bookshelves. The labyrinthine structure of the city of lights is a challenge to navigate, but fortunately, you both know the way in your current location. Each and every time the rogue seems to pause you guide her. Your combined efforts see you all back in one piece... but Celegwen holds out a hand, bringing you all to a stop.

Wordlessly, the elf puts her hands to the sides of her head like a pair of horns. She bares her teeth, in the cutest conceivable imitation of a demon you've ever seen. You struggle to not make a sound at the sight- it looks as if Ofelia is repressing some laughter as well. Celegwen pouts, and motions for you all to inch forward. You put out a hand to stop Ray from moving forward, but leer around the corner with as much caution as you can.

The sage and sapphire of the entrance hits you in the same invigorating way as it did the day before. The creeping vines, the trickling stream... the demon centered in the room. You catch a terribly brief glance at it. It's hard to tell their place in the heirarchy, as they're distinctly humanoid... yet, their shape seems to bend and twist in the light. It's neither man nor woman, corporeal nor bodiless. It almost seems to be made of shadow. You pull back around the corner. It's only one demon. It doesn't seem to have noticed you. Surely, you can take it.

>A) Motion for Celegwen, Ofelia and Ray to stay in hiding while you charge the demon. Take it by surprise.
>A1) Use your mace and shield- pray to Flesh to empower your body.
>A2) Pray to Agriculture to grow the surrounding vines into a prison over the demon's form.
>A3) Pray to Spirit to engage the demon in a battle of wills. You are feeling fantastic after your last prayer to Her. You want more.
>A4) Pray to Storm to engulf the demon in water and lightning. Drown it. Burn it. You aren't taking any chances, even if your last prayer to Him taxed you heavily.

>B) Motion for your allies to help you take on the demon, and charge it together.
>B1) Use your mace and shield, and abstain from prayer. You want to build your strength. Give your wasted muscles some work.
>B2) Pray to Mercy to protect your friends from harm while they lead the charge.

>C) Motion to Ofelia to sneak up on the demon and take it down while you create a distraction. (Write-in what you wish to do.)

>D) Write-in.
Have ofelia maneuver around the Back,instruct gwen to attack it only when it seems incorpreal with the arcane,richard charges with no blessing,holding off until We know more about it,prod its defenses and let the girls strike the killing blow when they can.

Thunder and lightning very very frightening
lets see how a write-in does in a 7 option post so this gets my vote
>give voters 7 options
>get a write-in with a complete battleplan
You fucking lunatics.

As cool as this is, going to go with the majority on this one to avoid conflicting actions. Thank you, though!

Vote is locked. Writing now.
Turning back to Ofelia, you gesture for her to sneak around and get the jump on the demon. As quietly as you can, you whisper, "it looks to be shifting between forms. Only strike it when it's assumed a solid shape. I'll give you a signal."

She nods, pulling her hood up further and slinking away. She seems to disappear entirely into the shadows, vanishing from your sight as quickly as she appeared. You can't hear her footsteps- you'll have to trust her to listen to your instruction.

Celegwen tightens her grip around her staff, making no motion to take out a blade. You nod to her, wordlessly agreeing to have her target the demon when it's incorporeal.

Your long, scarred fingers tense around your mace, whispering once again, "I'll be right behind you."

The elf steps out boldly into the room. You watch intently from your hiding place. The library's shelves are soaked from the streams running through them. The steady running water would be soothing, were it not for the demon rapidly approaching your friend. You brace yourself, bringing your shield up over you and Ray, and charge.

"Ray- behind me!"

Your shout immediately grabs the demon's attention as you rush forward. Celegwen doesn't hesitate, rapidly uttering an incantation that discharges a beam of darkness out and into the demon. She's nearly knocked backwards from the force of the blast.

A gaping hole is left in the wake of her attack. Roughly the size of your fist, the demon's form warps and bends into the loss of form. Long tendrils begin to spread from the interior of its body... and then suddenly dart out towards you!

You dodge to the side, shield up as you crash to the floor and roll away from the attack. You manage to get back to your feet fairly quickly, in time to see the demon targeting you once again!

Dread and elation blend into a sick kind of joy as you swing your mace down on the tendrils before they can strike you or Ray. With as much force as you can muster, you cleave through the solid stalks of demonic flesh, trying your best to not take too much delight out of attacking the beast. You have always craved violence- but you need to exercise restraint. You back up after smiting the demon's attack, running back a fair distance.

"After me, Ray!" You call, trying to ensure that the hound stays on your heels. He's right behind you, growling and gnashing his teeth, practically begging you to attack. Fortunately, he also knows when to abstain.

You hear another outpouring of enchantments as Celegwen fires into the demon. You whip your head around for the briefest of moments, looking over your shoulder to see the demon in hot pursuit. You skid to a halt, turning on your heel to face it as it seems to ready another attack- and disappears entirely from view.

You spin around, looking frantically for your attacker. Celegwen calls out, "Father?! Where are you?!"

Confused, you glance over to the elf. Her form is fuzzy- the outlines of her body seem to be intangible.

Your voice doesn't sound quite right, phasing in and out as you ask, "Celegwen?"

It's as if there's static on the edges of everything. You look down to Ray, and see that he, too, seems distorted. You keep your shield up, backing up towards a nearby wall to grant yourself better protection.

Something- someone- materializes next to you. It's not the demon.

It's you.

All of the color drains from your face, as panic drenches your body. You can feel the Catalyst tugging at the edges of your mind from the sharp emotion, and try your best to calm down. It's a losing battle.

The imitator looks exactly like you, from the blood stains on his robes, to his crooked nose, to the last scar on his concerned face and hands. His form is still grainy, and you're deeply disturbed by the sight. The demon flashes a toothy grin at you, green eyes coyly dragging over your shaking form. He whispers in your own voice, "want to have some fuuun, Father?"

Your stomach flips. You take hold of your holy symbol, taking care to not scratch it against your mace. Your fingers seem to be phasing in and out of existence, just an intangible as the edges of the demon. You want to raise your voice in protest, but the demon calls out first.

"The demon took my form! Come, quickly! Now's our chance!"

Celegwen immediately runs over, staff at the ready- and Ofelia is still nowhere in sight. Ray has his ears down, and is whining at both you and the demon. Your heart breaks into a hundred pieces at the sight.

>A) Call out to Celegwen and Ofelia. Warn them that the demon is the imposter, and try to say something that will convince them of your identity. (Write-in what you wish to say.)

>B) Attack the demon. It may be as weak as you are, in its current form. You all should be able to quickly subdue it, if you act quickly.

>C) Talk to Ray. Your dog will know you aren't a demon. You don't need to convince anyone else of who you are- let your boy vouch for you.

>D) Write-in.

Don't try to convince them, just say it so they hold off on attacking either one of you. Then

Demons cant invoke the gods, Say a litany so that the girls know who the true man of the gods is.
invoke mercy if we can with an elaborate prayer.

nice plan
fuck you dopplegangsters
You guys are killing it. Based as hell to have remembered. Got the votes, writing now!

You tear your eyes from Ray, focusing on the sorceress running straight at you. Your voice is trembling terribly as you call out, "Wait! He's lying!"

Celegwen comes quickly to a stop. Her form bends and shifts before you, as your vision is clearly distorted by some effect the demon has placed on the area around you. Said demon takes a step away from you, looking back and forth between you and Celegwen with a convincing amount of anxiety.

"There's no time-" he says, voice wrought with convincing worry. He puts up his hands, pretending that you're about to strike him. "Stop!"

The demon takes a step towards you. Ray starts to bark hysterically, completely unable to comprehend the danger you're in. You raise both of your hands towards the demon, first in a defensive motion, and then clasped together firmly in prayer. The demon lunges at you, not wasting another second. You're forced to separate your hands to wrestle the lunatic off of you, as you both crash to the floor. You both wrestle with each other for the briefest of moments, before you toss his emaciated form aside. You're used to pushing your frame when it's this strained- and he clearly is not.

"Mercy-!" You start, but your voice is disjointed. Everything feels wrong.

You see the demon intentionally fall harder than he needed to onto the floor, splitting open his lip and cheek as he lands. The monster makes a show of putting a hand to his face. The hurt in his voice mimics your own almost perfectly, as he looks up to Celegwen. She's standing a safe distance away, her expression unreadable as she looks between both of you. You want to puke as the demon drags himself to his feet, pleading, "you have to help me- please!"

Ray's tail is tucked between his legs, ears back as he whines and growls at the both of you. You want to comfort him so badly, but you can't let this demon out of your sight. The demon glances at you again, and makes a dramatic show of crawling towards you, pretending to struggle as if he were badly injured. His voice is pained, desperate, as he continues to talk. "I won't let you take my friends. I won't let you hurt anyone else!"

He lunges at you again, and this time manages to pin you to the floor. He immediately twists one of your arms, straddling over you and ensuring that you can't lock your hands in prayer. The sensation of his bone against your own is extremely unsettling. You hadn't quite realized the severity of your appearance, but this is making it impossible to ignore. The demon is grating against your ribs as he pins you, driving the sharp edges of his knees into your sides to keep you still. You grimace, trying to kick up, to get leverage, but he only twists your skeletal arm further. The demon's bloodied lip drips onto your own skin at a steady rate, the crimson as untainted as any human man's should be.

His disguise is flawless- but you know of one thing a demon could never imitate. You let him lean in closer, trying to not put up much resistance to save your joints further stress. You murmur, "she won't hurt me. You've made a terrible mistake. ...I have something that you could never imitate."

Celegwen takes a step forward, staff pointed at you both, but looking at you directly. It's apparent she heard you, even though your words were scarcely a whisper.

The demon leers in, closely, pulling hard enough on your arm to nearly dislocate it. You can't help but moan from the pain, trying your best to muffle the sound and completely failing to do so. The demon leans in even closer, sadism dripping off every syllable as he whispers right in your ear, the tone seemingly echoing in your mind but outside of the room's reach, "Freak. I'm going to do things to her you couldn't even imagine. She'll die thinking it was you."

You shoot the demon a grin with far worse intent than the one he gave you moments ago, starting to speak again, but your words are cut short by another groan.

"Why are you smiling- he's- he's doing something! Hurry! While there's still time-!"

The pain coursing through your shoulder is quickly becoming unbearable. You try calling out, "Mercy-"

Celegwen takes a few more steps forward, the same neutral expression on her face as before. The demon pulls harder on your arm, muting the twisted smile he's been giving you. You don't see the expression he makes to Celegwen, as he pulls the bone clean out of the socket. You can't bury your face in your sleeve, and the thought of touching the demon any further is utterly revolting. You settle on having to scream into the open air.

The demon's voice carries over the tail end of your agony, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry... I can't imagine what you're thinking. Please trust me. Please. You know I would never hurt anyone unless our lives were in danger. I need you to trust me. Please."

Your pulse skyrocketing, sweat dripping down your back, pressed into the moss and old wooden floor, you make no attempt to pull away from the demon. The nerves around your dislocated shoulder cry out in response to the slightest movement, but you lean into the demon. He looks at you, wide eyed, legitimately afraid. You know his response is no act.

"The demon's insane! You know I wouldn't be able to do that- please! Help!"

He shoots you another grin, trying to twist your arm further. Your nerves, overworked, tingle as the damage takes hold. Your body may respond with another moan, you may writhe against the attack- but your mind is elsewhere. Your words drip with divinity as you feverishly utter a litany. Your voice wavers, but the intent is as steady and methodical as the repetition of the words.

"In everlasting pain,
this mortal vessel is made fit to serve You,
behold your Father, prostrate before You,
give unto us Mercy."

"Stop," the demon sneers, twisting your arm even further.

"I know you are afraid," you murmur. You continue to lean into his torment, eyes glazing over with a faint, golden light. You can feel Her working through you, faintly, unable to properly reach your form but striving to heal whatever damage is within Her power. You do not fear this demon. You have felt far worse pain.

You can't help but groan, as the demon continues to twist. You force the words out, through gritted teeth,

"Though ceaseless,
the suffering of Our children will not go unheard,
their Mother will not turn from them, their prayers will be answered,
blessed as they are by Mercy."

"STOP-" the demon shouts, finally releasing your arm. He's clearly terrified. Celegwen rushes forward, rapidly uttering an incantation as the demon turns to flee. Ofelia leaps from the shadows the moment the demon is off of you. Their maneuver pins the demon in place- it doesn't drop its disguise, holding onto your form as you continue to preach. Your voices carry over one another in a discordant chorus- one divine, and the other decidedly sacrilegious.


Celegwen blasts the demon straight into his chest. The blood and viscera disappears into the space she's created, seeping through the demon's robes. He places a hand to his chest, ripping out a tendril of viscera and spiking it towards the spell caster. Ofelia and Ray jump onto him in tandem. Your mastiff rips into the demon's arm while the rogue stabs him straight into the back. His screams intermingle with your trembling words, as you lay against the floor, clutching at your arm to try and keep the loose bone steady.

"Unending is our torment,"


"yet in the darkness there is light,"


"the Father is illuminated, Her radiance indisputable,"


"we bask in the light of Mercy."

The demon's screams become entirely incoherent as he is torn to pieces, between Ofelia's, Ray's and Celegwen's administrations. Your mastiff bounds over to you within seconds after subduing the demon, letting the two women finish it off to better attend to you. You give him a weary glance, trying to reassure the hound. His mouth drips with bright red blood. The illusion the demon created, disturbingly, does not seem to fade.

The light of Mercy persists, however, as you feel the myriad scars around your shoulder and arm pulse with heat and healing. It's slow, but there's enough relief from the pain that you can speak.

"It's okay, boy. I'm alright."

The wet sounds of the demon thrashing against Ofelia's blade and Celegwen's spells quickly ends. Both women can be heard, breathing hard, as you stare up at the ceiling. The warmth and light in your eyes and shoulder seem to be growing. Ray patiently waits over your body, snarling, looking for anyone else that might threaten your safety. It's a good sign that he's not trying to drag you out of the room. The demon must have been waiting here alone.

Ofelia runs over after another few minutes pass. The halfling, red-faced and bloody, leans over you. You're in too much pain to retreat from her stare. The sound of Celegwen blasting the demon hangs on the edges of your mind as everything seems to regain its form and proper shape, but your senses are fried from the pain regardless. Ofelia nervously laughs, clearly having no idea how to handle the situation as she manages to say, "that was the shittiest signal I've ever seen."

Celegwen comes running over as well. She moves to offer you a hand, to stand up, but sees the agony clearly written across your face.

You can't help but ask, your voice distant as your senses swarm with heat, "what took you so long?"

The elf sheepishly looks away, leaning hard against her staff, clearly exhausted. She seems to be too worn out to respond. Stars hang in the corners of her eyes and on the ends of her hair as she practically glistens with magic. Ofelia answers for her. "Knife-ears can be a little slow like that. Nearly gotten me killed a few times too- hey!"

You glance over to the two women to see Celegwen threatening Ofelia with a violent glare. They're both clearly joking to try and break some of the tension, but you can't reciprocate, struggling to not moan through the blazing heat in your shoulder. You've had dislocations before- especially as a child- but you rarely ask Mercy for aid through pain alone. You can't invoke Her without purpose, and She is making Herself heard. She doesn't stop the burn. You're filled with ardor, outright devotion to the wound. You lean back against the floor, closing your eyes for a moment, barely able to think through the building relief. Mercy's light fills your senses. The sensation is borderline disturbing, but you feel yourself slipping into it, wanting to ease into the pain.

(Options in next post)
>A) Continue the litany to Mercy. The Goddess has seen fit to grant you relief while you recover. You won't stop Her, and you certainly won't question Her methods. Ray will surely guard you all while Ofelia and Celegwen scavenge. You don't do nearly enough for yourself. Permit yourself to have this gift.

>B) Thank Mercy for Her protection, but drop the prayer, and see if you can instruct Celegwen or Ofelia on how to set your arm. It might make travel significantly harder if you cut the recovery short, but you'd rather compromise your arm for a time than to be a burden now. ...no matter how badly you want otherwise.

>C) End the prayer to Mercy graciously, and pray to Flesh to immediately restore all function to your shoulder and arm. You can deal with a few more scars- but you can't handle wasting another second. He was displeased with you, last you prayed to him, but you did incur this wound from using your own body. You're willing to risk incurring His wrath if it means saving your strength.

>D) Write-in.
>>A) Continue the litany to Mercy. The Goddess has seen fit to grant you relief while you recover. You won't stop Her, and you certainly won't question Her methods. Ray will surely guard you all while Ofelia and Celegwen scavenge. You don't do nearly enough for yourself. Permit yourself to have this gift
>>A) Continue the litany to Mercy. The Goddess has seen fit to grant you relief while you recover. You won't stop Her, and you certainly won't question Her methods. Ray will surely guard you all while Ofelia and Celegwen scavenge. You don't do nearly enough for yourself. Permit yourself to have this gift.
>A) Continue the litany to Mercy. The Goddess has seen fit to grant you relief while you recover. You won't stop Her, and you certainly won't question Her methods. Ray will surely guard you all while Ofelia and Celegwen scavenge. You don't do nearly enough for yourself. Permit yourself to have this gift
>Feel justifiable pride in that Mercy was able to reveal the other as the impostor through you. The ploy worked perfectly, and you only got off with a dislocated shoulder, which can at least be set back manually. She has as much a part in this victory as you did. Give thanks, as always. For in a city to Her, fallen as it is, you are on this path of Mercy.
Rick needs to fucking relax and score a couple more Mercy points, because he clearly does not have enough of either.
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Nice. Next update is going to take me a little bit, but I'll have it out as soon as I can. Here's a consolation doodle of Celegwen's best demon impersonation while you guys wait.
Alright! Writing now.
"Leave me be... for a few minutes..." you murmur, assuming your friends can hear you. Your trembling voice intermingles with divinity as you barely speak out, your mind adrift in a growing haze of pain and bliss. You don't care to open your eyes. You do not need to see the mortal coil when Mercy is beside you.

Ofelia makes a noise of concern as if she wants to protest, but you hear on the edges of the heat and gold that Celegwen shushes her. There's muffled footsteps as they respect your wishes. It's likely that they're going to attend to the very thing you all came back to the library for. Your heart is pounding- the pain skyrocketing your pulse as you lay against the floor of the ruins, each and every breath heightening the heat and euphoria.

There's no need for words between you and Mercy, but you speak regardless. You are in the last remains of a city built to worship Her. You want Her praises to be heard again here, as you walk Her path, as you are guided on Her mission. It's even thanks to Mercy that you were so easily recognized by your friends. There's no telling how far from Her light you had been taken, but She's with you, and you want Her praises to be heard. Pride and abject devotion falls from your lips as you pour yourself back into the litany. You begin to deviate slightly from the standard form, inspired and utterly devoted to the Goddess.


Immaculate is your radiance,
though men may fail to see Your light,
the Father embraces Your gifts, and sings Your praise,
Praise be unto Mercy.

Your breath hitches with the slightest aggravation to your wound, your words sparking new waves of agony. Your face reddens, as the pain does not abate with Mercy's blessing, but rather, She seems to elevate your ardor.

You know better than to question Her methods.

As difficult as it is for you to relax, you try to ease yourself into the sensation, losing yourself to it as you continue to speak. The steady pace of the prayer continues to heighten the heat flaring through you. The sensation is nothing like the Catalyst- you're hardly falling to pieces or losing yourself.

You feel whole. Like the hundreds of scars in your skin and cracks in your soul are being held together by Mercy.

Your voice drops to a murmur, far more intimate than anything you would utter within the Church, as you fail to maintain your composure.

"In everlasting love,
this mortal vessel is made fit to serve You,
behold your Father, prostrate before You,
give unto us Mercy."

Your breath hitches again, as the tortured muscle in your shoulder spasms suddenly. You're already holding the site, but you dig your fingers in, almost unable to help yourself. The spasm stops- but the renewed pain sparks sparks another wave of heat and healing. You're scarcely capable of speech. One word escapes your lips, before you lose consciousness.



Your eyes drift open, the light of the Goddess absent from them. You immediately draw into yourself, wincing from the light, and almost shout out. You're expecting a wave of pain in your shoulder, but... there's no pain.

There's no pain at all.

Alarmed, your eyes bolt open, and you turn to see what could have possibly happened. You're still lying on the floor, off to the back of the library, your back to the moss and hardwood. Ray, Celegwen and Ofelia are leaning over you intently. The ceiling above is still slick with water runoff and greenery. The myriad books around you are all seemingly untouched, saved for the scattered damage from your fight with the demon. Your robes, slick with blood, don't seem to be out of place.

Ray, Celegwen and Ofelia are leaning over you intently. The thought actually registers, and you begin to crawl backwards reflexively. Ofelia practically jumps out of her skin, and Celegwen puts a hand on your shoulder to keep you down.

"Hey- hey, Richard, what the fuck-"

"Father, please, stay still. You were wounded-"

You put up both hands, gingerly shrugging off Celegwen's attempt to keep you still. "I feel fine," you say, sounding as surprised as you feel.

"He's prolly in shock," Ofelia says heavily. "Was ramblin' like crazy before he passed out, this isn't good-"

You frown. "I wasn't rambling."

Your hand works its way to your shoulder again. You try pressing on it, firmly. There's no pain. It feels like the wound was never there.

Celegwen is giving you a strange look. A knowing look. You avert your eyes from hers, but her voice commands your attention.

"I'm glad you're alright, Father. I know you were not rambling. I was... am, more concerned about what you were doing. Are you alright?"

>A) Of course you're alright. You're better than alright. ...but you aren't going to discuss any time you spent with Mercy with two other women, regardless of what good friends they are. Regardless of whether or not one has incredibly good hearing and likely heard every word and moan. You're all going to keep moving and not mention this any further.

>B) You're not alright with Celegwen judging your prayer to the Goddess. Even if you were lacking some wanted privacy, you did nothing wrong. Express as much, and divert the subject away. Ask if the women were able to gather supplies, offer to help if they haven't, and get moving.

>C) You're better than you've felt in a very, very long time. Enough to warrant mentioning your concern over Celegwen's comment. Try to tactfully tell her that your behavior isn't cause for concern, and that thanks to it, Mercy seems to have completely healed your dislocated shoulder. Reassure your friends, continue with the mission- and hope that they remain understanding.

>D) Write-in.
>>C) You're better than you've felt in a very, very long time. Enough to warrant mentioning your concern over Celegwen's comment. Try to tactfully tell her that your behavior isn't cause for concern, and that thanks to it, Mercy seems to have completely healed your dislocated shoulder. Reassure your friends, continue with the mission- and hope that they remain understanding.
>B) You're not alright with Celegwen judging your prayer to the Goddess. Even if you were lacking some wanted privacy, you did nothing wrong. Express as much, and divert the subject away. Ask if the women were able to gather supplies, offer to help if they haven't, and get moving.
>>C) You're better than you've felt in a very, very long time. Enough to warrant mentioning your concern over Celegwen's comment. Try to tactfully tell her that your behavior isn't cause for concern, and that thanks to it, Mercy seems to have completely healed your dislocated shoulder. Reassure your friends, continue with the mission- and hope that they remain understanding.
>C) You're better than you've felt in a very, very long time. Enough to warrant mentioning your concern over Celegwen's comment. Try to tactfully tell her that your behavior isn't cause for concern, and that thanks to it, Mercy seems to have completely healed your dislocated shoulder. Reassure your friends, continue with the mission- and hope that they remain understanding.
Once they see the pure joy in Richard's expression, something so rare and foreign to them in association with him for this long, they might understand. Or at least get a few hints of something.
>C) You're better than you've felt in a very, very long time. Enough to warrant mentioning your concern over Celegwen's comment. Try to tactfully tell her that your behavior isn't cause for concern, and that thanks to it, Mercy seems to have completely healed your dislocated shoulder. Reassure your friends, continue with the mission- and hope that they remain understanding.
Back and ready for action. Locking the vote. Writing now!
There's little doubt in your mind that Celegwen was able to hear every utterance and moan that Mercy elicited from you. You're hardly uncomfortable that she heard- you are not ashamed to have been blessed by the Goddess. In fact, thinking back to it has you positively beaming. "I'm alright. ...better than I've felt in a very long time. Mercy worked through me... she didn't just help you all to realize my identity. My shoulder seems to be completely healed."

A genuine smile crosses your face as you say to yourself, "the Gods are Merciful."

Both women are completely stunned at the sight of you. Your expression almost feels foreign, but you know that pure, genuine joy is seeping into the edges of your words and expression. The sorceress remains pensive- perhaps given the greater context. Ofelia, on the other hand, is positively elated. She seems to take your word immediately that your shoulder has healed, nudging you gently as she meets your smile with her own. You don't quite shy away, and she seems to see the look on your face a bit more clearly. The rogue properly gets the hint, her smile turning into a proper leer as she teases you.

"Oh. Oooohhhh! You guys weren't going to tell me anything before, suppose I'm not gonna' hear any of it now? Unbelievable. ...you know, it's 'bout time a lady took care of you- HEY-!"

Celegwen firmly punches Ofelia in her arm. The smaller woman makes a show of punching her back, wasting no time before turning back to you. She's still grinning.

"...I think I might actually like this one, Richard. Don't let Gwen bother ya' none. She hears everythin'. O'course, I wouldn'ta minded-"

Celegwen makes a fist at the halfling, saying in a deceptively level voice, "please, attempt to have a little class, Ofelia."

"Comin' from you, what a loada crock- OKAY- okay!"

The halfling puts up her hands, deflecting another punch. She grins to both of you as she continues. "Happy for ya', Richard, really. Maybe we can get more where that came from for you. ...you probably need it."

You can't disagree, and don't particularly care to. You nod slightly as you muse to yourself, faintly feeling the site of the absent injury. Mercy has never healed you so rapidly... or in such an intense way. By all rights, the wound should have taken weeks to fully recover. You can scarcely believe it, still smiling to yourself.

Ofelia doesn't seem to mind, grinning broadly back at you. "What luck though- it looked like I wasn't gonna get in close to that monster before he did a number on ya'. Didn't mean to take so long, but I didn't want to hurt ya' or nothin'. Not that that's much help, but we really tore into 'em. Was pretty weird, if I'm gonna be honest."

Celegwen explains, "it seemed to maintain its illusion up to, and long after its death. I did not dissipate its body, to conserve my strength, but I suggest you do not look, Father."

"I've seen far worse," you immediately protest, but Celegwen continues.

"I cannot stop you, if you wish to... but we should continue with our expedition. If you say we have as little time as we do to leave this place, it would be unwise to linger."

"It's seriously a miracle nothin's come this way so far," Ofelia chimes in. "Ray's been real good bout keepin' his nose out, but every time he seems to start, nothin' makes its way over here. Somethin' might be up."

Your smile fades a great deal, and you get a bit of a hold on yourself. "It could have been the effect that demon placed on me. It seemed to be able to will my form into... another space. I don't quite know how to describe it... it defied categorization. I think we can safely assume that the demons in the area were avoiding it as well."

A dark look passes over Ofelia's face. She gives you a smile you do not like, at all.

"What if we use it?"

You look at her as if she's insane. "What do you mean?"

She glances over to a dark smear in the corner of the library. You hadn't noticed it during the fight, as taken as you were with Mercy- but the location where the demon fell is streaked with blood. You couldn't have been unconscious for more than half hour, as even the droplets are still moist. Your face pales a great deal, seeing the unmistakable corpse of the demon strewn about. Your friends seemed to show no restraint in tearing the creature to pieces. You thankfully don't see its mockery of your face, as its head is severed from the corpse and laying face-down a fair distance away. The sight of your scruffy brown hair, matted with blood, is the best indication of the monster's fixed form.

A shiver climbs up your spine as you tear your gaze away from it. Ofelia repeats, "what if we use it?"

Celegwen seems to catch on. "A bluff?"

"A diversion. This place was crawling before we raised hell. I'm sure every bastard that could hear came this way, and probably a few of their friends, too. We could use the help, if we're gonna be hikin' all day."

>A) You have been through, and seen, quite a lot in your life. Having your friends drag a duplicate of your body as a mutilated corpse through a demonic ruin in order to stave off an untold number of demons is one thing you do not wish to witness. You'll find another way to guide everyone out safely.
>A1) Pray to Spirit to illuminate just how many demons have gathered outside of the library.
>A2) Have Ofelia scout ahead down the fastest route you're aware of- you all need to conserve your resources.
>A3) Scout ahead as a group. You don't want to risk getting split up.

>B) Having your friends drag a duplicate of your body as a mutilated corpse through a demonic ruin in order to stave off an untold number of demons is EXACTLY the kind of thing you need more of. You aren't a coward, and you're far from squeamish. Stuff your equipment full of as much food and water as you can carry, and get to work.

>C) Write-in.
>>B) Having your friends drag a duplicate of your body as a mutilated corpse through a demonic ruin in order to stave off an untold number of demons is EXACTLY the kind of thing you need more of. You aren't a coward, and you're far from squeamish. Stuff your equipment full of as much food and water as you can carry, and get to work.
I mean if it saves us from being bogged down with fight after fight let's do it.

I've never understood why seeing themselves beaten up makes people uncomfortable.
>B) Having your friends drag a duplicate of your body as a mutilated corpse through a demonic ruin in order to stave off an untold number of demons is EXACTLY the kind of thing you need more of. You aren't a coward, and you're far from squeamish. Stuff your equipment full of as much food and water as you can carry, and get to work.
I somewhat expect Richard to take a sort of black humor in this and go "Boy am I glad I am not this man." or something darkly funny. Maybe the girls can poke fun at it too, in a "Yes, he sure is unlucky being dragged around by a pair of fair maidens, huh?" way.
>>B) Having your friends drag a duplicate of your body as a mutilated corpse through a demonic ruin in order to stave off an untold number of demons is EXACTLY the kind of thing you need more of. You aren't a coward, and you're far from squeamish. Stuff your equipment full of as much food and water as you can carry, and get to work.
sick double double trips
and quality comments all around. Noted! Going to lock the vote and get another update out tonight.

We're finally on auto-sage, but I'll be updating regularly as usual. You guys have been phenomenal about voting so I'm sure we'll be alright, though.

Writing now.
Finally getting to your feet, you give Ofelia a nod of approval. The halfling springs over to the remnants of the demon, not wasting any time. Celegwen is right on her heels, muttering to herself and obviously finding the entire situation terribly distasteful. You are hardly unused to carnage, thanks to your occupation- and honestly, you find the entire situation darkly amusing. You gather your things and quickly start to gather water from the opposite side of the library, calling Ray to your side and rejoining your companions in a matter of moments. There's no need to command the mastiff's attention, as he seems sorely in need of attention and is sticking to you like glue. You kneel down for a moment, scratching his ears and murmuring some reassurance to the hound as you watch your friends. Ofelia dons her working gloves, and shoos you away.

"Get some food, dammit. This won't take more than a moment."

You give Ray a pat on the head, letting him follow you as you nod to the halfling and set out to gather. You were raised by farmers, and have had to travel through forests and wilderness many times- you can at least recognize a few greens. It's quick work to fill your pack. You jog back over to the women, darkly curious as to what they've managed to collect.

Ofelia has taken the head of the demon's corpse in a small bundle of cloth. Its face is still obscured from your view, but you can see blood seeping where his eyes were clearly gouged out. More blood still drips from the severed neck and the gashes that Celegwen formed with her spells. The sorceress seems terribly unamused as she gathers a single, stick-like arm from a few feet away. Still clothed in a mockery of your robes, the black fabric hangs from the gaunt and bleeding flesh.

It seems to be all that hasn't been torn completely to shreds. Ray doesn't growl as they pick up the corpse. He knows when his target is no longer a threat.

You pray that the demons won't recognize that this corpse is hardly a threat, too. Celegwen seems equally suspicious, but you try to reassure her.

"Younger, weaker demons are hardly sane, Celegwen. Many are far from intelligent. ...most of them can scarcely tell humans apart, let alone any of their kind that they don't directly serve."

Celegwen nods, seeming to take heart from your words. Ofelia moves to acknowledge what you've said, and merely fusses with the severed head. She settles on saying, "good to know. I was just goin' to chuck it at the first demon that gave us trouble, but maybe... we can do more."

You can't help but smirk as you look at the corpse. You're jaded from a lifetime of battle and bloodshed, and scarcely bothered by the sight. Now that the demon isn't a threat, it's far more reassuring to see its lifeless form than to contend with it standing. Grimly, you walk over to Ofelia, and try to get a better look at the head.


You risk a little gallows humor. "Funny. ...I thought I couldn't be any worse off."

Ofelia snorts. Celegwen seems mildly amused. The halfling tries to stifle a smile, but as she teases you back, she can't restrain herself from laughing. "Could you imagine? Having a couple of women tearing you to pieces and wrapping your head-!"

The humor leaves your voice as you flush, and you see something sail through the air and narrowly miss Ofelia. Celegwen seems to have tried to chuck a piece of rubble at the rogue, but she dodges it effortlessly and sticks her tongue out at the sorceress. "Yer aim's shit, Gwen! Lucky for you, Richard, we got places to be- ahaha!"

The halfling dodges another rock. Celegwen sighs heavily and walks over to you both, staff in one hand, severed arm in the other. She looks exhausted, but offers you a smile. You avert your eyes, extremely embarrassed to even glance at either woman. She offers you a welcome distraction as she says, "I do have better things to do than to always carry you around, Father."

"Allow me," you murmur, still beet-red, putting up your mace to to take the duplicate of your own arm away from your friend. You keep your shield in your other hand, assuming that where you're headed, you'll need all the protection you can get.

Celegwen doesn't protest, handing off the limb to you as soon as she can. The elf mutters something under her breath in a language you don't understand, but you can safely assume she's cursing the halfling in her own tongue and wanted to save you further embarrassment.

You gingerly take the flesh away from the spellcaster, thankful for her grace. The limb is disturbingly light, and you feel no heat through the cloth that drapes from it. The weight of the herbs and plant life you gathered is a reminder that you at least had time to resupply. You try and reassure yourself. I won't permit myself to get in such bad shape again. I owe it to Flesh. ...and, I suppose, to Ofelia.

You motion towards a door opposite of the corridor you all entered from, lowering your voice. You keep your eyes ahead, still too nervous to look at your friends. "Ofelia, will you please lead, as you did before? I know the way- but I trust your eyes, and the ruins ahead will be swarming with demons by now."

The halfling nods, sobering up immediately.

"Celegwen, I know you're tired, but we'll need to keep up the pace."

"I'll be fine," she reassures you, straightening up a bit. "But I would greatly prefer to avoid casting any spells until I can rest again. I cannot silence our steps or voices-"

Ray is growling, fur standing on end as his attention focuses on something beyond your sight or hearing. The elf whips her head around, silver hair bobbing from the sudden motion. Her lengthy ears twitch, and she looks to you all with fear in her eyes.

"We've stayed here for far too long."

Ofelia grabs you by the arm. "Move!"

You're pulled you into a run towards the door you motioned towards moments earlier. Ray bounds after you all as you tear out of the library. You all fly down a series of passageways, books leering out from every corner. You have to constantly nudge Ofelia to make the right turns down the countless winding and branching pathways, but not even a few minutes pass by before three imps nearly crash into you all. Shorter than Ray but stockier, clad in torn parchment, ribbons and warped leather, they gnash their teeth and move to attack.

The passage can't be more than 10ft across. You whip your head around, looking behind you for a way out- and see two more imps crawling along the ceiling, heading your direction. There's no telling how many more heard the fight and are on their way.

Ofelia fearlessly grabs onto your sleeve with one arm, and brandishes the demon's head with another, tearing off the cloth and screaming at the imps in either direction, "STAY BACK!"

The imps actually hesitate for the briefest of moments. She seizes the opportunity to push forward towards the three demons on the ground, taking you with her. She gives you a wink, and waves the head higher. "HE'S TAKEN THE FORM OF THE PRIEST! THE ONE THAT'S BEEN KILLIN' ALL YER FRIENDS-! STAY BACK, OR HE'LL GETCHA' TOO!"

You know you shouldn't be bothered by her words- but this is not what you agreed to. You know the clergy think you're no better than a demon, but this? Regardless of how Ofelia wants you to interpret her words, it would be sacrilege to impersonate one.

The imps on the ceiling, creeping towards you all, are still slowly proceeding forward. The three imps ahead have stopped completely- they're not even five feet away. Their smashed and grotesque faces look extremely confused. You aren't sure if they can even understand Ofelia's language, let alone her words, but she seems to have distracted at least some of them. They're wielding melee weapons- one has a makeshift spear, and the other two seem to be holding daggers. You might be able to take them, but with more demons on the way, you don't want to waste another second.

You're upset, but you're much more level-headed than usual. This is no time to lose your composure. There has to be a way to help your cause.

>A) Rush the demons on the floor with your shield. Hold them at bay until everyone else can get by, and run for your life the moment you're able. You have no idea how many more demons are approaching, and you aren't sticking around to find out.

>B) Chuck the severed arm at the demons on the ceiling, and get out your mace. Fight them all. More may be coming, but you can at least mitigate some of the problem now. Tell everyone what direction to run in, and catch up as soon as you can. You've got long legs and know this city's layout well- you can find them quickly.

>C) Write-in.
Move to the head of the column with our shield up and barrel thru every demon that gets in the way, they have shorter weapons than us, we have a mace and gwen has a sword even if they tried to attack they wouldnt be able to do much if we are on the move, ofelia can keep up the charade to at least confuse them a bit. Keep Ray to our exposed side.
this >>3888652
move and move quickly

Too many demons in this tomb. We need some kind of area sanctification prayer.

Are we the best choice for a bull rush when we're so light? It might actually be better to give Gwen our shield and have her do it.
Keep in mind these guys are imp so worse case scenario we jump over one. We also have the entire weight of the column behind us Richard cant quite get past one. And we could always pray to flesh to make sure we pulverized the tiny cunts, Im sure he would fucking love that too.
>We need some kind of area sanctification prayer.
Will make a note of this. The options are a little conflicting, so we'll be going with the majority here for

All this. Vote is locked! Writing now.
The knotted flesh adorning your knuckles grates against the handle of your shield as you tighten your grip. Flashing Ofelia a look of reassurance, you charge forward towards the imps lining the floor.

Chaos immediately ensues.


The imp with the spear hangs back, attempting to sweep your legs out from under you as his allies charge straight towards you. The three imps on the ceiling scurry forward instantaneously, realizing the ploy. Ofelia lets out a shot, chucking the severed head at the imps heading towards your companions.

Having an extreme height advantage over the few imps before you, you jump clear over all three of your attackers, barely dodging the blow to your feet. You're extremely light on your feet, landing deftly on the other side of the corridor. ...so much so that you're unsure of whether or not you can lay into even a few imps. Ofelia, Celegwen and Ray all charge from the opposite side, and you hold your ground, praying that you can withstand their attack. You see Celegwen and Ofelia draw their blades, and Ray leaps at the throat of the closest imp. They don't see the attack coming- their back turned as they charge towards you and you alone.

Crouching down, you toss the severed arm aside, grabbing hold of your mace as you pray for the strength to endure. You are practically knocked off your feet from a single attack by the squat demons. Your wasted muscles strain against the effort, but you valiantly lean into the next series of blows.

Glancing over the top of your shield for a split second, you see Ray tearing into the closest imp with his teeth. Celegwen deflects a blow away from your mastiff with her short sword as one of the other imps tries to take down your companion. A prayer jumps to your lips, to invoke flesh and withstand the next attack from the spear-wielding demon- but Ofelia appears out of the shadows and drives her dagger into its back before it can even see her coming.

The imps behind your companions, crawling along the ceiling, drop down to the floor. You run forward, bashing the last imp with the dagger as hard as you can against a nearby wall, shouting, "run! Go!"

The squat monster behind you is practically the size of your shield. Sweat intermingles with blood as the creature slips a hand out from behind your assault, slicing open your sleeve in a valiant attempt to distract you. It doesn't work- you are far too used to dealing with its kind. You bring your attention behind you, jumping back and deflecting a thrown dagger from one of its companions down the corridor. They're running towards you, tearing off pieces of their body and throwing them like knives at you and your friends.

Your heart sinks. Unmistakably, the sound of more demons can be heard on the periphery of your vision. You deflect another two horned dagger with your shield. There's no time to stay and fight. You turn and run.

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It's altogether too difficult to deflect every attack being thrown at you- and you can feel yourself falling behind your companions, as you have to stop constantly to turn and shield another barrage. You do break away from the small imp that was harassing you, outpacing the rest within minutes, snaking through the piles of books, using the protruding cases for cover whenever you can.

The sound of pursuit is hot, but there's something up ahead that makes your heart race- the sound of your friends fighting.

With renewed effort, you push yourself, running as fast as your legs can carry you through the tilting and scattered books towards your friends. You emerge in what you recognize as an old Church of Mercy.

Your heart catches in your throat, absolutely smitten by its beauty. Impossibly, light filters through holes poked in the ceiling by age and wear. Colored glass adorns the far end of the hall, amplifying the light as it dances around the room, reflecting and refracting off of hundreds of books that have been crammed into every shelf and pew. You're on the second floor of the building, and look down off the balcony to see your friends below, fighting for their lives.

There are five more imps on the floor below, hanging back slightly. You can see the smoking corpse of another, space having been stolen away from its chest as Celegwen clearly had blasted it just moments before with a spell. Ofelia chucks a dagger at another, keeping her back to Ray as he snarls viciously at the incoming predators.

It's at least a 20ft drop to the floor. This building may have been sacred, once- but it has clearly fallen into disrepair over the years. You could surely draw on it for aid, but there's no telling how many demons you'd be able to fend off here, or for how long.

>A) Pray to Flesh for strength, and jump down to aid your friends. Fend off the attack, and continue running for your lives.

>B) Bask in the light of Mercy. Pray to Her to protect you all, and let your allies do the fighting as you escape.

>C) You've made it this far with your own two hands- push yourself a little further. Take the stairs, and get the jump on the imps with your mace and shield. You might be able to create a distraction.

>D) Write-in.
>>C) You've made it this far with your own two hands- push yourself a little further. Take the stairs, and get the jump on the imps with your mace and shield. You might be able to create a distraction.
You need not call on the Gods to enact their Will. Plus, it's probably what Flesh and Mercy would both want. Self-sacrifice is Merciful, and Flesh wants us to become the best we can, so we must push ourselves.
>>A) Pray to Flesh for strength, and jump down to aid your friends. Fend off the attack, and continue running for your lives
I'm not stuck here with you, YOU ARE STUCK HERE WITH ME
>>A) Pray to Flesh for strength, and jump down to aid your friends. Fend off the attack, and continue running for your lives.
>>A) Pray to Flesh for strength, and jump down to aid your friends. Fend off the attack, and continue running for your lives

We are in a church of hers
Thanks for your patience, as always. I do badly want to integrate all of these votes, but our dear priest is in pretty rough shape. Going to go with the majority here for A, but I'll see what I can do. Writing now!
There is no fear in your heart as you take a few steps back from the edge of the railing, readying yourself to jump. While you wish to respect Flesh's wishes and exert your own strength, you know that you are in no shape to fight off this volume of demons on your own.

Not without His help.

Grasping onto your holy symbol, you place your trust in the Gods.

"Light is Your vessel, made ready in weakness. Willing is the Father, here, in the house of the Mother! Hear me- Flesh of my flesh! Deliberate now is my tension- intent on exerting Your will! Aid this humble form! Grant me your strength!"

Before the last words leave your lips, heat courses through your skin. It's as if you were set aflame. Smoke curls and pools along your myriad scars, streaking behind you in plumes of red as you tear across the hardwood floor and clear over the balcony. Shield and mace at the ready, you can't help but cry praise to the God of the Material as you soar over the fight below.

Thunderously, you land on both feet, feeling the surge of the recoil and the subsequent burn as Flesh works to immediately mend the torn muscle and hairline cracks in bone. The five imps that are tormenting your friends all whip their heads around to see the source of the sound.

You clearly see now that they are all outfitted with makeshift weapons- sharpened quills, splinters of bookshelves made into makeshift bats, and bits of their own bodies torn off for combat.

Ray doesn't hesitate as you land, clearly emboldened by the site of you. The mastiff leaps towards one of the demons the moment it lets its guard down, and you rush forward to protect your dog in turn. Ofelia and Celegwen seem utterly stunned by your entrance, momentarily lowering their guard. You call out to them, your voice deepened by the blessing of Flesh. "Run! To the west- look for the arched doors! We'll hold them off! GO!"

Both women look utterly floored at the site of you, and move to leave, but the imps rapidly regain their composure and surround your friends. You can't fight the demons all off at once, and settle first on helping Ray. The mastiff is trying to lock his jaws around an imp outfitted with a banner made of parchment, pale yellow and dripping with ink. The creature has a makeshift weapon in its hands made of wood, and your hound is locked with the creature. Ofelia and Celegwen both have their weapons drawn, backing up best as they can, but the imps are closing in fast.

You charge forward, bashing the imp on Ray aside with your shield, leaning hard into the blow. Despite your lithe frame, heat and energy sears into your muscles, burning like hot coals under your flesh from the impact. You can feel the wood bend against your forearm as you knock aside the creature's form, sending it staggering as you run past it. Your hound tosses a few splinters into the air as he's forced to loosen his grip, and the two of you exchange glances as you turn your attention towards the other attackers.

The two imps that were closing in on your friends redouble their efforts.

Wood strikes metal and bone as Celegwen and Ofelia try their best to hold the line. Exhaustion is written cleanly across Celegwen's face, as she merely keeps her staff in hand to deflect a strike, seemingly unable to cast anything else. Ofelia leaps to her aid as an imp tries to target the weakened sorceress with a spiked, sword-like appendage, no doubt ripped clean from another demon's body. As the rogue struggles to fight back against the demon, you give a shout, and charge into the fray.

There's a cry as the halfling loses her hold on her dagger. The demon's weapon comes down, hard, scraping along Ofelia's arm and clean through her cloak. You close the distance between you all in a few strides, leaping forward with as much force as your limbs can muster. The sharpened, blood-caked iron of your mace makes perfect contact with the shoulder of the demon, carving away at its toughened tissue.

You dig deep, letting out a cry as you force your limbs to work. A spray of blood, black as night, surges forward from the site of the wound as you cleave its limb away, taking the weapon with it. Righteous fury drips from you and your limbs as you unstick your own weapon and glare at the creature. It screams back at you, completely changing its focus and seemingly invulnerable to the pain you've surely caused it.

Clutching her arm, Ofelia backs up in front of Celegwen. You turn to her for the briefest of moments as you deflect an attack from another one of the imps. You bring your shield overhead, catching a dagger from a demon approaching from the rear of the Church. Despite the heat coursing through your body, your holy symbol is hotter still. Mercy is no doubt watching over you. You want to praise Her, but with the more pressing need of your friend's safety, you shout to them instead. Every sinew in your arms, your healed shoulder, your back and chest heave as you lean into the next blow from the demons you face. Your shout barely carried over its screams.


You gesture with your mace towards the women, barely fending off the next attack. Ofelia seems hurt, but is still standing as best as she can. A thin sheen of sweat on Celegwen tells you that she isn't faring much better.

"-guard them! Ofelia, Celegwen, please! GO! Run!"

There's no hesitation from your mastiff as he backs away from his own attacker, snarling and drooling at the imps eyeing your friends. The demons clearly are trying to pick off your weaker allies.

Celegwen's voice, deliberate and exhausted, carries over your shouts in an incantation as you bring your mace down again on the imp by your side. Her starlight intertwines with a spray of blood, the billowing smoke and the light of Mercy filtering through her spell. Another imp falls to the floor, a gaping hole persisting where its face once was. Your friends turn and run, and you dive towards them, shield at the ready, trying with every fiber of your being to stave off the attack.

As soon as their backs are turned, the imps redouble their assault. A spear made of cartography tools roped together soars through the air towards Ray- you jump clear across a nearby pew, glancing the blow away with the edge of your shield. Chunks of wood splinter and fall to the floor along with the weapon. You count four more imps approaching from the rows further down the aisle.

Desperately, you turn to see Celegwen and Ofelia making their way out of the church, towards the front of the building. Ray leaps faithfully after them, and you closely follow, shield at the ready. Your hound barks viciously at the projectiles and pursuing imps, and you slowly fall behind your friends, doing your best to fend off the attack. Ducking behind a nearby pillar, you narrowly dodge another dagger. Sweat and smoke is pooling from your frame as your Flesh begs for more strain, more work. You tear off towards your friends, clearing a huge distance between yourself and the imps and buying a few precious seconds of time.

Approaching the front of the building, you see a series of fallen paintings and shelves. It looks as if a wall had collapsed near the front of the church. Either the structure is weaker than you suspected, or something larger had come through here recently. Another series of daggers soars overhead, two clipping your robes. Blood seeps into the black fabric, as the skin stings and tears... but Flesh works itself over in moments, leaving nothing but fresh scars in their wake. You are barely phased- far more concerned with your pursuers.

Ray lingers a moment near the arched doors leading out of the building, whining and snarling, looking to you for permission to leave as Celegwen and Ofelia struggle with the old wood and glass. The imps seize the opportunity, and you scarcely have time to react as the demons put all of their focus on your vulnerable allies.

(Options in next post)
>A) Protect your friends at all costs. Use your shield, and your body if you must. Buy them a few more moments to escape. Invoke Mercy while Flesh is still with you, if it comes down to it. In a place of Her worship, you're far less likely to be taxed by the effort.

>B) Go on the offensive. Use the fallen pillars as a battering ram. Break down the door as fast as you're able. Your friends may get hurt- but you need to escape, and you need to do so as quickly as possible. Use the debris as a weapon if you have time. You can heal your allies once you escape- but the longer you stay here, the more dire the situation will become.

>C) Write-in.
>A) Protect your friends at all costs. Use your shield, and your body if you must. Buy them a few more moments to escape. Invoke Mercy while Flesh is still with you, if it comes down to it. In a place of Her worship, you're far less likely to be taxed by the effort.
>A) Protect your friends at all costs. Use your shield, and your body if you must. Buy them a few more moments to escape. Invoke Mercy while Flesh is still with you, if it comes down to it. In a place of Her worship, you're far less likely to be taxed by the effort.
>>A) Protect your friends at all costs. Use your shield, and your body if you must. Buy them a few more moments to escape. Invoke Mercy while Flesh is still with you, if it comes down to it. In a place of Her worship, you're far less likely to be taxed by the effort.

Double channeling yes
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Got a bunch of homework to do tonight, but update will be out in no more than 3 hours from now. Hope a sympathy doodle makes up for the delay!
Vote is locked! Writing now.
A wave of demons encroaches on the periphery of the church. Another half a dozen are visible near the altar, while the imps closest to the entrance throw everything they have at your allies. You have but a second to react. Even with Flesh's blessing, there's no way you could hope to reach them in time.

You don't need to speak to invoke the Goddess of Mercy. You don't need to run forward, shield at the ready, throwing yourself in the line of fire to protect your friends. You don't need to look to the pews overflowing with blasphemy, as more demons file towards you all, not even waiting until you're within reach to try and attack you.

You don't need to do any of these things, yet, you cast aside all hope of self-preservation, and call out to the Goddess.



Gold and heat sears forth from your hands, the altar, and the light above. Intermingling with the trails of red smoke pouring off of your burning muscles, the molten blessing flares above and around your allies like a shield for the briefest of moments, dropping the imp's first assault to the floor. The radiance utterly consumes their weapons. Their metal sears and smolders, pressing into the snakes of the God's and Goddess' manifestation. Our manifestation.

There is no trace of your own sight left as you skid to a halt in front of your companions, eyes burning with gilted crimson. A dagger soars through the air, impaling your shield as you catch it a second before it can reach Ray. Five more follow. You race to deflect them, ablaze with divinity. Your muscles are worked to their limit, your flesh feeling as if it's boiling with heat as the God tears down your muscle and Mercy works to rebuild it. As each weapon sinks into your shield, pushing you back, you push yourself harder, farther, lusting for more of the burn.

The imps are rapidly closing in on you all, and it seems like even more are on their way. You realize you can't possibly hope to guard everyone. Ofelia and Celegwen seem to be giving up on dislodging the swollen wooden door from its position, and the elf looks ready to try and break the glass.

Madness licks at the edges of your voice as you struggle to speak through the will of both deities, breathing hard, heat seeping off of you. You're desperate to get your allies into a safer position, and force yourself to command them. "Stay together! Behind me! Be careful-!"

Ray is distraught, barely able to recognize your voice, but he heeds his master's gestures, tail down and snarling as he and Ofelia dive behind your shield. It's not nearly large enough to protect you all. You have to move yourself out from behind it slightly, and are almost immediately impaled by one of the demon's weapons as they close in.

The pain hits you, hot and intense- not unlike when you were last with Mercy. Your eyes cloud over slightly, breath hitching as you lean into the blow. You know the wound is severe, but you're far from distraught. You want more.

Ofelia looks up to you, terrified, as you clearly relish pulling out the barbed instrument. Smoke and gold usher forth, into and from the site of the wound. The skin and muscle knitting back together before Your eyes. A lascivious burn works through the impact as another weapon strikes at the arm pulling out the dagger- and another one grazes past your shoulder.

There is a demon just ahead, perched on one of the pews, working in tandem with its allies to keep a safe distance while they barrage you all. Not a one seems to be approaching any further- which is fine by you.

Ofelia's voice registers over the haze of heat and violence as she shouts to Celegwen, "hurry! Please!"

The sorceress takes a deep breath, and slams her staff into the colored glass of the tremendous doors behind you all. It shatters in all directions. You dive backwards, raising your shield overhead and embracing your friends as best as you can.

Radiance flares forth from your shield, just barely extending the radius of your protection as hundreds of lethal panes crash down. Both women scream, throwing their arms overhead, trying to shield their face and eyes. A waterfall of painted agony crushes into your barrier, the weight of it splintering bone and shredding tissue. The sound is deafening, but it's the least of your concerns.

A number of daggers pelt into your back. You can't quite discern how many. Your body- Their vessel- is an inferno of sensation. You're completely overwhelmed by the pain and pleasure, indecently crying out as you release your friends. It's all you can do to try to push them away from the carnage, utterly overwhelmed.

Ray is not having it, though Celegwen and Ofelia both immediately sprint ahead for their lives. Your mastiff stays close, and you shield him best as you can. Your hound knows you're hurt, too faithful for his own good.

The imps, seeing they've done something to wear down your defenses, move in to swarm. You keep your shield ahead of Ray, completely covering his body- and woefully failing to protect your own. There are 11 imps that you can count, running straight at you- and 3 more just entered the Church. As much as it hurts you, you push Ray away, commanding him with as much force as you can muster.

"OBEY me, Ray. RUN!"

Whining, tail down, the mastiff flees, gingerly running over the broken glass, and tearing off after your companions once again. You were so distracted, you almost didn't notice- the are two imps that have come right up behind you, and the rest are in hot pursuit. You swing your mace around, back aflame, as you fight for your life.

(Options in next post)
>A) Channel Flesh's blessing and overpower the wave of imps through sheer strength. Allow Mercy to tend to your wounds- her healing is slower, but She will surely do Her best to protect you while you lay waste to your foes. You can't deny yourself the sensation.
>B) Channel Mercy's blessing, and defend yourself as best as you're able against your attackers. Extract the weapons that hit you, and have Flesh rapidly heal the injury. No matter how much stronger the God's blessing is while you're injured, you can't risk the catastrophic damage the blades are no doubt causing.
>C) Write-in.
>>B) Channel Mercy's blessing, and defend yourself as best as you're able against your attackers. Extract the weapons that hit you, and have Flesh rapidly heal the injury. No matter how much stronger the God's blessing is while you're injured, you can't risk the catastrophic damage the blades are no doubt causing.
Channel flesh and use it to carry pews to barricade the broken window as we leave

Bro we're fighting like 14v1
>B) Channel Mercy's blessing, and defend yourself as best as you're able against your attackers. Extract the weapons that hit you, and have Flesh rapidly heal the injury. No matter how much stronger the God's blessing is while you're injured, you can't risk the catastrophic damage the blades are no doubt causing.
>>B) Channel Mercy's blessing, and defend yourself as best as you're able against your attackers. Extract the weapons that hit you, and have Flesh rapidly heal the injury. No matter how much stronger the God's blessing is while you're injured, you can't risk the catastrophic damage the blades are no doubt causing.
>>B) Channel Mercy's blessing, and defend yourself as best as you're able against your attackers. Extract the weapons that hit you, and have Flesh rapidly heal the injury. No matter how much stronger the God's blessing is while you're injured, you can't risk the catastrophic damage the blades are no doubt causing.
Hey guys, thanks for your patience today. I've been absurdly busy but I'll get at least one update out before tonight.
Thanks again for bearing with me. Locking the vote, writing now!
Flanked by attackers and with another dozen en route, it's everything you can do just to fend off the assault. Right arm braced against your shield, robes torn and bloody, you raise your defense with precision. You block a swing from an imp on one side of you, taking in the full force of their blow. The wasted muscle screams at the shock of it as they nearly knock you back.

You stay in place, using your left hand to swing up your mace. The thin limb trails with smoke and gold, catching a blow from the imp to your other side. The metals of your weapons spark and tear against each other, the demon's short sword grating against your mace. The shrill screech echoes throughout the church, sending the imps into a frenzy. You swing your weapon down, and try to jump backwards. Pulling away from the two imps beside you is all you can manage as the rest quickly catch up.

The swarm is more coordinated than any you've ever seen. You dodge backwards from another dagger thrown at your face, and swing your shield aside to deflect two more. The pain in your back is exquisite in its intensity. Your chest heaves from exertion, your breath short even with Flesh's blessing. Your muscles tense and tear, breaking down while the God pours himself into keeping your back from becoming irreparably damaged. The serrated and barbed metal twists deeper with each passing moment, eliciting more noise from you, clouding your thoughts as you struggle to survive.

Flesh courses his blessing through the agonizing burn, mending the skin and keeping you on your feet. You keep backing up, deflecting blow after blow with inhuman precision and speed. Each battery hits harder than the last, but Mercy works through the frayed nerves, the tortured motions. She gifts you with pleasure, giving you the strength to endure and the will to take on more.

There's no respite from the attack as the demons close in. All 14 creatures are on you, weapons in hand, practically climbing over one another to overwhelm your defenses. You push yourself to the limit, and dive over two over them, seeing the slightest opening. You cry out as you land, feeling the blades embedded in your back slink dangerously close to your spine. Keeping your shield out, you drop your mace, and twist back, grasping the handle of one of the daggers as tightly as you can.

Hesitation is not an option.

You think of soft gold and light as you pull out the blade in one swift motion.

Stars explode before your possessed and metallic eyes, blood pooling down your back, Flesh flooding the wound as you cry out.


An explosion of radiance bursts forth. The imps screech in agony, blinded momentarily by the light. You stagger backwards and break out into a run, throwing the dagger aside and diving behind a pew for cover while the demons are stunned.

There isn't any time to spare. You reach back to grab another one of the blades embedded in you. You can tell there are three remaining, as your flaming skin finds its purchase. Already, you hear the imps recovering from your defense, and you set to frantically pulling out another one of the weapons. Feverishly, you pray to the Goddess,

"Steady these hands! Through restraint and compassion- the Father beseeches you! Grant this vessel Your aid! MERCY!"

A scream escapes from you as you pull out the blade with a single motion. The barbed and jagged edges take away a significant amount of flesh as you extract it. The crimson viscera cuts across the pews as you tear the weapon out. Blood and gore arcs through the air as you hurl the dagger back at your foes. It only takes a moment to look up over the pew, and the risk is well worth it. One of imp's screams are cut short as the dagger embeds itself into the the monster's skull.

The remaining 13 imps swarm over the pews, headed straight towards you. Your head is swimming, intoxicated by the anguish, but Flesh keeps you moving, burning into your limbs, your lungs, your heart. You dive under the pews before you, your back aflame, and come up for only a second to find cover behind another pillar, close to the exit. The moment you emerge, three more daggers are thrown at you. The Goddess extends Her compassion, and the weapons soar just past your face. The edge of one of the blades, slick with poison, catches on the side of your cheek. It snags an old scar, tearing open the pallid flesh and dripping toxin along the gaunt bone and tightened skin. Smoke and heat pours forth, expelling the poison while you feel for the other daggers.

An imp comes around the side of the column just as you take hold of one of the weapons in your back. Distracted, you don't react in time as it tries to drive a sword straight into your stomach. You scarcely move in time, its blade cutting into your side. You gasp in agony and elation, tearing out the third dagger, uncertain if the torture is endurable by a mortal man. The cracks in the edges of your mind deepen, the fractures in your soul barely bound together by the embrace of Mercy and Flesh.

You are either screaming or gasping as the blade slides completely out from your body. It's hard to tell. You're losing yourself.

You swing your shield up before the imp in your face, taking on another swing from its sword, your arm aflame with exertion and begging for release- but you can't stop. You slam your shield into the demon, charging forward, driving the dagger in your hand into its neck as quickly as you can. It still endures, gurgling and screaming as it pushes back against your shield, alerting its allies and desperately trying to attack.

You stab again, frantically trying to make an exit. The other demons clearly heard you- you see a dagger streak by the side of the pillar, and another follows after that. You leave the pillar behind, stabbing the demon yet again. Tossing its limp body aside, you dive below the rubble on the floor of the ruins.

Sliding over the broken and stained glass, your robes hook and catch on the sharp panes, but it hardly slows you down. You're so slender that you easily get beneath a fallen pillar, collapsed next to a collection of destroyed paintings and stone. It's all you can do to leave yourself an opening to escape, as you take hold of the last dagger in your back.

The screams of the imps behind you are too close for comfort. The edges of the world soften, and you feel the hands of the Goddess on you as you rip out the final source of pain.


You draw blood from your own lip, biting down hard to try and muffle the scream. Flesh pays the minor wound on your face no mind, pouring into the raw and exposed tissue along your shoulder blades, your spine, the dip in your back. You can feel the heat and smoke as he burns into you, mending the exposed skin. Every inch of you wants to lay down and die, but Mercy eases you into the pain, granting relief through the very sensation that's causing you so much agony.

It's more than a man can take. The crimson and gold radiating through you threatens to overflow. Euphoria blends into terror, as you struggle to keep hold of both deities at once. You find yourself digging your fingers into the cut on your side, drawing out more pleasure and relief as the God and Goddess work to mend your wounds. The edges of your mind are fraying, softening, burning.

The rubble behind you shifts as one of the demons throws an entire sword into it. There must be 12 of them left, if no more have entered the Church- and you suspect that more will be coming. You can scarcely think, adrenaline coursing through you. Your blood is aflame, your lungs on fire.

You want to rest- to stay with the God and Goddess indefinitely.

...but you can't stay still. You have to act if you want to survive.

(Options in next post)
>A) Maintain your hold on both deities for long enough to try to escape out of the main entrance. Drop Their blessing the second you have distance between yourself and the imps. Lead the pursuit into the ruins. Try and lose them. It will tax you greatly- but you can't bear to release Flesh or Mercy a second sooner.

>B) Release Mercy to try and stave off the madness. Try to pick off the demons one at a time with Flesh's aid. Find a better position in the Church, and do everything you can to destroy them. You won't leave until they're dead- even if it takes everything out of you.

>C) Release Flesh to try and preserve your sanity. Maintain your connection to Mercy, and try to sneak out of the church with Her protection. This is a battle you don't think you can win through sheer force alone. Try to find your friends without leading the imps back to them- no matter how long it takes.

>D) Write-in.
>>C) Release Flesh to try and preserve your sanity. Maintain your connection to Mercy, and try to sneak out of the church with Her protection. This is a battle you don't think you can win through sheer force alone. Try to find your friends without leading the imps back to them- no matter how long it takes.

All that and we only killed 2, with 12 remaining. Better to yeet
>C) Release Flesh to try and preserve your sanity. Maintain your connection to Mercy, and try to sneak out of the church with Her protection. This is a battle you don't think you can win through sheer force alone. Try to find your friends without leading the imps back to them- no matter how long it takes.
dude we got NOTHING out of that shit except ensuring they got away, which I guess was the goal. ah well no demonic ultraviolence slaughter this time, time to go
>C) Release Flesh to try and preserve your sanity. Maintain your connection to Mercy, and try to sneak out of the church with Her protection. This is a battle you don't think you can win through sheer force alone. Try to find your friends without leading the imps back to them- no matter how long it takes.
Enduring overwhelming odds and getting everyone out of harm's way, while containing two deities and surviving an onslaught of attacks is no small feat. I feel the unanimous bully tho. We'll see how this goes- locking the vote to yeet. Writing now.
Another weapon hits the rubble you're using as refuge, threatening to collapse the entire structure. There's no question that you can't stay there a moment longer.

The real question plaguing you is if you can bear to part with Flesh. It takes every ounce of willpower you have to stop digging into the wound in your side, feeling along the raised and newly scarred skin along your back, bloodied hands threatening the fresh scars. Between the God of the Material and the Goddess of Compassion, the tortured sinew has worked quickly to rebuild itself.

The temptation to work it back over, to elicit another wave of healing and relief is nearly irresistible. You tear your hands away at the last possible moment. Your sanity strains, tormented by the desire to live another moment with the Gods, to intertwine Mercy's pleasure with the torturous heat and building agony of your overworked muscle and bone... to extract another sensation, to feel, to know that the Gods are with you.

There's no question that you have to release Them.

Your weakness may be Their strength- but at this rate, you won't live long enough to use it.

Taking hold of the dagger you extracted from your back, dripping with the steady reminder of His gift, you murmur your thanks to Flesh and throw the weapon far as you can out from cover. Praying it will be a sufficient distraction, you release Him, tearing out from cover and running in the opposite direction.

Each and every step becomes more excruciating than the last. Your overworked and emaciated frame reemerges from the darkness and into Mercy's light. Every vein, every nerve, every muscle is screaming with abuse. You keep Mercy close, intensely aware that She is the only thing keeping you from collapsing, as you creep around the rubble and into the shadows.

The church is overrun with demons. The distraction seems to have worked for a split second, barely enough to pull the imp's attention away. Frantically, your golden eyes flood over the floor, the walls, the ceiling, making sure you have a safe exit. Hundreds of shards of stained glass litter the floor, reflecting the faintest ray of light pouring in from the holes in the ceiling. You see demons crawling in from the gaps in the second story- no doubt attracted by the noise and potential to feed. There must be twenty by now. The pews overturned, the colossal doors to the church shattered- you tear away from the house of your Goddess in utter disarray and run for your life.

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The thin soles of your shoes scarcely protect your feet as you tear over the painted hazard littering the floor, breaking out of the church and back into the halls of Ostedholm. The sound of the demons behind you echoes through the twisting labyrinth of lost knowledge, of winding corridors and fallen tomes. Through a haze of exhaustion and bliss you agonize over the volumes of architecture Spirit instilled in you. Navigating, running, clinging onto your shield for dear life, you leave the destroyed church quickly behind and try to find the most complicated path that you can as you descend back into the ruins.

You peel through the stacks of lost lore, loose parchment flying off the shelves as you strain your form to run, to escape, to find your friends once more. Hooking and turning into progressively narrower and more complex paths, you tear through the network of the city of lights, pulling away from your pursuers as fast as your legs can carry you. Myriad hallways and rooms for study take on a grotesque tone as you see the insane lingering in their halls. Screams echo from the deepest recesses of darker wings, a promise of what awaits if you allow yourself to linger.

You practically crash into a stone wall as an unexpected staircase drops down before you, utterly distracted by the humans on your periphery. You don't hesitate, recognizing the shortcut. Winding through the impossibly narrow passage, you utter your thanks to Agriculture, practically sliding down the stone steps as the wrap and twist into tighter and tighter space. The sound of imps begins to overtake the screams and laughter of the madness in the dark. You push yourself, faster, reemerging into the light of Mercy within seconds of flying down the countless steps.

The clamor of the demons behind you is hot and sharp, nearly as intense as the agony in your limbs, the gift of the Goddess. Your heart is in your throat as you try to orient yourself in the space below the stairs. The city of lights casts a glow overhead as if you had emerged from the ruins and into day- the architecture dripping into the network that supports Ostedholm. Stairs lead out in every direction, bridges wrapping around and up into the city, casting a web of stone and light that extends down into the bottom of the ruins. You look around, desperately, praying you can see your companions somewhere in the vast expanse as you run.

Behind you, the sounds of demons approaching seems to dull. You strongly suspect that they are beholden to a greater demon within the upper levels- and that this area is the domain of something more terrible still. The ruins before you, cast in their surreal light, loom and leer out in shapes and size you could not imagine from your research. You slow your steps as the sound of the demons behind you seems to lessen.

You may have finally lost them.

Your mace long gone, you take hold of your holy symbol, clinging onto Mercy's blessing for dear life. Every fiber of your being is burning, aching, begging for rest. You can feel the exhaustion looming. Her caress keeps you willing to move, to endure, but you sense that even Mercy has Her limits.

Desperately, you look out from a nearby ledge, across one of the many bridges that stretch over the ruins. At the level you're currently on, the underbelly of Ostedholm paints a strange skyline, inverted over where you stand. The stone and descending stairs of the city stretch down towards your position. Buildings jut and intertwine around the edges of your view, cutting off the horizon. There's no sense of how much space the city occupies- only that it seems to descend, deeper still, into a network of caverns below. The greenery of the city is entirely absent, where gray stone and marble prevails. Some of the bridges seem to have crumble with age, but before you is an intact set of stairs, and a bridge extending away, back up into the city.

You look down, first, and there is no sight of your friends... but there is something. Something blue, hanging on the edge of the steps. You run over as fast as your legs can take you.

It's one of Ofelia's handkerchiefs.

You pick up the cloth, your body screaming from the motion. You have to close your eyes for a moment, overwhelmed with Mercy- the sensation is almost too much. You stay grounded, despite the intensity of it, looking over the fabric for any message, any sign that your friends are alright.

There's nothing. You were the only one crazy enough to bring pens into the ruins, after all.

Teeth grit, exhaustion looming, you look down the steps. They stretch on so deeply that you cannot see the bottom from where you stand. A faint mist looms up from the deep, darkness prevailing.

You have a single torch remaining.

>A) Release Mercy, and pray to Dream to keep yourself from passing out. Push your body as far as it will go- and run down to the lowest level of the ruins. Light the torch only when you must- there are no rails on these winding steps. You will push yourself as far as you need to go to make sure your friends are safe.

>B) Stay with Mercy. Let Her light be your guide. If She can't keep you on your feet, rest if you must, and plead with Her for protection. You are the Father of Her children- you trust Her to watch over you, even at the bottom of the world.

>C) Find somewhere to hide, release Mercy, and try to rest. You are at your absolute limit, and still have a ways to go. You trust your friends to stay safe- you have to look after yourself.

>D) Write-in.
Stay with mercy and push ourselves as far as we can
Richard sleeps like a corpse so if we let ourselves rest who knows in what century we are gonna wake up.
this >>3892228
Maybe Richard is too focused on trying to find his friends and holding onto Mercy that maybe he starts talking to her about her city and how nice it is, especially now that he has full knowledge of all of its insides? :^)
This, we can't get separated from Ceggy and Ofelia again, not like last time, we actually want to stick around with them!
Fourthing >>3892228.
Falling asleep now has so many bad consequences I don't even dare list them.
Based af voters with write-ins all over
Going to incorporate all of these. Vote is locked. Writing now!
Never one to hesitate, especially in the face of the unknown, you turn from the last of the ruins and begin to descend the steps. You can't afford to rest here. Your friends could be in danger.

You are in danger.

You sleep like a corpse. there's absolutely no telling what might happen if you were to rest now. There's too much at stake, too many risks to list, too many people you actually want to see again to not continue now.

Your heart goes out to your friends as you clutch onto Ofelia's handkerchief.

The slight tension shoots a wave of exhaustion, agony and bliss through your limb, and your vision swims. You try to focus, to stay in the moment, to remind yourself of what's at stake.

The stone steps are slick and smooth, the steps as wide at you are tall- you find uncertain footing, the slivers of glass embedded in your shoes crunching as you plod forward. The staircase gradually turns in its descent. You don't hesitate your procession, but you do at least glance back behind you. Eyes glowing with divinity still, you see far and away into the underbelly of the city.

There is hardly a whisper of any of the imps that were pursuing you. You sense that they were frightened of something down here... or someone. The sweat on your brow, down your neck and back is cooling rapidly as you descend in the cold air. A chill runs up your spine from the thought.

Leering stone and winding bridges loom overhead as the staircase twists and winds. Within no more than half an hour, Ostedholm is shrouded from your sight. You know you were pursued for what felt like hours, maybe more, as you ran through the city- but there is no telling how warped the space is from the presence of so much sorcery. You are unfamiliar with Magic, but you recognize an inconsistency in the architecture when you see it. Spirit gifted you with an unbelievable amount of knowledge regarding the city of lights, and there is no conceivable way you could have escaped from it so soon.

Something feels wrong. The sensation wraps itself around you, intermingling with the searing pain of your overworked muscles, your fresh scars, the sensitive and tortured flesh...

It's enough that you push forward, despite the danger.

Each step is more excruciating than the last. Mist begins to shroud your vision as time wears on.

You continue your descent. You can't help but slow your pace, terrified of falling off of the winding steps and into the abyss. You lean into Mercy's light, reaching out to the Goddess, letting Her guide you. You are not seeing with your own eyes, as the darkness looms.

You need only trust in Her.

The utter silence of the fog and night, punctuated only by your unsteady footsteps, takes on a deliberate rhythm as you lean into Her blessing. You can feel Her guiding you, working through you. You've never stayed with the Goddess for so long, and you can feel yourself barely held together by Her light. Each beat of your heart, each breath in your lungs, each step that you take hits you with a new wave of agony, of euphoria, and you strain.

You struggle to keep yourself grounded, to not become utterly consumed by Her light.

Raw from the pain and pleasure of the Gods working through you, you scarcely recognize your own voice as you commune with Mercy. It's all you can do to try and retain your sanity. You are not nervous, not timid, while speaking of the Gods- and you always take on a different tone when speaking to Them.

It's another story, entirely, when They speak through You.

"We will find Our purchase. We will not falter. Through Mercy We will enter the unknown. No darkness can obscure Her light. We will show unto Her Our devotion, Our conviction, Our love. The Father has looked upon Her works-! Its majesty had struck us with greater fury than the might of Storm. Its halls untouched by the power of Time, its design more complex than any Spirit- You have gifted the Father with reprieve! With the strength to endure, with light, with Mercy- and We feel You-! Aah-"

Your breath hitches further, not only from the exertion of continually descending, but in abject devotion and bliss. You reel, having to stop your descent momentarily to gasp and take hold of Her symbol. You want to take a knee, to grant your body any break from the sensation- every last nerve is on fire, searing with Her warmth, Her love, but you know to rest is to surely die.

You press on, breathing hard, pushing yourself into the darkness. You can practically see the gold seeping through your scars, the cracks in your soul. You try to keep talking, to stay grounded. It's hard to think of anything, anyone, but Mercy.

...still, there is a cloying, aching thought at the back of your mind. You struggle with the thought- and reassure yourself that you are pressing on for a reason.

You have to find your friends.

The top of the staircase is long behind you, with the bottom nowhere in sight. Desperation and insanity inch themselves into every word that spills from your lips, sensuous and obscene as you fight with the unbearable bliss that works itself into your procession. Your body is in abject agony from being pushed so far, yet still, you continue. She blesses you, granting you reprieve from the pain, letting you lean into it, to reach divinity through your suffering.

Mercy's light is guiding you, but you are in complete darkness, save for the glow pouring from your own connection to the Goddess. She is keeping you aloft, ensuring you do not falter, that you can endure the pain. She ensures that you can relish it.

"Mercy... In Our darkest procession- guided by Your hands We- aah-! Thank you- The Father has felt you, has seen Your works...! We ask that You do not leave Us- that We remain together... O, Mercy! Your gifts transcend the most unutterable temptations of this world-! We look upon Your light...! We feel you...! Blessed be the Goddess, for She is Merciful...! Aahh-!"

Your steps falter for the briefest of moments, completely overwhelmed.

The pain of pushing yourself so far borders on ecstasy.

The worn leather of your soles, caked with powdered glass, nearly slip on the step before you. You stagger, blissfully, tensing, agony blossoming forth from the effort as you barely right yourself and stop from falling into the abyss.

You pause a moment, hand to your holy symbol, looking out into the darkness.

You press on.

Another hour must pass by, punctuated by the gasps and praise that falls from you like rain.

Your eyes sear with gold and heat, and you... you nearly collapse. You can almost see the bottom. It seems like there is a faint light coming from below, shrouded by the fog.

More praise falls from your lips as you press on, mind and soul stretched to their limit.

"Aaaah, Mercy...! Thank you, thank you... Your compassion will be heralded, Your praise sung from the lowest depths of this Aerth to the furthest... aaaaah! The furthest... reaches of the sky-! To the moon, and stars...! We will deliver unto You- ahh, that which you seek, that which You ask of the Father-! Your blessing, Your gifts, are more... more than We can stand...! More than... We can give! We give to you Our body, Our mind...! Glory and worship is unbefitting of the Goddess-! We will be... Merciful... oh, Mercy-!"

The few words that trail from your lips as you reach the bottom of the steps are entirely incoherent, praise and worship blending into the obscene. Incomprehensible in your devotion, your restraint slips away.

You see clearly through the mist that you have, at long last, reached the caverns beneath Ostedholm.

You've reached the bottom of the ruins.

Through the haze of heat, blessing and madness you see the uncannily flat floor and stone stretch out into the distance. Networks of passages cleave and cut deep into the Aerth. Man-made archways extend deep into the stone, branching out into many caverns that are not entirely familiar to you. Thanks to the incomplete archives within the city itself, much of this area is uncharted territory.

Arcs of bone-like stone branch stretch overhead, reminding you of your emaciated limbs as you look upwards, unable to see through the veil of mist that obscures the city above.

You stagger off of the steps, onto the smooth stone, stretched to your absolute limit. You can't imagine searching these caverns for your friends in your current state. There has to be something you can do. Some way you can find them. Something to keep you sane.

Yet, Her light is with you... and She is Merciful. You fall at last to one knee, completely overwhelmed as your mind threatens to break. This is not the Catalyst. You have been with the Goddess for hours, or so it seems- no mortal man has ever endured such a connection to the Gods. Not that you know of, and not that you can imagine. You drop your shield, clutching at your holy symbol with both hands, basking in Her radiance. There is light. There is Mercy.

>A) Call out, as loudly as you can. Call out to Ray, to Celegwen and Ofelia. Pray that they hear you, and release Mercy. Trust in your friends. You will no doubt alert whatever is down in these caverns to your presence, but you're scared of losing yourself- you can't risk staying with Mercy any longer.

>B) Pray to Spirit, while Mercy is still with you. Invoke the Goddess of the Immaterial to find your heathen friends in the caverns beyond, and push yourself to find them as fast as you're able. You have no idea if you can endure the strain, but you can't bear to separate yourself from the Gods in your current state.

>C) Release your connection to Mercy, but pray to Her for protection before you surely collapse. Your connection to Her is unparalleled- you know that even if you were to die here, She would be with you.

>D) Write-in.
>>B) Pray to Spirit, while Mercy is still with you. Invoke the Goddess of the Immaterial to find your heathen friends in the caverns beyond, and push yourself to find them as fast as you're able. You have no idea if you can endure the strain, but you can't bear to separate yourself from the Gods in your current state.
Calling out audibly would break stealth.
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Dropped pic.
>B) Pray to Spirit, while Mercy is still with you. Invoke the Goddess of the Immaterial to find your heathen friends in the caverns beyond, and push yourself to find them as fast as you're able. You have no idea if you can endure the strain, but you can't bear to separate yourself from the Gods in your current state.

Letting go is sure to end badly, but we might have a chance if we continue channeling.
Pray to dream to bring us a vision of how to reach our friends, also wake us up as soon as possible.
>B) Pray to Spirit, while Mercy is still with you. Invoke the Goddess of the Immaterial to find your heathen friends in the caverns beyond, and push yourself to find them as fast as you're able. You have no idea if you can endure the strain, but you can't bear to separate yourself from the Gods in your current state.
Mercy please help us deal with /d/ mindbreak thot
Just wanted to mention- it's in the journal, but I know not everyone has seen it. Dream can be induced with great difficulty, but His will is not always reliable- out of all of the Gods, He is one of the most difficult to channel. Richard sleeps like the dead as a result of his last attempt to induce a vision from Dream. It's certainly possible to invoke Him, but I just wanted to give you some information regarding the deity so you could make a slightly more informed decision.

As it is, it seems like you guys are most on board the Spirit train, but I'll be leaving this vote open for a bit. Have a bunch of homework to do.

The majority vote will take precedence for this prompt.
>>B) Pray to Spirit, while Mercy is still with you. Invoke the Goddess of the Immaterial to find your heathen friends in the caverns beyond, and push yourself to find them as fast as you're able. You have no idea if you can endure the strain, but you can't bear to separate yourself from the Gods in your current state.
Thanks for bearing with me everyone. Now that finals are looming, I'll likely try to knock out my studies the first few days of the week so I can update more frequently on the weekends. Carving out some time to write tonight regardless!

Locking the vote, looks like B has won out. Writing now.
Nearly missed you, but got the vote too. Overwhelming majority.
Parting in any way from Mercy is unthinkable. Not only are you terrified of what will happen when you part from Her, but you still need Her help. Aside from the abject agony your body is in, the looming threat of collapse and your isolation miles underground... you have to find your friends.

Your mind flits to the countless humans lost in the city above. Those who had not yet become demons, those who have fallen to madness, those who have lost themselves completely... you have faced so many monsters, but you have heard so many more still.

You know exactly what awaits you, if you were to lose yourself in the darkness.

You can scarcely speak, flooded with heat, fear and pleasure. The fear cannot grip you, as the soft edges of the Mother are holding you, keeping your pain at bay. Your eyes are clouded over with gold, utterly captivated by Her radiance. You struggle to think, to wrap your fractured mind around what could possibly grant you sight.

In a moment of clarity, you remember who could make you see.

The moment your hands part from your holy symbol, the strain on your body is made evident. It was impossible to realize how violently your hands were trembling, but now there is little doubt in your mind that your abuse of Flesh will cost you dearly.

Mercy leans into your fear, your hesitation. While the ruins may seem quiet where you kneel, you know that there are countless demons trapped in the darkness. There's no telling where your friends may be, how far they've wandered, or what has happened to them. The Goddess grants you reprieve, mending your soul, slowly wrapping Herself around the panic and easing your aching flesh.

You work your scarred digits back together, struggling to get your shaking fingers to cooperate. The motion is almost more than you can stand. You can scarcely bring yourself to invoke another deity's name, as connected as you are to the Goddess- merely working your hands away from Her symbol was difficult enough, but speaking is almost more than you can bear.

"Mercy... ahhnnn, please-! Guide Us... Protect Us. We need the aid of Another! Mercy... forgive Us-!"

Your hands work back around Her symbol, frantically, unable to leave Her touch. Closing your eyes, you still can't turn from Her light, blinded by Her radiance. You've been looking through Her for far too long.

"Goddess... We... implore you... permit this vessel... one more failing...! ...for turning from Your immaculacy...!"

Another gasp escapes from your lips, followed by a moan, a cry, as you draw into yourself. Flooded with the blessing of the Goddess, you know that She is surely trying to keep you connected to your mortal form. You both know how much you're asking for, as you invoke the Goddess of the Immaterial- but the sensation is almost more than you can stand.

"Our pursuit is dire...! Ahh!! Though... We do not know where... to find them... grant Us s-sight! Impart unto Us the wisdom... of the incorporeal! Seek out those who... ahhh, would turn from You! From Your t-transcendental vision, We ask for Your gift! Blasphemers- heathens-! We are blind before You! Spirit!"

It happens in an instant. The wet nightmare of Mercy's blessing and Spirit's gifts intertwine through your veins, as white gold courses through your hands, your arms, your chest, your eyes. You do not see the ruins, you do not see the caverns beyond. You do not see yourself, kneeling at the bottom of the Aerth, consumed in light and knowledge, completely incapable of enduring the weight of both Goddesses on your soul.

You see your friends.

You reach out to them.

They are not terribly far from you. You realize immediately that they must have sought shelter as soon as they could. Celegwen is in a trance, her exhaustion bordering on death, as she is clearly doing everything in her power to regain her strength. Ofelia seems badly hurt as well. It seems as if she also endured another attack. The halfling is not resting, on high alert, holding something close to her. You suspect it's Ray, but the Goddesses care not. Spirit wants your attention on the blasphemers you've asked to see.

Mercy leans into you. She tries to ease your mind, to soften the blow. They're heathens. Their thoughts aren't befitting of your station.

The ice coursing through your mind lights your vision, cold and unforgiving. You begged, you pleaded- you asked to know their Spirit. You knew what you asked for.

The Goddess shows you.


Ofelia's spirit is pained. It resonates deeply with you as you seek her out- through the winding caverns, across the stone and darkness. You knew what you asked for and still you implore the Goddess to leave you alone.

"P-please, I've seen enough-"

Fuck! This is so stupid.
...fuck, this hurts.
Richard... what the hell is wrong with him? He had a LOT worse! There's no way he made it out of there alive.

"S-stop-! Please. This isn't right!"

...and the lunatic looked like he was enjoyin' it. Scariest shit I've seen in my life.
...hell, I know he was enjoying it.
Gwen said as much, too.

"Please... Spirit, Mercy..."

The Goddesses turn a deaf ear to your words. You withdraw into yourself, pleas falling from your lips as you are unable to turn aside from the sight and sound. You've never had such an intense connection with someone through Spirit before- you can feel Mercy leaning into the blessing, trying to keep pulling, to dig deeper.

...so he might be a pervert. But... he kept us all together, whole place coming down like that. ...took all those hits, just threw himself into the fray. Like it was nothin'.
Does he think he's nothin'? After everythin' we've said?
Why can't he realize how brave he is?
I'm the one that's barely scraping by.
Maybe I'm losing it. Can't even remember the last time I saw the sun. Was it three months ago? Or four?
...why does everything have to be so hard with other people? Why is this place so violent? Why is he so hurt?
...I know he's been through a lot, but I can't even imagine the half of it.
Can't even imagine what his ugly mug'll look like when he gets back here.
...bet he'd clean up nice if he'd just put on a little weight.
Scares me more than anythin' else. ...just isn't right.
So maybe he's crazy. Maybe this is all another story. ...maybe he's a God, or a demon, or somethin' else entirely.

You're utterly silent, drawn into yourself, unable to do anything but mutter to the Goddesses over and over again.
"Stop. Please. ...stop. Stop."

I don't care.
I'm gonna make it up to him.
No matter what he is.
Maybe he's a human. Maybe they're ALL crazy.
Maybe the stories are true.
...been nothin' but a nightmare since I left. Nothin' but trouble. Everyone was right to warn me. This is stupid. ...prolly suicide. ...but I can't stop. Not now.
...I need to make it up to him. We gotta get through this. I've always found a way.
I gotta get back home somehow.

Celegwen's voice tears and overlaps with Ofelia's last words. Your heart aches, your chest fit to burst.

"No more! Mercy-nnn, please!"

The elf's spirit is a wasteland.

Gaping holes and spans of decades lingering and tearing across several lifetimes of obsession bend and tear at the fabric of your mind. You are utterly incapable of fathoming how much has been learned and lost.

You reel- afraid of falling though your body is firmly on the ground. Mercy takes you, caresses you, pulls you from the edge. You catch glimpses- and you practically suffocate as the Goddess drowns you in Her blessing, dragging you back, grounding your mortal form as Spirit lends you sight.

This will all be worth it.
He never needs to know how much I have lost.
He never needs to know how much this means to me.

You beg, still imploring the Goddesses to grant you reprieve though you're scarcely capable of speech.

"...p-please! Stop...!"

They don't listen. Spirit sharpens your focus, making you painfully aware of Celegwen's thoughts, her fears.

Does she even understand how much she has meant to me?
Can he even comprehend how much we are trusting in him?
Is he aware of how futile this journey is? How long his people have endured this cycle?
I hope it's real. I hope he is not insane.
I can only hope.
I'm like a child, trusting only in what I am told... again. ...but what choice do I have?
That demon took everything from me. ...everything. It will be lifetimes before I can relearn what I have lost.


How could he have destroyed it? How can he be so reckless, when so much is at stake?
How can he play with lives? With his own life? It is fleeting- so fleeting, and yet he has been willing to throw it away, at every available opportunity.
He cannot fathom how much more his kind can endure. He surely knows the powers he is invoking- the cost that they are tolling him.
There is a sickness in their minds and no one will listen.
There... there is... more to him than that, though. Not just in spite of it. Perhaps it is because of it.
...he is kind.
He wants to protect us. I know that he NEEDS to protect us.
How can he not see that I am willing to risk EVERYTHING to protect the people I care for, too?
I never would have learned anything, if I hadn't sought after the impossible.
...of course.
I will have to thank him properly once he finds us.

(Just over the character limit. 4/5)
You curl into yourself, begging, pleading. Spirit finally leaves you. Her clarity seeps from your body, your soul- and Mercy works into the emptiness, filling you, overflowing with compassion and warmth.

You're utterly overwhelmed. You can scarcely see, struggling to stand, your nerves aflame, taken completely with Mercy, struggling to internalize everything you've heard.

You know exactly where Ofelia and Celegwen are. You know they're safe, for now, and you know that you have to move.

You... simply have no idea how to feel, how to cope, how to get yourself off your knees and out of your head for long enough to do anything other than think.

>(How do you feel, having learned of their Spirit?)
At the bottom of the aerth...at the end of the world...no one here has any right to accuse insanity. Our bodies and minds have bent so much We cant recognize them anymore, but We still dont break, We all have something to live for, to fight for...to suffer for. Heathens or belivers our plight is the same,drawing strength from where We can... Maybe all life is cursed like that. But why should i care for mortals when i have the gods...they would never leave me. But they have...yet still...

What am i even thinking?

They are waiting for me.
lets second this
This based writein >>3893969
Fourthing >>3893969.
Shit, I knew Spirit would show us more than we bargained for, but that was heavy. Well done.
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You guys are great.
and thank you so much, seriously means a lot.

Alright! This might take a minute, but here's some fanart to hold you guys over in the meantime (from an extremely based voter).

Vote is locked, writing now.

Here We are... at the bottom of the Aerth.

Eyes clouded over with yellow gold, you look over the caverns and stone before you. The thought of your beaten and bent form making it back to your friends would normally be reassuring, but you pull into yourself. Removing your hands from your holy symbol, you try to wrap them around your own body. The motion has you reeling, but you need the reassurance. Unnatural, erratic, interlaced with visible pleasure- it's difficult, but you need something to hold onto.

Something other than a Goddess.

Irises consumed in divinity, you look far past the road before you. You know the way ahead, though it is dark, and you are terribly alone.

...here We are, at the end of the world.

You know that there must be something down here worth fighting for.

Trembling, your fingers clutch onto your torn and bloodied robes, seeking any sort of purchase. The raised scars, angry and red, meet the disturbed flesh that desperately tries to find something to hold on to. ...it's hard to think, but your thoughts race, trying to internalize what you've learned.

Ofelia's and Celegwen's words ring in your mind, filling the vacancy of your Spirit.

...and the lunatic looked like he was enjoyin' it. Scariest shit I've seen in my life.
There is a sickness in their minds and no one will listen.

You can scarcely speak, yet you still attempt to murmur to yourself. Perhaps you're trying to lean away from Mercy's blessing, to justify your actions to yourself.

Perhaps you're trying to prove something.

"No one has any right... to accuse... nnn..."

The final word leaves you as a whisper. You're practically afraid of saying it.


Slick with blood, your hair scarcely hangs as you lower your head.

Our mind...

Mercy is with you, as your eyes break away from the caverns. You make a rare glance at your mortal shell.

Our body...

Your robes hang, cut and tattered, loosely draped over your ungainly stalks of blood and sinew. Wasted away, your gangly limbs, your sunken abdomen, your pallid skin- all jutting bones and sunken pockets of scarred tissue leer through gaps in your holy garment.

It... has bent so much. ...we can scarcely recognize them anymore.

Closing your eyes, you lean into yourself. You clutch onto the skin, taught over the wasted and burning muscle, gasping at the motion, loving yourself.

Still. ...We won't break. We...

You lift your head, eyes open. You take a step forward, agonizing though it is- Mercy guides you, lifts you, as you rise to your feet.

"We all have something to live for. To fight for.

Staggering forward, gasping from relief, you break into a run.

"To suffer for."

You've wasted enough time.

We who adhere to the will of the Gods... or heathens who turn from Your light- our plight is the same.

A cry of pain escapes from your lips, as Mercy begins to finally leave you.

You push yourself harder, nerves aflame, every step more excruciating than the last as you try with every ounce of strength left in you to reach your friends.

Every step is brimming with righteous justification. The will to push on, the need to be with the people who still think you're worth protecting- who still think you're worth fighting for.

The will to see them again keeps you moving. Despite the agony, despite the Goddess leaving you alone in the darkness.

We... we all draw strength from where we can.

You turn, through the caverns, the stone, the trickling water, the creeping mist, the crushing darkness, winding through the base of the Aerth to reach them. The edges of the gold, the warmth, the relief, all parts from your sight, your body- the pain is crushing and while remnants of Her blessing remain, your thoughts cloud. The world darkens.

Maybe this is our curse.

You stagger forward, blood coming to your lips as the Goddess keeps the Father aloft, scarcely caressing you. She's pushing you, pushing you forward. You're so close to them- you know there's just another turn ahead, a few steps, a slight decline in the caverns. Safety.

Back to the women who question your sanity? Who doubt the validity of Your life? Your work? Everything you have given to reach the heavens- to achieve what no other man can claim? Who scorn Your race, who think Your connection to the Gods is depraved?

"Why should I care for mortals...? When I have the Gods?"

Is it only a voice in your head?

Are you ever truly alone?

"They would never leave me," you murmur, uncertain of who you address as you stagger forward, slipping, barely able to keep yourself upright. Your legs give out from under you, one spasming as you try to put weight on it, unable to stand.

...they've left me, haven't they?

On hands and knees, you clutch onto the side of the stone, dragging yourself back to your feet, far past the limits of any human endurance. You grit your teeth, swallowing the blood that comes forth.

You can see.

You can see light ahead.

...what am I thinking?

Your steps quicken. Mercy has left you- but the relief remains, as you take the final few steps to close the distance between you and your friends.

You don't have the strength to make it into the cavern, collapsing again, just shy of the entrance. Your vision swims, heavy with exhaustion. The panting of your faithful mastiff, his weight bounding over, his worry. Being dragged into the light- Ofelia and Celegwen running over, the panic written across their faces- your name being called, the concern and being taken into the arms of safety- it all becomes a blur, as you finally slip into unconsciousness.

They've been waiting for me.

Light dances on the edges of your vision. Three figures, blurred, cast a faint shadow before you as you recline deeply against something beside you. You try to stir, to rise. Nothing cooperates. Your limbs are as heavy as lead, yet you feel your pulse along your abdomen, your arms, intermingled with a wave of pleasure.

Nothing is working how it's supposed to.

You try to tense, to ease the twitching and the constant spasm along your right arm, but it won't relent.

Your vision adjusts slightly, as you fight against your own body and make every attempt to still it.

Ray licks the side of your face, looking to you eagerly. You look back at him, stunned to see your boy again. He's got a gash along the side of his right eye- his vision looks intact, but there's caked and blackened blood along his jaw. He'd clearly seen combat since you were last together.

You force your limbs to move to wrap them around him. The motion is violent in its intensity- despite trying to move as gently as you can, a surge of pain and pleasure courses along your limbs. Biting your lip, stilling the sounds as they rise, you're overwhelmed with relief and shame. You try to ignore the spasms in your arm, holding him closer, your voice shaking as you try to speak.


The mastiff is oblivious to how overwhelmed you are- he leans against you, giving you something steady to rest on. Relief soaks into your frame. You lay your head against him, concern and exhaustion soaking into you.

"Psst. Hey. Richard. Hey."

You nearly jump out of your skin when you recognize the voice behind you. Ray immediately growls at the offender.

Ofelia is sitting directly behind you, and scoots over the second you whip your head around to see her. Her arm and shoulder has been bandaged, dried blood visible through the cloth.

Celegwen is beside her. The elf elegantly stands to move to a more comfortable position next to you both, looking far more rested than you remember. Her hair and skin is immaculate, her dress mended.

Heart racing, you try to collect your thoughts and avert your eyes. Looking down, you see that your robes have been completely mended and cleaned. Your heart leaps to your throat, and all attempts at composing yourself vanish.

Ofelia muffles an amused sound while Celegwen tries to reassure you.

"I would like to say it was good to see you again, Father, but you were hardly presentable when we found you. I mended your robes while you were resting. ...you should be happy to hear that I have recovered something very important in our time apart. It can wait, though."

The sorceress slides a little closer. You try to keep your eyes down, the flush across your cheeks threatening to overtake your entire body as you try to shy away. Your eyes glance over the smooth floor, the makeshift bed of spare blankets and your nearly empty backpack in the small cavern. There's little distraction from the rough facing of the walls or the cavernous ceiling, of Ofelia cooking equipment spread out or of the remnants of a small fire. Oddly, everything seems to be illuminated by a faint light coming from Celegwen's staff. The wooden instrument is not taking in the darkness, but seems to be creating something entirely new.

The elf leans in, and takes your hand. She grasps your attention as she steadies the trembling limb for the briefest of moments. The persistent spasm in your arm is extremely embarrassing, and the flush in your cheeks takes over your entire face- but Celegwen shows no sign of minding. Her eyes are on you as she implores you.

"You did not look human when you came back, Father. ...you've been unconscious for two days. We could not wake you."

Desperately, you try to look anywhere but at her intent stare. To your immense discomfort, Ofelia is staring at you as well. Her snickering has entirely stopped. She also looks worried sick. The start of circles under her eyes show that she's scarcely slept.

Your voice comes out as shakily as your hands and limbs. "...p-please stop looking at m-me."

Ofelia scoots a little closer, and makes a point of ignoring your request.

"Richard, it is good to see ya'."

You glance back up at her for the briefest of moments. The fractures in your composure threaten to break even further as she continues.

"But... well, I'm not gonna mince words. What the fuck happened to ya'? I didn't think you were even gonna make it outta there, and you somehow caught up to us? Found us? Lookin' the way ya' did, I don't even wanna imagine, but... but I wanna' know."

(Options in next post)
>A) Let them know everything. They deserve the truth. If your friends have trusted you this far, you know they can handle anything else you have to share. Even their Spirit.
>A1) Confront them about their doubts regarding your sanity and use of prayer. You are no liar, and you would rather make your friends uncomfortable than to be dishonest about how wrong you think they are about you.
>A2) Try to be as tactful about it as possible. It's bad enough that Ofelia and Celegwen think you're a pervert or a lunatic- you don't want any more confrontation than necessary.

>B) Share how you got back, but omit the prayer to Spirit. They might already know that Mercy has gifted you with an... unconventional way of coping with pain. They don't need to ever know how much you learned, too.

>C) Give an abbreviated version of events. Do not get into the way Mercy worked through you, or Spirit's overabundance of information. Your connection to the Goddesses is strong- but it is a personal connection, and you don't need to share that much information. It should be sufficient for them to know that you saved their lives.

>D) Write-in.
>>A) Let them know everything. They deserve the truth. If your friends have trusted you this far, you know they can handle anything else you have to share. Even their Spirit.
>>A1) Confront them about their doubts regarding your sanity and use of prayer. You are no liar, and you would rather make your friends uncomfortable than to be dishonest about how wrong you think they are about you.
>A) Let them know everything. They deserve the truth. If your friends have trusted you this far, you know they can handle anything else you have to share. Even their Spirit.
>A1) Confront them about their doubts regarding your sanity and use of prayer. You are no liar, and you would rather make your friends uncomfortable than to be dishonest about how wrong you think they are about you.
>A-Extra) Confess some of your own thoughts and opinions of them, as truthfully as possible. Better that they know what you think of them plainly right now, to level the field and ease any discomfort they might have from you knowing their thoughts and opinions of you.
Better to clear the air now, than risk any lingering sentiments losing precious seconds in a fight that might mean life or death for all of them. Also, truth-telling time.
>>3895394 sounds good.
I like this
Going to try and tactfully confess, then. Great write-ins as always. Locking the vote, writing now!

The pause from Ofelia and Celegwen gives you enough time to try regain some semblance of composure.

Unease threatens to crush you as you struggle to remember everything that's happened since you last saw your friends. Pulling yourself fully upright, you hold yourself against Ray's side, tight as your chest is. It's hard to breathe. Not from any injury you can see, but from the dread of speaking at length about what you've endured.

Trying to ignore the constant spasm in your arm and the occasional, violent twitching in the rest of your body is equally difficult. Your legs seem especially bothered- you couldn't imagine walking right now.

Verdant angst creeps back in your eyes as you scrutinize your clean and mended robes, hanging loosely off your sunken stomach and willowy limbs. They're enough to conceal the worst of you from view.

The heat in your face subsides slightly, thanks to the moment's relief from scrutiny or some other form of pain. You do everything you can to restrain your tone, to still your frame, to try and look normal. You even take a hand off of Ray to try and smooth out your scruffy hair- useless though the motion may be.

There's still a great deal of guilt in your voice as you speak.

"Flesh gifted me... the strength to survive. I... abused His blessing."

Keeping your spasming arm on Ray to steady yourself, you wrap your free hand back around Mercy's symbol. It's scalding to the touch- you close your eyes, relief drenching you. Ofelia and Celegwen are utterly silent. You don't dare to look at them. You don't want to see, not yet.

You've already seen so much.

Despite your best efforts, your voice still trembles. "Through me, His s-strength gave you all the chance... to escape. He healed me. ...and M-mercy-"

Your breath hitches for a moment, heat searing your hand as you tighten your grip around Her symbol. Your eyes open for the briefest of moments, gold lancing green.

Worry is written across Ofelia's face more plainly than anything Spirit has ever shown you. Celegwen is utterly neutral, her gaze respectfully fixed just past you. You clutch more tightly onto Ray, trying to straighten up further, to clear your voice and get a hold of yourself.

The tightness in your chest spreads as you inch your hands off of Her symbol, back around Ray, trying to stay in the present.

The gold fades.

"She healed me. They p-protected me... when I pushed myself... far past my limits. I was able to catch up to you both. ...thanks to Him, I was able to survive... I... I couldn't fight them all. When I invoked both deities at once- I thought- I thought we were all going to die-"

Desperation inches into your voice.

"But keeping them both with me... would have ensured it. I went... too far. Mercy... She..."

(1/5 here we fucking go)
The thought of tearing out the hooked and barbed daggers from your back cuts across your mind as sharply as any one of the knives that cut into your other limbs. You close your eyes, struggling to maintain your decency.


There's a hand on your shoulder. A sound catches in your throat from the touch- you see that Ofelia has scooted closer, her delicate fingers laying gently against your protruding skin and bone. Her concern is evident, but through it, she smiles softly at you.

You can't offer her one back, but it's enough to ground you. Brows furrowed, you allow her to keep her hand in place. Celegwen keeps a slight distance between you both, clearly still listening intently.

"I kept Mercy with me... through the pain. She... gave me..."

You're struggling to not dissolve, to retain your sanctity.

Celegwen's voice blesses you with a tactful alternative.

"A blessing," she offers, looking to you with complete understanding.

"Yes," you immediately reply, latching onto the word. "A blessing. She- She blessed me in our time together. She enabled me... to survive, to escape, to make it out of the city. I... I ran for hours... followed your trail... and... was able to endure. I had never... no one, that I have ever heard of, has ever..."

Ofelia's concern could not be any more severe. You look between her and Celegwen for only a moment, imploring them to understand.

"Humans... cannot easily invoke the Gods... and to stay with one for any length of time... is taxing. To have been with Mercy at such length-!"

Emotion threatens to completely overtake you. You can see, almost imperceptibly, the faintest line of concern on Celegwen's face. You want to reassure her and Ofelia so badly, but something is terribly wrong with you- it's so hard to speak, to try and express anything clearly. Merely speaking her name has your heart aflutter, your chest tight, your body anticipating another wave of pleasure.

"...breathe, Richard. It's okay."

You realize you're clutching onto your chest, your holy symbol pressed into the skin through your robes and the trembling of your fingers, intense in the pressure and heat. Ofelia's hand rubs slightly against your shoulder, trying to take you out of the reverie.

You do take a deep breath.

You take a few more, your pulse felt in the side of your chest, in your abdomen, in your legs. Your muscles ache, your chest is on fire- but you keep talking. You have to tell them. You might actually lose yourself if you were to keep this all inside.

"...I felt like I had lost myself, Ofelia. Celegwen... I... know that I couldn't have kept going without Her. But... I... kept going to get back to you all. I couldn't... I thought I would die... I knew I would die, if I fell, if I didn't make it back to you both..."

Ofelia's fingers tighten a bit. She scoots closer, properly wrapping an arm around you. You try to stop her.

"I need you both to understand."

Every inch of you is laced with fear but you can't stop yourself. You pull away slightly from your friend, looking at her intensely. You look over to Celegwen, trying to grasp her attention.

"You need to know."

Ofelia looks to you with apprehension. Celegwen's voice is level, but the look she's giving you...

"What have you done, Father?"

You tear your eyes away, pulling away from Ray as well as you draw into yourself. The trembling in your limbs makes it difficult, but you do manage to wrap your arms around yourself, away from Ofelia. Ray immediately whines, nudging himself against you. You don't oblige, tightening your hands, trying to ease the shaking yourself. Your mastiff lays down next to you, dropping his head in your lap, demanding your attention. You don't give it to him.

Your eyes are downcast, trying to avoid the look at Celegwen gave you at all costs.

She looked afraid.

The hurt in your voice is unmistakable.

"I prayed to Spirit. She... showed me where to find you both. She showed me more than I asked for. I tried to make Her stop. I pleaded- the- the entire time- I begged Her and She is not Merciful, Celegwen- Ofelia- She- She showed me..."

Your voice cracks, as the words spill out. You can't stop yourself. You felt helpless then, as you feel helpless now.

"...She showed me your Spirit. Both of you. I learned of... of your thoughts. About me-"

"Woah woah woah wait just a minute-" Ofelia interrupts, pulling back properly and fully away from you. The worry in her voice is starting to lace with anger. "What? You... did what? Did you read my mind or somethin'? What the fuck are you talking about?"

Pain knits itself across the tired muscles of your face, twitching as you struggle to reply. "I... She... She showed me... the heart of you. That you... that you and Celegwen have talked about me... that you both... think I'm..."

You can barely stand your own words, but you tear yourself away from your own self-pity to look straight at the two women who call themselves your friends. The hurt that drips off of your words brings you no pleasure, no relief, only dread.

"You think... that something's wrong with me, like... like everyone else... you... you think that I'm a lunatic? A pervert? Ofelia, you don't... you don't even know if I'm human?! How can you think that I'm brave, or want to help me- how can you both want to protect me if you can't even trust in me? How can you stand to touch me when you're scared of me-?!"

You pull away further, glaring. "How can you say to my face- that you're here for me? ...w-when you don't even know what I am?"

The rogue's face is red, but for once in her life she seems to hold her tongue, clearly stunned into silence. You don't stop. You can't stop yourself.

You turn to Celewgwen, your right arm shaking violently from the motion. You hold it tighter, tensing, completely unable to still your body or your voice. "I know now that you've lost more than you let on, Celegwen. I know that you think I'm sick- that you think I'm reckless, that my mission is futile."

Your hands tighten into fists, furious at the notion.

"Do you have ANY idea how much I've lost, too?! I'm not trying to play with lives- I'm the only person who seems to want to save them!"

The sorceress has an odd expression on her face- you can't place it, despite how well you feel you know her thoughts.

"Why- why do you think I hate either of you looking at me...? I know... I know that... everyone thinks I'm out of my mind. That I'm no better than a demon. I'm not. I'm enduring. I'm the only person who seems willing to take the risk, to be with the Gods-"

You turn back to Ofelia, livid.

"Do you think if I was a God- do you honestly believe that if I weren't a man that I'd be this way?"

Her mouth opens to speak, but you cut her off. You take your hands off of your sides, clenching your fists on your lap, arms shaking.

"Don't say it- I'm not a demon! I'm not crazy-! I'm weak-! I'm not PLAYING with lives! I only have one to lose! I'm a human! I'm only a FUCKING human!"

Your words echo through the cavern, hanging in the air.

You take your hands off of your lap, shaking violently. One is placed over your holy symbol, the other over your mouth.

You're utterly horrified with yourself.

Muffled and quiet, your prayer is hesitant and shamed.

"Mercy. ...please, forgive me."

Ofelia, beet red, finally speaks. Her voice is trembling as well.

"I get it, Richard. I get it."

She stands abruptly, pulling away from you, visibly shaking. The anger that seeps into her voice is evident as she takes a rare opportunity to look down on you.

"Didn't ya' see everything else, then?!"

You slowly lower the hand from your lips as you look up to her.

She makes no attempt to conceal the tears streaking down her face.

"Didn't ya' realize that none of that shit matters?! How bad I want to go back home- and I'm still goin' deeper into this shithole-? ...because of you?"

The halfling's voice breaks as she slumps back down, her expression softening, her voice dropping. "...yer keepin' me goin', givin' me somethin' to hold onto down here. Both of ya'. It's been months with nothin', no hope, no progress- just demons and darkness. I didn't even care if ya were one, Richard. ...you've been givin' me hope."

Your voice is low, barely a murmur, still trembling as you fight with indignation and self-resentment. "I know what I am, what I believe in. I know what I'm doing is right... I know who I am- where I need to go, what I need to do. I would... never ask you to follow me, or to follow the Gods in the way that I do. But I can't tolerate you and Celegwen not even trusting who I am."

The elf looks to you with that same odd expression.

You realize it's relief.

She comes over to you all, kneeling down, looking more relaxed than you've ever seen her.

She smiles.

Ofelia punches her as hard as she can.

"You fuckin' idiot, what the fuck is wrong with you-"

Celegwen leans over, both hands clasped together as she looks to you. Her expression is soft, her words brimming with solace.

"Father, you really did see everything, didn't you?"

You have absolutely no idea how to respond. Her reaction is not normal- not at least what you'd expect from a human or halfling. Baffled, you pull back into yourself.

"A mortal man- who could endure lifetimes of loss-"

The elf closes her eyes, drawing her hands to her chest. She still looks utterly relieved as she looks back to you.

"I was the one that did not understand. ...Father. I want to learn. I need to know. Your journey has helped me regain fragments of memories, fractures of what I've lost. I came down here to learn, to study, to grow- and I realize that you merely wish to do the same. I do not question your Gods because I do not believe- I do so because I fear what they do to you."

The rise and fall of your chest is sharp and intense as Celegwen leans in- you pull back further. Ofelia is still clearly hurt, but she doesn't intervene as the elf takes your hands, keeping them clasped together. Celegwen implores you.

"I trust you. I want you to trust me, too. I wish to earn that trust. I will show you, without your Gods intervening. I made you a promise, Father. I hope you can one day find it in your heart to trust me again."

>A) Apologize. Especially to Ofelia. Reassure them both that you still want to stay by their side- you're struggling with things no mortal man should have to endure, and you want them both by your side. Not just in spite of everything you've been through, not because of it, but because you know that they both still care.

>B) Thank Celegwen for her compassion, and ask Ofelia outright why she isn't saying anything more. Given that you saved both women's lives and risked everything to do so- that she wants to endure- get into the heat of it if you have to. You won't let this lie until you've said your peace.

>C) Write-in
>>A) Apologize. Especially to Ofelia. Reassure them both that you still want to stay by their side- you're struggling with things no mortal man should have to endure, and you want them both by your side. Not just in spite of everything you've been through, not because of it, but because you know that they both still care.
>A) Apologize. Especially to Ofelia. Reassure them both that you still want to stay by their side- you're struggling with things no mortal man should have to endure, and you want them both by your side. Not just in spite of everything you've been through, not because of it, but because you know that they both still care.
>A) Apologize. Especially to Ofelia. Reassure them both that you still want to stay by their side- you're struggling with things no mortal man should have to endure, and you want them both by your side. Not just in spite of everything you've been through, not because of it, but because you know that they both still care.
We're gonna fucking make it to the surface past this prologue.
I hope we're all gonna make it bros.

Thanks for bearing with that rough formatting, gonna take some time to properly proofread from now on. Updates might take an extra minute but I hope you guys will find it worth it.

Totally unanimous. Locking the vote! Writing now.
"Thank you, Celegwen, I-"

You try to pull away, but the elf keeps her grip steady against your hands and wrists. Her delicate fingers are firm in their support. There's little doubt in your mind that she can see how much difficulty you're having steadying yourself on your own. You almost suspect she wants to keep you from habitually clinging to your holy symbol, or from hurting yourself any further, and you wind up sharing yet another sentiment out loud.

"...I don't want to make any more assumptions."

Looking between her and Ofelia, your next words come out meekly, as if each one could be more cause for harm.

"I can't even imagine what you're both thinking now."

Your hair must be getting longer. The ends of it hang down slightly, all attempts at making yourself presentable forgotten as you hang your head.

"I'm sorry."

A long moment passes between you all in silence.

The sound of Ofelia blowing her nose grabs your attention back. You look to her, gingerly, and she meets your stare with an equally pained one. Her handkerchief vanishes in a clenched fist, her worry still mixed with anger.

"You sounded pretty fuckin' confident in everythin' you said, Richard. First time I think I've heard you be so frank, when you weren't drunk, or outta your mind."

There's no way to take the bite out of your next few words. You don't try to soften them. "...I'm not sorry for what I said."

Ofelia bristles, but you trip over yourself trying to clarify.

"I'm sorry that I haven't been more forward with you both sooner."

Both women look to you with concern. You try to continue.

"...there was no way I could have shared any of this with you both before. I simply hadn't known. H-how could I? I hate that this is how it's happened. I don't like it anymore than either of you. But I'm- I'm glad I know now. I know that... despite everything you both think of me- in spite of everything, you both... I hope you still care."

Ofelia's tears are back in full force. "Of course I do."

Her voice cracks, as she shoves you as hard as she can. "You fuckin' jerk-!"

Caught by surprise, Celegwen's hold on your hands and wrists slips. "Ofelia, please-"

Ray picks his head up out of your lap, growling immediately at the blonde as he scoots behind you to prop you up. There's no point in trying to catch yourself, as uncooperative as your muscles are being, but you try anyways. It's completely useless. The best you can do is offer Ray an appreciate glance and a few words to try to get him to calm down as he keeps you upright.

"Calm down, boy. Easy... easy!"

The mastiff outright snarls as Ofelia pushes past Celegwen, shoving you again.

The halfling practically screams in frustration as Celegwen tries to hold her back. As she tears from her, her frustration is evident. "You both think you know everythin'!"

Ray is absolutely livid, taking pause from helping you up to stand in between you and Ofelia, fangs bared. You raise your voice, tensing, trying to prop yourself up and reassure them both.

"Ray, DOWN. Ofelia, I-"

Ray manages to keep his ears back, behaving himself, but the halfling properly stands upright. She tosses aside her handkerchief, bristling.

"Do you know how fuckin' worried I've been?!"

Your words catch in your throat. She rushes over, and takes you into a hug.

Her voice is still cracking with emotion as she cries against you. You manage to raise an arm, violently shaking, to command Ray to continue to stay down. The mastiff lowers his volume as the halfling's increases. She buries her face in your robes, crying with enough force to take your mind off the twitch in your back and chest. She clearly has to get much closer than you'd normally be comfortable with in order to wrap her diminutive arms around your shoulders. They've never felt so broad as her hands clench onto the fabric, pulling you in, seemingly desperate to hold you.

"You idiot! I was so scared. Don't you pull another stunt like that again, you hear me?! I don't care if you wanna yell or scream or how mad you get at me! I don't even care if we nearly get killed-!"

Her voice breaks, sobbing. "Just don't go gettin' yourself so hurt-! You can barely even lay there! How are we supposed to get outta this place? How are we gonna get back home if you can't stop gettin' worse?"

>A) Promise Ofelia that you'll rely on yourself more. You'll put on some weight. You won't jump to pray at the first sign of trouble. ...you never have. You've been invoking the Gods only when your life has depended on it. Though you don't know what danger you'll be going into, your heart can't stand the thought of worrying her any more than you already have.

>B) Reassure Ofelia that you'll take a long vacation and look into some proper self-care when you all get out of here alive. Don't mince words now. Tell Ofelia that you still will likely need the Gods to survive the ruins. She should probably be aware that you're having a hard time keeping yourself apart from Mercy, too. You all clearly need to be open with one another. You want to be honest with yourself, too.

>C) Write-in.
>B) Reassure Ofelia that you'll take a long vacation and look into some proper self-care when you all get out of here alive. Don't mince words now. Tell Ofelia that you still will likely need the Gods to survive the ruins. She should probably be aware that you're having a hard time keeping yourself apart from Mercy, too. You all clearly need to be open with one another. You want to be honest with yourself, too.
>Inwardly acknowledge that Flesh is right though, and seek to improve yourself in safer and more measured ways once you reach the surface. It won't do to offend Agriculture, but as the harvest comes and goes, and as the crops grow and wither in a cycle, She probably won't take offense to you partaking in controlled exercise. You've clearly endured much worse down here in the name of your friends and the Gods, not to mention this is one thing Flesh Himself suggested for you - as strangely as it is for Him to "suggest" things.
Let's just acknowledge that all the fucking high tier demons we're slaying our way in this fucking place are so bullshit that we basically REQUIRE to use the Gods to stay alive. I guess in the end it is better to simply stop and reassess the situations and consider if there's alternative options that don't require us to use the Gods like a fucking drug addict.

Wait a fucking second. The Gods fuck Richard up to give him temporary superpowers. He feels absolutely incredible and can do pretty much anything with Them on their side, but in the aftermath becomes even worse off in literally every other way imaginable. Others view him with suspicion, disgust, and horror when he does the things he does, even though by all rights there would have to be so grudging admiration in there, some acknowledgment of how fucking badass Richard becomes and still is - even without the Gods amping him to superhuman levels, that he fights on in the state that he has been reduced to. Even those of his own church despise him, completely ignoring how he gets actual results unlike them, fixating on superficial shit instead. It's taken so much to even convince Ofelia and Gwen of all of this, when it should all be self-evident, and literally NOBODY in this fucking quest so far has shown a single fucking bit of honesty to Richard about WHY exactly his situation disturbs and traumatizes those around him, in spite of everything else about him.


Wait a fucking second.

Is use of the Gods to this extent an allegory for fucking DRUG ADDICTION???
Richard gains powers from the Gods, including
>immunity to pain
>rapid regen
>euphoria (no fedora included)
>faster reflexes
>future visions
>healing people
>brainwashing people
>satisfying hunger
>immunity to lies
>literally know anything
>shoot lightning and flood places
>a feeling of adoration
>stop time

and side effects
>muscle degeneration
>no appetite
>bad dreams
>thin blood
>weight loss
>lack of healing
>knowing nobody loves you
>rapid aging

Yes. The Gods are literally drugs. Holy fucking shit.
>>B) Reassure Ofelia that you'll take a long vacation and look into some proper self-care when you all get out of here alive. Don't mince words now. Tell Ofelia that you still will likely need the Gods to survive the ruins. She should probably be aware that you're having a hard time keeping yourself apart from Mercy, too. You all clearly need to be open with one another. You want to be honest with yourself, too.
>>B) Reassure Ofelia that you'll take a long vacation and look into some proper self-care when you all get out of here alive. Don't mince words now. Tell Ofelia that you still will likely need the Gods to survive the ruins. She should probably be aware that you're having a hard time keeping yourself apart from Mercy, too. You all clearly need to be open with one another. You want to be honest with yourself, too.
Well color me flattered for all of this contemplation. A little more food for thought:

Why would anyone spell out piece meal to you that what you're doing is disturbing, traumatic, disgusting or horrific when you know exactly what you're doing and seem so eager to do so?

Why wouldn't it be hard to get people close enough to try and get you to stop?

Why wouldn't they be scared of a man who is completely willing to destroy his mind, body and soul in the name of a higher power?

Got a totally unanimous vote for B here, locking the vote while I go make some coffee. Next update will be out ASAP.

It isn't just tremor that causes your hands to shake.

"I can't lie to you, Ofelia. I know you're right. I..."

It isn't the tortured muscle or scarcity of your frame that's making you tremble.

It's anxiety.

You're extremely grateful to Celegwen for being so quiet while Ofelia holds you, her tears seeming to gain some relief as time wears on.

It's a miracle that I'm still alive. I've wasted away to practically nothing. I don't even want to see how bad I must look. ...I can imagine, if it's even half as bad as how I feel. For Mercy's sake, a halfling can get her arms around me. Agriculture will have to understand. Her harvest waxes and wanes. Her gifts are an endless cycle. I don't want to disrespect Her- but I can't keep going like this. Ofelia is right. Flesh is right. When I get to the surface... when we get to the surface, things will be different. I have to do something.

Your stomach is in knots. Every word that you pull from yourself feels like you're losing a little part of yourself.

"There's no telling what else we'll encounter here. I can't promise you- I don't want to say that I won't need to invoke the Gods. I swear to you-"

Cringing, you try your best to put a hand to Ofelia as her breath hitches. She's so small that her tears scarcely dampen your sleeve, but the sensation is a harsh reminder of how taxing your situation must be on her, too.

"I'll do everything I can to look after myself, once... when we get out of here. I'll- I'll take a break. A long break, from everything."

Your voice raises as you try to keep reassuring her. "I don't think I've ever given myself a vacation. Or... or really taken care of myself. I'll keep our promise. ...when I get home."

Celegwen catches your attention, picking Ofelia's handkerchief off the cavern floor. She offers you an extremely appreciative look, but remains silent. You offer her a weary grimace in exchange, wishing you could smile back at her. There's no use, when Ofelia is still clutching your robes. Her tears at least seem to have stopped.

You pull back from her slightly. It makes you deeply uncomfortable, but you can't stand the thought of her holding you with what you're about to say.

Ofelia pulls back from you as well, albeit with extreme reluctance. Her clear blue eyes bore into you, lined with red. You cringe further, shying away from her look. It's wrought with worry and cuts you in a way that you can derive absolutely no pleasure from.

"I 'preciate it, Richard, but that doesn't answer my fuckin' question. What're you gonna do here? Now?"

Instinctively, your hands go to your holy symbol. Your long digits tease the gold. The weight and solidity of the outstretched hands bring you immediate relief, but Ofelia's question is tainting your respite in a way that's utterly crushing. The tightness in your chest is not abating. You take a deep breath, and another, trying to work through the desire to curl into yourself and shut down completely.

You sound as tormented as you feel when you reply. "We... I need the Gods to survive this place. I've never invoked Them unless my life or another person's was in danger. I- I am not trying to make excuses. I know you're both scared. I can't blame you-"

Pain lances your grimace as you struggle with yourself.

"Something is... something is wrong, after I spent so much time with Mercy. I know you both can tell- I don't want to scare either of you. I just want to help. I just want to protect you all. I never intended to abuse Her blessing."

Ofelia and Celegwen are giving you that look again. You hate it so much. It's not quite worry- you can see the faint lines under Ofelia's eyes, the strain on Celegwen's delicate features: their strain, their fear. You pull into yourself, desperate to justify your actions.

"I needed to survive. I couldn't have made it back here- to you all, without Her blessing. I couldn't have survived the swarms of demons that threatened our lives- I couldn't have healed, couldn't have endured-"

A pained sound escapes from you as you struggle to articulate just how desperate your situation has been.

"She is the reason I'm even here today. The Church of Mercy took me in-! They spared my life, they raised me... I owe everything to Her. I... I..."

Exasperated, Ofelia sighs, giving you an extremely pained smile as she takes you back into an embrace. "You idiot."

Her arms, soft and slender, immediately send your nerves aflame as she leans against your wiry shoulders, practically holding your trivial weight up against her. The spasm in your own limbs is unrelenting and wearing hard on your patience, more so than the sporadic twitch along the rest of your muscles. Celegwen scoots over and holds you as well. You almost look to Ray for assistance before you're engulfed in their embrace... but you wind up leaning into them, scarcely able to manipulate your limbs.

Blonde hair bobs slightly against you as Ofelia scoots in next to the elf, mumbling into your robes, "you don't owe shit to nobody but yerself."

You want to protest, but Celegwen destroys your concentration with her proximity. Her breath is close as she starts to speak, her head moving onto your shoulder- you flush, wanting to scoot away, but she leans in, holding you all together.

"I cannot profess to understand everything you have experienced, Father, but... if you were able to endure the weight of my knowledge, I suspect you can endure much more than you give yourself credit for."

The heat in your face is absolutely overwhelming, coupled with your fried nerves, the knots in your stomach, the tightness in your chest... articulating a reply is completely out of your reach. It's all you can do to lean against your friends.

Celegwen's voice is strained, clearly worried- but her words are as reassuring as you can hope for. "We will be fine. You must try to take care of yourself."

You can scarcely think.

I don't even know where to begin.

>A) Ask for more time to sleep. A lot more. If Ofelia and Celegwen were undisturbed for two days, they can surely guard you with Ray for awhile longer. Try and recover, physically and mentally. Get some rest. It always helps.

>B) Talk about your relationship with Mercy. The last few days have been terrifying, and you can't understand what's happening between you two. Maybe your friends can make better sense of your situation than you can.

>C) Talk about your relationship with all of the Gods- not just Mercy. Maybe you can make some sense of why you're so fixated on them. Maybe you can have a little more awareness before you invoke them again.

>D) Try to expand on your own issues. Not the Gods, or the Church, or prayer, but you. (Is there anything more to you than your devotion?)

>E) Write-in.
Talk of the surface and things beyond gods and demons and ruins. Something light.
yeah lets do this, can't angst 24/7 ...well we probably could but we shouldn't , it's not healthy
Well, uh, we're on 4chan and not peasants living in medieval times. If I was there and I saw Richard pulling this shit, I'd be all in on the cuhrayzee magic god powers train, because Richard is absolutely unstoppably based and constantly proves it time and time again.
>when you know exactly what you're doing and seem so eager to do so?
So it IS like a drug addiction? Was I right on the money? Well shit. If he can survive the end of the quest with
>his health and sanity better or at least intact
>friends to help him and not abandon him
>has succeeded in curing the Catalyst or at least significantly hampered its effects
>is vilified seen in a better light by those around him
>has successfully impregnated Mercy with Her future demigod race and a peaceful afterlife in Her arms is assured
then I can safely say that he's achieved a satisfying happy ending. The only problem is GETTING Richard alive and intact to that happy ending, and not sabotage it and crash it to the ground prematurely by his own hands.

This >>3898214
File: Mercy Pumpkin.png (4.26 MB, 2440x1800)
4.26 MB
4.26 MB PNG
Something light it is.

Speaking of which, I was egged on to put Mercy on my Halloween pumpkin this year. Who would have thought that a soft and surreal design would be hard to translate?

Hope you guys (who celebrate it) have a very happy Halloween. I might not be able to get an update out tomorrow, but I'll do my best. Locking the vote now.
Face flushed, body on fire, you try to get your heart to stop racing as Ofelia and Celegwen hold themselves against you. It's a blessing that your nerves are still so worn out. Every fiber is screaming at you to pull away, but all you can do is lean in, mind racing. It's hard to not ramble, to try and sort out your thoughts.

"W-when I go back home-" you start, trying your damnedest to be reassuring with two women held against you. "I'll take an absence from the Church. It's- it's very unusual for me to ever need to call upon a God for aid. It's unheard of to invoke many, or even several at once... I'm sure that once I get back, after everything I've been through- I hope everyone will understand. They'll need to."

The pout on Ofelia's face is practically audible. She turns to you and confirms it. You rush to reassure her. "It's not unheard of, though. Father Wilhelm- of the Church of Dream- he has a beautiful summer home. I don't care how hard they want to push me- I'm going to take a break."

Celegwen's breath is hot on your cheek, her head against your shoulder. You're struggling to speak, but you manage to keep your thoughts grounded.

"It- has been nice, getting out, away from it all. ...despite everything. Not that there's anything wrong with the Church-"

Before you can finish your sentence, Ofelia interrupts you through the sheer merit of how grumpy she looks. Celegwen can't help but laugh at her expression.

"You are going to scare him away at this rate, Ofelia."

"Shuddap. There's plenty wrong from what I've heard-"

"The building itself, I mean," you try to clarify, frowning. You aren't about to defend the clergy, let alone argue religion with a heathen.

I just want a break.

There's a strong desire to say more, but you're entirely uncertain of how to continue. The sudden shifting of the halfling under you gives you another pause. She manages to worm herself out from Celegwen's arms, and sits more comfortably beside you, clearly seeing how tense you are.

Conversely, Celegwen seems reluctant to pull herself away. You aren't quite sure if you want her to move, either. You let the elf continue to support you upright, her bare arms elegantly contrasting with your black robes.

Ofelia doesn't seem to mind, settling on leaning her head against her knees as she sits down, looking up to you. "Last time you drank 'round us, you mentioned getting out a lot. Surprised me a good bit, what with how pale ya' are. ...what kinda stuff do ya like to do, outside the church?" Her voice drops lower, mumbling, "...feels like I know more 'bout yer Gods than I do 'bout you."

The question stuns you. You repeat her words in disbelief. "What do I like to do...?"

"Yeah. Ya' know. Dancin', hikin', cookin'... fun stuff."

Each suggestion of hers seems worse than the last. Ofelia's tears seem to have completely dissipated- she even manages to smirk slightly, nudging you with the side of her arm. "Okay, maybe none of that-"

"Well," you interrupt, surprising yourself. "I'm... not much of a dancer. Or a hiker. ...and I can't remember the last time I cooked- but I do like getting out. Seeing new places. Fishing, making maps... journaling, reading..."

Celegwen's smile is evident just from the way you can feel her cheek against your shoulder. Ofelia's frown is completely gone as well, looking up to you in a way that's almost enough to encourage you to continue. "I- I suppose there were several things."

You turn away, embarrassed, settling your eyes on Ray. He lolls his head back, licking the side of your robes at an awkward angle, but clearly not wanting to disturb you. You can't quite scratch his ears as Celegwen still has you in her grasp, but you do manage to look up from him to your friends, asking them both, "would you believe me if I told you I've raised him since he was a pup?"

Ofelia's eyebrows raise. "He wasn't always this big?"

You almost smile, looking down at Ray. "I used to be able to carry him in one arm. I'm willing to bet you could have, too. ...he had a terrible fear of thunderstorms. I'd stay up all night keeping him company. I never could have imagined how brave he'd become."

Celegwen lifts her head off of your shoulder, easing up slightly from her hold on your arms so you can better lean down to pet the mastiff. Ray rolls back over, upright, nuzzling you affectionately. You continue, "we've been best friends for as long as I've known him. You're a smart boy, aren't you Ray? I've taught him so much- here."

You stop scratching behind Ray's ears for a moment, and make a very quiet, brief whistle. Your hands are trembling far too much to command him through gesture alone, but it's a non-issue as you command the hound to sit, stay, roll over, and come around behind you. He proudly worms himself behind you and Celegwen, butting his nose against the elf as he wrestles himself next to the two of you.

Your friends both look legitimately impressed. You look between the two of them, shakily wrapping an arm around Ray, easing a bit off of Celegwen and relaxing significantly more.

The elf looks particularly floored, obviously not minding you taking some space to yourself. "My research had indicated that most humans had dominance over animals, but I could not duplicate my findings."

It's hard to not wince at her statement.

"...admittedly, I could not get him to even follow us without a substantial amount of bribery."

You relax a bit more, trying to reassure her. "He's been my companion for years-"

It's even harder to not realize how much your next words apply to you. "You just... need to show him a little respect."

There's a long pause, and during it you clearly make a ridiculous expression. Ofelia chuckles. "You don't say? What else do ya' think we oughta do different 'round him?"

Embarrassed, you glance away, but a smile works itself into the corners of your face. This is ridiculous. "...it wouldn't hurt to treat him with some kindness, either."

"Oh?" Celegwen picks herself completely off of your shoulder, making sure you're alright to lean against Ray before inching back, looking between the two of you. She crosses her arms, making a mockery of a stern expression. "Why, that's... perfectly reasonable!"

The slightest laugh escapes from your lips. Your question comes out half-afraid of the answer, and entirely self-conscious, but you can't stop yourself. "Imagine- if he was as kind to himself?"

"Nooo," Ofelia starts, cheekily grinning at you. "That would be ridiculous. Who would ever suggest that people be decent to one another? That DEFINITELY doesn't extend towards people bein' kind to themselves."

The flush is back in your face as you turn away from both of your friends, trying to not grin. "Ofelia, you must have this figured out by now. ...I know far from everything."

Celegwen leans into you slightly, smugly looking over to Ofelia. "Of course. You would have little reason to keep me around if that were the case."

The rogue's eyes flash with violence as she flashes her teeth at your friend. "That's it- yer not usin' Richard as a meat shield any longer. I'm gonna' kick yer ass-"

As Ofelia moves to start bullying Celegwen at more length, you realize Ray's playful demeanor has entirely stopped.

"Ofelia-" you start.

Both women are entirely preoccupied with their banter, not hearing your timid voice over their din.

Ray's growling gets their attention.

All of you go on high alert. Ofelia bolts upright, grabbing a dagger and moving in front of you. You realize you couldn't stand right now even if your life depended on it- you look to Celegwen with terror as she gets to her feet as well.

Ray stays right next to you, keeping you propped up, however, as he growls at the end of the cavern you had not yet passed through. You don't remember entering through either side, but you assume that you were at least dragged in through one.

Outside of the radius of Celegwen's staff, it's impossible to see anything in the darkness with your mortal eyes. The mundane green strains to make out anything around the edges of rough stone for a moment, but it's extinguished completely, leaving you all in the shadows.

You murmur, very softly, to your companions. "Do you see or hear anything?"

Ofelia's voice answers you. "It's very small. Looked like a girl. Weird clothes, couldn't get a good look at her face."

Celegwen bristles next to you both. "I don't hear her. Quiet."

It could be an imp. There's no conceivable way a child could survive this deep into the ruins. You suspect that your friends can take on a single one- but the voice that rings out in the darkness gives you pause.

The light that shines out in the darkness gives you pause.

File: Small Demon.jpg (99 KB, 564x855)
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The small form of a young girl dressed in strange attire is suddenly illuminated by a soft glow across the cavern. She's kneeling down, light emitting from her face- and grain is falling into her hands.

You can feel Celegwen and Ofelia look to you with complete confusion and fear. They're clearly relying on you to know how to handle this demon.

You've never seen anything like this before, though. ...and you're furious. You just want a moment of reprieve. You were asleep for two days- what conceivable reason could there have been for a demon to find you all now?

>A) Tell them that you've never seen a demon act like this before, and ask them to wait. Stay on their guard, and see what it's doing before going for the throat, at least. Malimos gave you at least one reason to believe that demons won't immediately go for blood.

>B) You can scarcely stand. Keep Ray by your side, but tell your friends to not waste a second, and to attack it with everything they have. Even if you aren't certain what this demon is capable of, that might be all the more reason to destroy it.

>C) Don't waste a single second. You won't sit idly by when there could be a threat to everyone's safety, and you won't wait until someone could get hurt to do something. ...Ofelia will have to find it in her to forgive you.
>C1) Pray to Flesh to give you the strength to stand. Fight it with your friends.
>C2) It's appears to be made of grain- pray to Agriculture to rot the demon from the inside out.

>D) Write-in.
>>A) Tell them that you've never seen a demon act like this before, and ask them to wait. Stay on their guard, and see what it's doing before going for the throat, at least. Malimos gave you at least one reason to believe that demons won't immediately go for blood.
This >>3899122
The little girl thing could be to lull us into false sense of security though, which is why we need MAX security first thing
It isnt a threat yet, take our time studying IT VERY CAREFULLY. Instruct everyone what to do while We figure out what It is.
Woke up stupid early, have time to squeeze in an update before the festivities today. Fuck yes. Might take me a minute but I'll get this out as soon as I can. Locking the vote! Writing now.
Forgetting yourself, you put up your hand to wave down your companions. The simple gesture is accompanied by intense trembling. You stop the motion almost immediately, clutching onto your robes and merely using your voice to caution them. "I've never seen a demon behave this way before. Stay back. Keep your guard up- please... don't make a move towards it. She looks newborn- she might not even attack."

The light emanating from the demon scarcely illuminates your companions silhouettes, but you see them both nod, keeping their weapons out and ready. You try to scrutinize the demon's form more closely. She's hooded, but the cloth is nothing like Ofelia's. It looks made of a strange weave, tightly fitted, concealing everything but the light and wheat that's tumbling from her face. Her form is terribly small, almost as small as a halfling's, though you know this must have once been a human. Her legs are clad in naught but a thin pair of pants, her feet bare. Her skin looks to be made of solid gold.

The small form ahead of you all keeps her distance as well. Within a few minutes, she's spaced apart her hands, allowing the pile of grain to fill both of her arms. Although you can't discern her face, she looks out to you all.

The golden light reminds you terribly of Mercy. Your breath catches in your throat.

To make matters worse, your heart stops as the newly formed demon speaks. Her voice is deeper than you would suspect, far more mature, tilted with an accent you have never heard. The sound sticks to the insides of your skull, cloying in its radiance. There's a familiarity to the sound that has you questioning just what this creature is with each passing word.

"The Archmistress has received word of your arrival, and welcomes you, Father. Welcome to the City of Lights. We have been expecting you."

The confusion and questions between Ofelia and Celegwen are tangible, as the demon casts its light over you all. It's looking directly at you. You bristle as it slowly moves- but you see that the creature is merely laying the grain on the floor before her. She gently speaks, obviously moving with extreme deliberation to not provoke an attack.

"We offer to you this bounty, as a token of peace. The Archmistress has gifted me with the capacity to heal the pain of others. To heal your pain. We do not expect you to receive this offering, but please, do not linger. I will leave a trail back to Her residence, where she would have you speak with Her. She stressed to me that your need is urgent.

The small demon takes a step backwards, slowly rising, still illuminating you. It seems like a small Mercy for her to not have visible eyes with how intently you still feel her gaze. "Your friends are welcome as well, though they are not to partake of Her gift."

There's a slight bow of the demon's head to Ofelia and Celegwen, though she hardly moves to look at them. Your friends seem equally floored by this creature's behavior. Ray is unusually quiet. It would be easy to mistake him for being calm, but you know him well enough to see that he's still on edge, despite his silence. Is he merely upset because he senses how tense his master is? Is there something more here that you aren't catching?

Your heart catches in your throat as the demon takes a step back, clearly moving to leave. You can't stop yourself, almost moving to chase after her. Your legs are entirely uncooperative, answering you with a series of spasms. You settle on calling out to the demon. "Wait-!"

You've never had so many questions in your life.

She stops moving, looking to you expectantly. Her words are level, though you sense a great deal of strain in them.

"I have been permitted to answer one question. One question alone, and to answer to the best of my abilities. No more. The Archmistress wishes to speak with you at length. I cannot. I cannot linger."

The way each demon operates within the hierarchy varies wildly. This demon could retaliate horrifically if she's forced to speak at length. She could be beholden to a mechanism of her archdemon. She could even be trapped, like the imps you saw before, adorned with explosive glyphs. You tense. You need to choose your words carefully.

>A) "How will this heal my pain?"

>B) "Why does the Archmistress want to speak with me?"

>C) "How did you know I was coming?"

>D) Be frank. "How can I know that everything you've said isn't a lie?"

>E) Don't risk losing your trail to an archdemon. Ask nothing.

>F) Write-in.
"What is the last verse of (some litany to mercy)"
Any answer we get to our questions can very well be a lie. This way at least we know their true nature, considering demons cant speak of the gods,
Ive been gone a few days, and this builds up pretty fast, but....

Ray couldve sniffed out Richard right?
It's extremely likely that he could have. He did immediately drag you guys back to Celegwen and Ofelia, as well.

What's more, Ray's stayed by you multiple times when you've fallen unconscious, and frequently is able to obey your commands even when he can't recognize your voice.

Up until this point, there's been nothing but complete justification for writing Richard as being borderline incapable of trusting in other people, himself, or pretty much anything other than the Gods.

To your guy's credit, though, there was virtually no way to know where they had gone, and you were on death's door. It was a risk worth taking imho.
this >>3899377
Also supporting
Unanimous! Feel a little bad for keeping you guys waiting but I have been extremely busy. Thanks for your patience lads, locking the vote. Will be writing right after I wrap up a few phone calls.
The faint golden light emitting from the demon's face casts over you. It's an unsettling parallel to the light of Mercy that you're so familiar with. Through it, you can see Ofelia and Celegwen looking to you with the utmost concern. They clearly are trusting in you, to dare to speak, to do something in reply. You try to raise a hand, to reassure them, to keep their weapons steady, but your limbs are trembling far too much for the gesture to be of any use. You settle on staring at the demon, frowning as you lean against Ray, keeping him close.

The silence is so thick you don't doubt Ofelia could cut it, too, with a knife.

There's so much you could ask, so many questions that are brewing inside of you. Still, you hesitate. You can't trust this demon. You aren't even sure what she is. You sense no warmth from her light, no soul in her words. There's something terribly wrong here.

More than anything, you want to know what this creature is, and if you can trust her.

The apprehension and fear in your voice is evident as you ask, "What is the last verse of the Litany for the Merciful?"

Litanies to the Goddess are only to be spoken of by the clergy... at least, they are today. There is no telling if this girl- this demon, will have even heard of it. If she lived in Ostedholm, she predates my city, my country, by an age. Still, if this was truly a city built in Her name, there is a chance that it survived through this society. I can't waste this opportunity when I can try and discern her intent.

...even if it might kill her.

The demon bows her head, and does something that stands every hair on your body on end.

She knits her hands together in prayer.

You look to Ofelia and Celegwen, tightening your grasp on Ray as you try to pull yourself further upright, bracing. Ofelia seems to notice your distress, and moves slightly in front of you as the demon begins to speak.

"Let us pray:"

The voice that emits from her body is detached, discordant, and altogether inhuman. The sound grates along your mind like a knife to broken glass. You put your hands to your head, pain instantly blossoming. Out of the corner of your eye, you see Celegwen double over- she's clearly far more sensitive to the noise than even you are. She drops her weapon as she races to cover her long ears, crying out. Ray whimpers, growling, but he does not move to attack, seeming as confused by the entire situation as Ofelia. The rogue tightens her grasp on her weapon, standing firmly in front of you all.

You don't stop the demon. Intertwined with the nightmarish quality of the voice is light, and relief. It's entirely unlike anything you've ever heard- you lean into it, finding yourself speaking along with the demon as her words ring out.

(1/3 screwed up trip, should be good now)
"Compassionate, graceful and benevolent-

The demon's words are heavier and more intense than any you have ever heard a creature utter. The sound is crushing, pushing its way into your skull. You can scarcely breathe, each syllable pulling forth more pain. A thin line of pleasure works its way through the sensation, yet through it all you immediately notice that the demon is omitting the name of the Goddess. Clutching onto your temples, pain flaring forth, you can't speak, can't pray- you can scarcely do anything as the demon continues.

-we live to serve, to exercise that which you have taught. Look unto the works, the world that we light with blessing, that we might worthily adore. We will endure, we will restrain, we will be- worthy. Through this blessing, safeguarded from the evils of this world, may we be granted the gift of everlasting light."

The last verse is entirely absent of the repetitiveness that you know and expect from the bulk of the litany. The demon seems to have choppily substituted or omitted each and every mention of Mercy from it, leaving the structure a complete mess. She can't even close it properly.

"So be it."

Her voice finally ceases, the sharp metallic edges fading from your mind almost as quickly as they came. Your headache lingers, radiance intermingling with the pain. The demon's light shines on you, unremitting, cutting into your flaring relief with each passing moment. You don't dare close your eyes, letting the pain and relief come. Ray leans into you, growling at your source of distress, but his defense only aggravates the pain in your skull.

You tense even further, seeing Celegwen doubled over on the floor. Ofelia seems to stop reeling for long enough to immediately go to the elf's side.

"Gwen-" you start, going to move towards her. Your legs are entirely uncooperative, your nerves still on fire as you try to move them. Exasperated and desperate, you can't help but murmur, "Mercy, please-"

The demon's light turns away from you for the briefest of moments, moving back over the grain along the floor, the cavern walls, the exit. She pours her light back into her hands, allowing the gold to reflect and refract her own radiance as small pearls of metal begin to pool forth from her own flesh. They congeal and harden into morbid skipping stones. She drops one to the floor.

"I have answered your request to the best of my abilities. I must go. My kin will not disturb you here, if you will leave them be in turn. Do not linger. I will leave a trail, as I have been instructed, though I cannot promise it will stay intact for long."

The demon slowly takes a step backwards, dropping another stone. She clearly is looking to Ofelia while she does so, who's furiously glaring back.

Scarcely able to restrain her anger, the rogue has two blades in hand, clearly slick with poison. "You fuckin' monster-"

>A) Tell Ofelia to stay her hand. Let the demon go. You need to look after your friends, not make matters worse. She said that "her kin" would leave you all be if you left them be. You don't want to risk giving up that safety now.

>B) Don't stop Ofelia from attacking the girl. You'll find the archdemon on your own terms- this creature is clearly too dangerous to live. Let your friend strike her down.

>C) Pray to Mercy to restrain the demon. Do everything you can to force more information out of her. You won't let her get away, not after that display. You need your questions answered now.

>D) Write-in.
>A) Tell Ofelia to stay her hand. Let the demon go. You need to look after your friends, not make matters worse. She said that "her kin" would leave you all be if you left them be. You don't want to risk giving up that safety now.
"Ofelia please... stay your hand... follow her and memorize the path then get back to us we will see this archmistress on our own terms and time. We can't charge into battle anymore. We need to take care of ourselves.
>>A) Tell Ofelia to stay her hand. Let the demon go. You need to look after your friends, not make matters worse. She said that "her kin" would leave you all be if you left them be. You don't want to risk giving up that safety now.
> A

2 scaree
Got time to squeeze in one more update tonight! Might be much later tomorrow for the one after this. As always, will try and get at least one update out a day regardless. Writing now.

It shouldn't come as any surprise to you how pained you sound, but you're taken aback nonetheless as you hold a hand out to your friend. Your fingers tremble terribly as you clutch onto the back of her cape, pleading. "Please. Stay your hand."

A deep sigh escapes from the rogue, her blade still at the ready. The demon takes another step back, slowly, keeping her light on you all. Ofelia's words are hissed through clench teeth, the tension between the two figures palpable. "I've just about had it with these fuckers-"

The halfling bristles as the demon takes another slow step to leave. You whisper, as softly as you can, "follow her, then. Get back to us as soon as you're able- at the first sign of any trouble. Don't antagonize her. ...don't antagonize anyone, if you can help it."

The demon takes another cautious step back, and another. You tug on Ofelia's cloak unintentionally, your arm shaking too violently to stop yourself. As the rogue turns back to you, you can see the lethal intent in every wrought nerve in her body.

You look up to her, for once, and try to reassure her. "We need to take care of ourselves."

Ofelia's face drops. Her shoulders slump in recognition of how right you are. She puts away her blade, and you're about to say more, but she quickly comes forward and embraces you. Her lips are practically against you, her warm breath on your cheek- your heart leaps to your throat as she whispers in your ear. "I won't let anythin' happen. I'll follow her, alright."

Though you want to reply, your chest is so tight you can scarcely breathe. The blonde lingers, holding herself against you. It's difficult to think of why she hasn't pulled away. It's hard to think of anything.

"Don't let me down, Richard. Take care of Gwen. ...take care of yourself."

She still doesn't pull away. Her softness is nothing like Mercy's- the edges of her frayed cloak and blouse tug slightly against your robes, every edge painfully real. The warmth of her breath and the freckles along her face blur as she leans against you. It occurs to you that you might have a heart attack, or worse, at the rate your pulse is going- but another thought overtakes everything else you could possibly imagine.

She's afraid of letting go.

You find your voice. It's never sounded so concerned. "Ofelia-"

She pulls back, leaving you to lean against Ray. You lean forward slightly as she takes herself off of you, trailing for the briefest of moments after her warmth. She grits her teeth, meeting your eyes.

You don't look away.

"Ofelia, please, be careful. ...we'll meet the archdemon on our own terms- on our own time."

The light is fading, as the demon completely retreats. The small golden pebbles she's left behind glow faintly, scarcely illuminating the cavern. Ofelia's face begins to slip from view, but her voice is clear.

"Don't wait for me- we can meet halfway, or somethin'."

She turns to leave, looking over her shoulder at you and Celegwen. It's as if she can't bear to not see you both.

"I won't die alone down here. Come after me as soon as you can. Promise me."

You grit your teeth as well, clutching onto Ray. "I will."

She turns completely, pulling up her hood and vanishing into the shadows. There isn't sight or sound of the rogue as she creeps off, into the darkness.

Celegwen still hasn't moved, curled up into a ball next to you. You try to urge your body to cooperate. The spasm in your arm has been unrelenting, and your legs aren't faring much better. You can't tell if it's permanent damage, or if you're simply still recovering from the extremes you pushed your emaciated frame to. Ray's growling has completely subsided, leaving you with the darkness in utter silence.

You pat on Ray's side, and gesture as best as you're able towards Celegwen. "Ray, move. Let's go, boy."

He immediately scoots himself better under your arms, helping to drag you adjacent to your friend. You try to not feel utterly humiliated, muttering, "...bet you're happy I've lost some weight, huh? At least you don't give me a hard time about it. Come on. Good boy."

The mastiff licks your robes as soon as you stop gesturing, settling next to you to better support your weight. Celegwen is completely unresponsive despite your close proximity.


She snaps her head around, turning towards you violently. You nearly jump out of your skin- Ray immediately growls, inching his way in between you two. She stops at the sight, clearly scared out of her wits as well. The elf's hair is on end, her eyes wide, her face pale.

Both of you stare at each other for a long moment before she finally speaks. Her voice is distant. "We never should have let Ofelia go after her. ...that demon. She-"

The sorceress brings her arms around herself, visibly shuddering. "I could not discern what it was, but... I strongly suspect that her or her master possess that which we seek. Nothing, nothing I can fathom could bring about this transformation. Nothing in this world that could change a demon in such a way. This is no Magic."

She looks with extreme fear towards the path of gold leading out of the cavern. The corners of her lips perk up as she looks back to you, to all of your gear spread out around the camp, to Ray, to the constant stress knitting your brows together. Just as you think she's starting to crack, the elf gives you a pained smile, joking, "...I do wish Ofelia had brought more of that liquor."

You can't quite laugh in response, but you know that you have to do something.

(Overestimated, options in next post)
>A) Trust in Ofelia to look after herself. Try to eat some of the food Ofelia left behind, sleep, and hope beyond hope that you recover quickly.
>A1) Ask Celegwen to wake you the moment Ofelia gets back, even if it's right away.
>A2) Tell Celegwen to not disturb your rest unless it's a matter of life or death- even if it takes a week. You need to rest.
>A3) Ask Celegwen to wake you in another day, at the latest. If you haven't recovered by then, you'll do something more drastic.

>B) You've promised Ofelia time and time again to look after yourself. Pray to Mercy for Her light, Her healing, Her protection. Though you're frightened of how dependent you're becoming on Her, it will accelerate your recovery while you rest. You can't waste anymore time. Sleep after your prayer. It shouldn't take long.

>C) Ask Celegwen to inspect the grain left behind by the demon. If it doesn't seem like it's cursed, pray to Agriculture to detect it for poison. The Goddess will not take much from you, for something so small. ...even have Ray sniff it for good measure. See if this demon has truly given you a peace offering, a trap, or a blessing.

>D) Write-in.
>>A) Trust in Ofelia to look after herself. Try to eat some of the food Ofelia left behind, sleep, and hope beyond hope that you recover quickly.
>>A1) Ask Celegwen to wake you the moment Ofelia gets back, even if it's right away.

Praying after all that talk about self care seems a bit poor timed right now and we need some rest
>>A) Trust in Ofelia to look after herself. Try to eat some of the food Ofelia left behind, sleep, and hope beyond hope that you recover quickly.
>>A1) Ask Celegwen to wake you the moment Ofelia gets back, even if it's right away.
>A) Trust in Ofelia to look after herself. Try to eat some of the food Ofelia left behind, sleep, and hope beyond hope that you recover quickly.
>A1) Ask Celegwen to wake you the moment Ofelia gets back, even if it's right away.
Take the time to recover.
>A) Trust in Ofelia to look after herself. Try to eat some of the food Ofelia left behind, sleep, and hope beyond hope that you recover quickly.
>A1) Ask Celegwen to wake you the moment Ofelia gets back, even if it's right away.
The mortal coil needs rest to carry the burden of faith.
>all this subtle sexual tension building with all three of them
I guess it's to be expected when you're constantly fighting for your life in the dark against horrid monstrosities, and you have a nonzero chance of literally dying at any given moment within the next 24 hours. I strongly think though that Richard himself might not be able to survive anything progressing to the extent I'm expecting them to, unless he asks Flesh for help - then neither Ofelia or Gwen will survive. Tough times ahead, no doubt.
>>A) Trust in Ofelia to look after herself. Try to eat some of the food Ofelia left behind, sleep, and hope beyond hope that you recover quickly.
>>A1) Ask Celegwen to wake you the moment Ofelia gets back, even if it's right away.
You are only human, after all. Tough times ahead, no doubt, indeed. Glad you all opted for some rest.

Locking the vote, eating some breakfast and I'll get right to the update!
It's difficult to even acknowledge Celegwen's joke, but you awkwardly manage, "...that would have been nice."

There's a soft sigh as Celegwen rises to her feet. Her limbs immediately calm, as she takes a deep breath and seems to regain her composure. She looks down to you with concern written all over her face. "What are we going to do about you, Father?"

"I just- I just need to rest." It's impossible to meet her gaze any longer. You glance away, looking over all of Ofelia's things scattered around the camp. "I'm sure she'll be back soon. I trust that she can look after herself- but after everything I've promised, I can't push myself any further. ...do you still have any of the supplies we gathered?"

The sorceress leans a bit against her staff as she walks over to Ofelia's pack, looking it over thoroughly. Her voice is lighter than you'd expect. "A fair bit. It would be acceptable, even if we had not. I have been meaning to tell you something."

You can't help but dart your eyes up as the elf comes closer to you. She kneels down, placing a bundle of leaves and moss beside you. It looks as though Ofelia had prepared a small amount of food already. You glance up to Celegwen as she leans in, hands crossed over her lap. She's smiling.

"I have recalled the art of conjuration. It came to me suddenly, while..."


You've never seen anything like the expression on Celegwen's face. "...while I was thinking of you."

Her eyes flit up to yours, lighter, clearly thankful, but there's something else there.

The heat is back in your face, and you're beginning to wonder if it's ever going to leave, at this rate. You're entirely at a loss for words, acutely aware of exactly what Celegwen was thinking of at the time. It was hardly anything indecent.

She was completely fixed on how much she wanted to protect you.

She leans in a bit closer. You instinctively try to inch back, but your body is scarcely cooperating. A twitch along the knotted scars in your back answer in reply, and you hardly move at all. Ray leans a bit into you, sensing how anxious you are. You can't find it in you to say anything to him, either.

The elf's immaculate skin and hair are practically sparkling as she leans in closer. You can see every last fleck of purple and black in her metallic eyes. You glance yours away, heart pounding, but she places a hand under your chin, seizing your attention.

It's hard to breathe.

Her voice is light, methodical as always. It's clear that she's been thinking about this for some time. She leans in, dangerously close to you-

"I wanted to thank you."

(Options in next post)
>A) Tell her that you appreciate her thanks- and leave it at that. She might not respect your Gods or know the weight of your position, and that's alright. You can keep things light and respectful- but don't let her get any closer.

>B) Firmly tell her to respect your position. You're a man of the cloth. You're sworn to remain chaste. You need to uphold your duty, your sanctity. Your body is fit for the Gods, and no one else. Make it clear that you can't let her near you.

>C) Tell her that this isn't right. You respect her, and appreciate everything she has done- but you have feelings for another.
>C1) In every conceivable way, you love Mercy. You could never conceive of sharing your body with anyone but her.
>C2) You've had feelings for Ofelia and are far too afraid to express them... yet.
>C3) There's someone else, and you don't want to get into it.

>D) You don't know if you're going to even live to see the sun again. You're willing to risk everything. You're willing to risk your connection to the Gods- everything that you love- for something, someone, who's right here beside you. Who cares about you, and wants to be close to you because of who you are- not what you can do.
>D1) Let her kiss you- and keep it at that.
>D2) Let her kiss you- and whatever else she wants to do to thank you.
Aw shit, jackpot trips. This is a sign. Wait no.
>C1) In every conceivable way, you love Mercy. You could never conceive of sharing your body with anyone but her.
>D2) Let her kiss you- and whatever else she wants to do to thank you.
SO glad you said something, big old addendum here:

These options are not mutually exclusive, if it makes sense for them to overlap. Just bear in mind that not everyone is accepting of someone having feelings for multiple people- or deities. Write-ins are welcome as well.
>Write-in) "Celegwen, before I give you my answer, answer me this. Are you alright with... with the feelings I hold for Mercy, knowing all She has done for me in my life? Knowing She does not take a toll or price like that of the other Gods? Knowing that I am closer to Her than any other, for valid reasons?" Look around you at the walls of lower Ostedholm. Allow yourself to relax a little, and start musing out loud. "This *is* Her city, in the end, and we *are* on the path to Her Relic. And I *have* been through enough that a... reprieve is warranted? Perhaps this is a small enough Mercy for me that I... wouldn't be remiss to... accept your thanks? Perhaps She might even bless us for this?" Start blushing at the thought, because you are still a boy at heart. "I don't think we would be the first either, if what I remember from those books is any indication..."
i.e. OK to elf, but no stopping Mercy route either; Richard WILL get those demigod children before his fucking body explodes in a shower of gore and entrails from constant God channeling spam, if he doesn't get his act together by then thanks to Flesh and Ofelia
Gonna sum up the options here in simpler terms:
>Friendzone the elf mage
>Merciful green spirit waifu
>Short blonde tomboy thief
>Literally who???????
>Just a peck on the cheek
>Just like in my doujins
AHHH I just want Ofelia but I know I'm in the minority here
I'll support this just to see what happens
You think Gwen won't try to rope Ofelia into things later, if things even go in that direction.
I am completely against multiple people in a relationship irl and in this.I just want our smol girl
I understand your point of view though, and it is a respectable one. Maybe this is not necessarily the end-all-be-all choice for the quest? It could be just for these ruins, where tensions are running high. Afterward, when things calm down, maybe Richard can think more clearly about what he wants.
>>C2) You've had feelings for Ofelia and are far too afraid to express them... yet.

I'm voting even if I doubt it matters
Of course it matters.

Keeping the vote open for a good long while tonight, pretty busy but I will absolutely update once more this evening.
Going to somehow sort all of this out and make something coherent. Locking the vote. Writing now.
You immediately try to put your hands up, your mind even more torn than the ravaged muscle and nerves along every inch of your body. You tense, pulling back as best as you can, before Celegwen can reach you. "Wait."

She looks to you, unoffended, clearly curious as to what you have to say.

You don't inch back any further. There's a dozen excuses and contradictions brewing in your mind- you try and tease out the most pressing one, words tumbling from your lips as you scramble to articulate your concern. "Before- look- are you alright with... with the feelings I hold for Mercy? Knowing everything She has done for me? Knowing She does not take a toll on me in a way that any other God does? ...knowing that I am closer to Her than any other?"

A blend of amusement and disappointment blends together in a way you aren't particularly pleased with as the elf replies. "Feelings you hold for Mercy? Is that what you call it?"

"My reasons are v-valid-" you try to explain, stammering, as Celegwen places a hand on your shoulder. You try to pull back, doing everything you can to explain your position. You practically knock Ray backwards, awkwardly stammering, "I... I love Her- I could n-never conceive of... sharing myself with anyone but Her..."

You swallow, hard. You can't help but think of Ofelia. Her freckles, her warm breath on your skin, the way she skips when she walks away- her accent, the way she's always looked after you.

Mercy, I'm not lying. I just can't get my head on straight.

You pull back further, trying to shrug off Celegwen's hand. She seems respectful as you try to look to the walls of the cavern, the stone and gold. It's everything you can do to try to continue speaking, praying that Celegwen can understand.

"This is Her city, in the end. We are on the path to Her Relic- and I have been through enough that..."

The hand on your shoulder pulls you in a bit closer, as Celegwen snakes an arm behind you. A chill runs up your spine as her elegant fingers runs over the cloth, winding along the countless scars. Your words catch in your throat. Celegwen's eyes are distant. She's clearly deep in thought, despite how she's acting. You can't help but nervously rattle off more excuses, more explanations, barely able to articulate yourself through gasps. Your tortured skin is practically on fire from the slightest touch.

"Perhaps a- aaahn, a- reprieve- is warranted? Perhaps- this is a small enough Mercy for me that I... wouldn't be remiss to- accept your thanks...?"

It's rapidly becoming impossible to speak. Your face flushes, horrifically embarrassed by the prospect, by her proximity. Celegwen's eyes trail back to yours as she comes out of her reverie.

She leans in again. Her fingers on her free hand come gently behind your head, intertwining in your tangled hair, pulling you in closer. You can hardly breathe. You can't help but murmur, apprehensive, practically begging for Celegwen to acknowledge your words, to say something in return. To do something.

"Perhaps She... would see fit to even bless this-"

You find yourself cut off, unable to finish.

Her lips place themselves gently on your forehead. The sensation is entirely foreign to you, her lips softer than you could have imagined. She pulls away after only a moment, looking at you with pain, an apology spilling over where her kiss was seconds ago.

"I'm sorry. Father, I understand completely."

Despite her words, the sorceress is still inches away from you, her hands feeling the knots in your back, your disheveled hair.

"I would never ask for you to forsake your Goddess for me."

The wind is hardly taken out of your sails, and you open your mouth to protest, but she interrupts you again.

"I have walked this earth for over 300 years- and I fear each and every day in this nightmare will be my last. I made you a promise, Father. I am hoping to make each one of these days count. I could not forgive myself if I jeopardized your mission, or our safety. ...but I would be lying to you if I did not confess-"

Celegwen leans in again, placing her head gently against yours.

There's no air in your lungs, no chance of interrupting her or stopping her out pour. You close your eyes, leaning into the sensation- the softness of her skin, her hands pulling slightly against your robes and hair.

She whispers, "I have never felt more alive than when I have seen you. The way you contain the very Gods-! It scares me, Father. ...the way you disregard your safety so utterly scares me- but I do not wish for you to die down here, alone, taking more pleasure in pain- than in the touch..."

Her hands tense, almost as if she were to inflict that very pain on you- you can sense the turmoil, her hesitation.

"...of a woman."

She clearly wants to do more.

She wrenches herself away.

Speech escapes you. She escapes you. Her fingers untangle themselves from your robes, your hair. She places her hands in her lap, edging back and giving you a terribly pained smile.

"I hope that- one day- you can find a way to live with someone of this world, too."

Your heart is breaking into a million pieces. "Celegwen-"

She gives you that awful smile again. "Please do not worry yourself. I do want to thank you, Father. It was presumptuous of me to not think of something more fitting."

You frantically try to think of something- anything- you could say to make this right. Your words leave you as the sorceress takes hold of her staff, muttering an incantation.

It's easy enough to recognize that she's not going to be consoled.

Hands trembling, you clutch onto yourself, practically cursing as she conjures a phantasm of starlight and darkness out of the end of the gnarled wood.

The heat starts to fade from your face and body as she continues to cast the spell. It's difficult to look away. Despite how upset you are, the spell is stunning. The pinpricks of light and space congeal, forming into a smaller and smaller form. Celegwen drags the shape together, spinning it into a band of solid gold.

Your heart skips again as you recognize the object. As Celegwen finishes the spell, you see her lean slightly against her staff, clearly tired from the effort. Still, she comes back to you, holding the object forth.

It's a promise ring. There are several small, spiked gems on the interior of the band. You look up to her with apprehension as she offers it forth. Her voice is gentle, hurt- but sincerity drips from every syllable. "I did say I wanted to thank you. Take this. You don't have to wear it now. ...but think of me when you do."

You'd never forgive yourself if you didn't accept her gift. You shakily go to take the ring, but your hands are trembling far too violently to grasp the object without extreme difficulty.

She clasps your hands around both of hers, slipping the gold into your palm. The interior is far from sharp- you'd clearly have to apply a great deal of force to actually hurt yourself with it. You have absolutely no idea what to say, but the heat is back in your face. You're too embarrassed to speak.

A long moment passes between you two.

Celegwen finally takes her hands off of yours, looking to you with all the worry you've come to expect. "You should rest. There is no telling when Ofelia will be back, but knowing her, it will not be very long."

You hate yourself for having to say it, but you murmur, "please, wake me as soon as she's back. We can't linger here."

The elf bites her lip, nodding. She stands back up, and you manage to raise your voice. "Celegwen."

She looks down to you, expectantly. You clutch as tightly as you can onto the ring in your hands, green eyes piercing as you look back up to her.

"I didn't mean- I want you to know..."

The elf kneels down again, taking your hands once more. She unfurls them, quickly slipping the ring onto an index finger. Your hands are so thin that it catches on the knuckle, yet hangs slightly against the base of the digit. You wince, embarrassed once again by your appearance. It occurs to you that she was already familiar enough with your hands to know your size. Celegwen offers you a more genuine smile, clearly not bothered.

She closes your hands once again, tightly. The band knicks against your skin. You have to repress the sound that you so badly want to bring forth- yet Celegwen leans down, placing her lips against the gold, looking up to you with that same smile as she does so.

You abandon all pretense of trying to explain, to reason. Heat and pain lance the pleasure she pulls out of your hands- you forget the spasm in your frame, the presence of anyone or anything else for a blessed moment.

She pulls back, placing your hands in your lap before she rises again. Flushed, you manage to finish your sentence. It's all you can bear to say.

"...thank you."

"You have already done more for me than I could ever hope to ask for, Father. There's no need to thank me."

The shade conceals Celegwen as she moves to leave. Her voice trails behind her form as she disappears from sight. "Please, get some rest."

There's no sight of her as she completely fades from sight.

"I'll keep watch."

You had nearly forgotten that Ray was even beside you. Exhaustion crushes into you as you tense, unable to stop cursing yourself as your mastiff leans into you, trying to offer you someone to hold in the absence of everyone who you've worked so hard to protect.

Even if you wanted to, you're physically incapable of running after Celegwen or Ofelia. The constant spasm in your limbs is a harsh reminder of the way you've abused your body. You try to lay down properly, staring at the ceiling.

It's hard to not clutch onto the band around your finger. You murmur to yourself, breath hitching, almost hoping that Celegwen can hear you before you finally fall back asleep.

"...one day."


Dream does not visit you in the darkness.

A familiar shaking brings you back to the light. A familiar voice, full of sass and energy. You haven't heard someone sound so excited in what feels like an age.

"Richard! Richard, dammit all- there's gotta' be a better way to do this- Richard, get up!"

You start to move, anticipating pain, or something to be horrifically off. The shock of everything working as intended is enough to instantly rouse you out of your slumber. You sit upright, normally, and look to the blonde leaning over you.

She shoots back before you can bump into her. You see that she's got all of her things packed up and on her back. The cavern is empty, scarcely lit by Celegwen's staff. The sorceress is standing just behind her, and Ray is just next to them both, eating something eagerly. You get a similar bundle of greens shoved into your hands before you can protest.

"Gwen tells me you were sleepin' the whole time I was gone. Unbelievable. Four days since I shoved any food at ya'- you'd better start while I catch you up. You aren't gonna believe this."

Celegwen offers you an apologetic look, which you offer back. You gingerly try to chew on the food, and can't help but ask, "what did you find?"

"The demon. She wasn't lyin', Richard. No monsters the whole while I was tailin' her. Sure she wasn't much fer conversation, but I didn't have no trouble- I think we might actually be okay to head out."

The borderline manic energy eases off as Ofelia looks you over, lowering her voice. "You okay to walk?"

With a nod, you manage to stretch out and try to rise. Ray rushes forward as you stagger, but with some difficulty you do finally get back on your feet.

Both women seem enormously relieved. Ofelia can't help but comment, "there's a sight fer sore eyes. Hey-!"

She leers around, eyeing you curiously. You instinctively recoil from the scrutiny, still trying to keep yourself steady. Ray scoots in between Ofelia and you, seemingly still upset about her pushing you.

The halfling gives you a huge grin. She's glancing at your ring, back to you, and back to Celegwen.

"Richard, I can't believe you wouldn't tell me!"

Your frown could not be any more extreme. "I... just woke up."

Looking up to you, Ofelia's expression could not be any more smug. "Spill it, Richard. What's goin' on."

Desperate to buy yourself more time, you glance to Celegwen, looking for a way out. You suspect that if the elf kept quiet while you slept for two more days, that she'd rather not divulge anything to her friend.

Sure enough, she doesn't reply, but her look tells you that she's willing to go along with whatever you have to say. She looks a little worried- but she doesn't seem to want to say anything.

At this rate, stress is going to kill me before another demon gets a chance to.

(Options in next post)
>A) Keep quiet. Let Ofelia wonder. The last thing you want is to have to speak at length about how confused you are. You can surely sort your thoughts out while you keep moving. You just need some time to think. You've always done better with self-reflection than talking out your problems, anyways.

>B) Let Ofelia know that the ring was a gift from Celegwen, because of the promise she made to you. You'll confirm that there's something more that happened between the two of you. You want Celegwen to know how much her gift meant to you, but you don't want to make matters worse. Keep it brief, and move on.

>C) Take off the ring that Celegwen gave you, but keep it on your person, and stress to her that you deeply appreciate her promise. Make it plain if you have to that you can't jeopardize your connection to Mercy while your lives are constantly in danger. You aren't sure if you're entirely comfortable with Celegwen's gift, and Ofelia instantly seeing it only makes it harder to deal with.

>D) Write-in.

(These options are mutually exclusive. The majority vote will take precedence for these prompts or any write-ins submitted.)
>B) Let Ofelia know that the ring was a gift from Celegwen, because of the promise she made to you. You'll confirm that there's something more that happened between the two of you. You want Celegwen to know how much her gift meant to you, but you don't want to make matters worse. Keep it brief, and move on.
>D) Write-in.
Contemplate possible future with centipede before doing option B
>B) Let Ofelia know that the ring was a gift from Celegwen, because of the promise she made to you. You'll confirm that there's something more that happened between the two of you. You want Celegwen to know how much her gift meant to you, but you don't want to make matters worse. Keep it brief, and move on.
Locking the vote a little early here to get an update out before I blast all of this homework. Writing now!
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You look to Celegwen, clasping your hands together gently and concealing the golden band from sight. Looking down to Ofelia, you murmur, "it was a gift, Ofelia. You know that Celegwen made me a promise. She wanted to thank me for everything I've done for her in a more tangible way. ...that is all."

Without another word, you get your things. Flipping open your journal, you shoot a glance to Ofelia that says you aren't saying anything further. She seems dissatisfied with the explanation, and with your preoccupation. Her attitude switches to your pen as you hurriedly try to scratch out some of what you can remember.

"What's the hold up, Richard?"

"This has been bothering me for weeks... I assume. I've seen so much here in the ruins, and- my mission here, from the Church, at least- was to catalog and record everything I had seen."

You don't look up from the page, scratching out crude sketches and the briefest notes you can come up with.

"This won't take more than a minute."

Yes, it's a distraction from the subject of you and Celegwen. ...but it's been gnawing at you. Everything you've done for these women- for yourself. The demons you've faced. The battles you've won and lost. The nightmarish inhabitants of the Aerth. You don't know if you'll get another chance to leave a record of it all, and you won't let the opportunity pass you by.

You don't even bother to sit down, propping up your journal with one arm and writing frenetically with the other. Your hands are shaking violently, but you're accustomed to tensing your fingers, resting your wrist to keep a steadier pressure. It's difficult, but you convey the best of your memory, of the things that you've faced.

Malimos. His children. The centipede demon- Orgoth's unbelievable accomplishment. Demonic beetles, rising water. The colossal centaur, with its many heads. Fire on water. Impossibly narrow corridors, lined with screaming mouths. All of the imps you've faced- and the shrouded keeper of death that nearly destroyed your mind.

Your hands tremble. Ofelia leans over, as does Celegwen, as they peer at your recordings.

Ice and paint. Scavengers of death. A behemoth- a feeder of decay, carved into a living bridge. Barbed and spiked demons, guardians of a forgotten civilization. Hundreds of humans lost to themselves. Doppelgangers. Even remnants of the Church of Mercy.

The golden demon without a face.

The end result is scarcely legible, haphazard and unable to do any justice to everything you've been through.

You try to think of your future. Of what you might face ahead.

The journal is closed. You grab your bag, your shield, and turn to your friends.

"I'm ready."

Ofelia and Celegwen offer you sincere smiles, if not slightly concerned. Ray nudges the back of your legs, trying to ask for some attention. You scratch his ears as Ofelia looks to the cavern beyond.

Her voice is light, but you can sense the tension in her words. "Time's a wastin'."

She comes up to you, shoving more greenery into your hands before gesturing to the caverns beyond. "Don't give a shit if this is gonna suck for ya', Richard. Eat while we walk, and stay close, okay?"

With a grimace, you give the halfling a nod, patting your dog on his side before taking the food from her hands. "Ray. Follow. ...stay close, boy."

You all set off into the darkness. A soft muttering rises from Celegwen as she whispers into her staff, causing the light in her weapon to flare forth. Unlike her spell before, the light she brings forth is constant, illuminating the stone beyond.

The cavern is pockmarked, worn with incredible age. There is no sign of the water that once carved the stone, though you know that the underbelly of Ostedholm no doubt was once home to an incredible system of pipes, unlike anything you've ever heard of or seen.

You're relieved beyond words to be able to go forth on your own two feet. Stretching your legs feels incredible, after being bedridden for days. You murmur a prayer to Flesh through the procession, slowly working at the food that Ofelia plied you with. The pain is expected, but after your last prayer to Mercy, you don't quite mind. It's substantially easier to keep the greens down, and you almost find yourself enjoying the struggle.

Though it's difficult to notice at first, through the caverns you all proceed through, there are whispers in the darkness. You tense, hand clutching onto your holy symbol instinctively. Ofelia whispers, "it's alright. Stay close. They're not doin' shit."

You strain your eyes, stopping completely. In the shadows are piercing beams of light, of blood, of shade. Through the winding caverns, across the smooth stone and beyond your refuge, you see out in the distance... imps.

They're sporadic, but you see them. They look far healthier than the ones you've encountered thus far- many are still dripping with blood, as if they had been newly born. More still, creeping along the stone, scurrying on the periphery of your vision, are darker, deeper- older. All of them are beholden to someone, something.

They must all belong to the archdemon.

The thought makes your blood run cold. It's troubling, to think of something with so much influence residing within these caverns, but the imps are keeping a huge distance between you all. You almost feel their stare, though you cannot see any of their eyes clearly. Celegwen and Ofelia both look to you.

"C'mon, Richard," the halfling whines. "Seriously. I was out here for over a day with no trouble. It's okay."

You hesitate. You don't trust any demon as far as you can throw them- and with how thin you are, it's likely that you can't throw much at all.

(Options in next post)
>A) Continue following Ofelia. She clearly knows the way, and is swearing that these demons are keeping their word. Don't panic. Don't do anything rash, so long as nothing provokes you all.

>B) As a precaution, pray to Mercy for protection. You need not invoke Her directly to ask for Her light. Many humans ask the same of the Goddess without consequence. Ask Her for her compassion as you all go forth, and pray that the demons do not have a change of heart.

>C) Ask Celegwen to illuminate the cavern as much as she can, so you all can see any threats before they reach you. It might exhaust her quickly, but you need to know what you're up against. You won't blindly follow anyone. Stay your hand- but keep your eyes open.

>D) Write-in.
>>A) Continue following Ofelia. She clearly knows the way, and is swearing that these demons are keeping their word. Don't panic. Don't do anything rash, so long as nothing provokes you all.
>A) Continue following Ofelia. She clearly knows the way, and is swearing that these demons are keeping their word. Don't panic. Don't do anything rash, so long as nothing provokes you all.
>>A) Continue following Ofelia. She clearly knows the way, and is swearing that these demons are keeping their word. Don't panic. Don't do anything rash, so long as nothing provokes you all.
>A) Continue following Ofelia. She clearly knows the way, and is swearing that these demons are keeping their word. Don't panic. Don't do anything rash, so long as nothing provokes you all.
Totally unanimous, phenomenal. Closing the vote, going to knock out one more update. Got a lot of schoolwork tomorrow so I will likely only get one more update in then, but for now- writing!
Through the darkness, you can scarcely make out the form of any of the demons within the caverns. They're clearly minding their own business. It's a distinct possibility that they could be luring you into a false sense of security by keeping so much distance, but you're willing to trust Ofelia's word.

"If you insist," you murmur.

Your hand doesn't leave your holy symbol as you all continue through the caverns. Unlike the higher corridors and passages of the ruins, this place seems utterly devoid of any traps or pitfalls. The ground is solid, smooth, and clearly carved by man. Ofelia isn't slacking, and still is clearly on high alert, but she doesn't have to stop nearly as frequently to halt your procession. Your scuffed shoes and the slight crunch of the greens you're working your way through is the only sound you hear, beyond the whispering in the distance.

It's impossible to discern any meaning from the noise, and you are entirely unwilling to push yourself to discern any meaning from the demons right now. Darkly, you become reminded of the clergy's whispers, frequent as they were when you'd pass through the halls of the Church of Mercy. Your grasp on your holy symbol tightens with a pang of insecurity.

What they would say if they saw me now?

Every inch of you is tensed, waiting for something to strike out from the shadows. Celegwen's staff casts a fair amount of light for you all, illuminating the small back of Ofelia's cloak, Ray's steady plodding beside you, your scruffy hair and worn robes. The elf's elegant form seems to be on edge as well, looking around constantly for any sort of threat.

Ultimately, you have to trust in her and in Ofelia to spot any threats. The longer you all walk for, the more you jump at the whispers on the edge of your mind. The occasional rock being knocked aside by an imp scurrying beyond your view, the clink of a demon wearing chains, the drip of a monster, lurking in the darkness, soaked in fresh blood. It sends your nerves alight each and every time, punctuating the growing monotony of their murmurs.

Hours must pass like this, snaking through countless curvatures of rock and stone. It seems you all are too used to needing the utmost caution to casually speak with one another.

It doesn't come as a surprise to you that Ofelia is the first to speak. The way she snaps catches you off-guard, however. "What the fuck do ya think they're sayin?"

Celegwen shrugs, looking to you as she muses, "I cannot discern their tongue. It is entirely unlike anything I have ever heard, save from one other."

The little blood that was in your face drains completely. You nearly stop walking- trailing behind as you stammer, "n-no. No. Me?"

Ofelia looks back at you both, clearly exasperated. "Don't bully 'im, Gwen. I don't really care, I just want 'em to shut up-"

You swallow, hard, and try to listen more carefully.

It does sound familiar.

The tone, the fluidity- you don't understand the words, but you almost feel as if you can discern their meaning.

The language reminds you, terribly, of what you speak when you've prayed at length to Mercy.

A sudden, violent and intense urge to vomit overtakes you. You struggle for a moment with yourself, coming to a complete halt, your hand finally prying itself free from your holy symbol to come to your lips.

There's laughter on the edges of your mind. You double over, despite your best efforts to remain upright. Ofelia's voice intermingles with the madness. "Richard?"

It's all you can do to put your hands on your knees and try to get some air. The voices are practically unbearable, now that you've made the connection.

This doesn't make any sense. There's no reason they should be able to speak through Her. ARE they speaking through Her? Or of Her? These demons are unfit for Her word. This isn't right. This isn't right.

A hand is placed on your back- you nearly jump out of your skin, whipping your head around with your hand to your holy symbol once more.

It's only Celegwen. Ofelia is standing right beside her. They both look worried sick.

"Richard, if the food was that bad-" the halfling starts, trying to joke.

You shake your head, trying to get a hold of yourself. It's hard to not fidget with your holy symbol as you try to articulate yourself. "No. It's this- these demons." You look wildly around, trying to see anything distinct, as if you could somehow set your mind at ease if you saw their sin.

The demons remain entirely out of view, still within the shadows. Celegwen takes her hand off of your back, placing it back on her staff as she tries to reassure you. "It is safe to assume that they are intentionally vexing you, Father."

"No-" you start, a cold sweat on the back of your neck, sticking to your robes like the whispers in your skull. "-this isn't right. This can't be right."

"It's just a bit further," Ofelia tries to offer, looking up to you with equal parts worry and irritation. "There's a gap in the caverns, and the girl-demon-thing said they'd be just past it."

The halfling seems to shove her irritation away, her voice lifting. "Don't let em get to you, Richard. I'm sure it's nothin'."

You can't help but think of the few times you've ever heard this tongue. Mercy has taken so little from you, in stark contrast to every other God. Yet, each and every time you've asked too much from her, you've heard it. When blood has flowed freely from your mouth and hands, when you've exerted Her will over the many, or the terribly depraved- this language has accompanied it. The building nausea and sweat is hard to ignore. Every inch of you feels unclean.

These demons have no right. Is this what will happen to me? Is this something more? Why now? What is this place? What am I getting us into?

"Richard? You still there, hotshot?"

A hand is waved in front of your face. Ofelia seems to be standing directly in front of you now.

"I know what yer probably thinkin'- and Gwen, I know yer a lil' slow sometimes but most guys don't appreciate bein' told that they're speakin' the same shit as demons."

The anger resonating through Ofelia's voice lingers for a moment in the air. You want to knit your fingers into your skull and pull out the imp's laughter that follows it. You try to straighten upright, to look ahead, to compose yourself. Celegwen is illuminated clearly by her staff, but you cannot see the end of the path ahead.

Ofelia looks up to you with a slight smile. She even takes you by the hand. The butterflies in your stomach threaten to spill out again, but you keep them down, looking to her with extreme concern. She fires back a bigger smile.

"We'll be alright. I know you're no demon, Richard..."

You don't even hear the rest of what she says. Her lips are moving, but the weight of Ofelia's words are so substantial that it drowns out everything else.

You want to hear it again.

"What... what did you say?"

"Gwen's a fuckin' idiot for saying somethin' so inconsiderate?"

You hear Celegwen huff, although she doesn't interrupt.

"No-" you murmur, immediately cut off by Ofelia.

"You don't gotta eat nothin' else, I'm prolly killin' you?"

"No. Although I do appreciate it."

"How I know you're not a demon? Richard, I swear, we're not gonna get anywhere at this rate- you already look like yer gonna pass out. This is ridiculous..."

You let her continue to ramble, your nausea abating slightly. A few deep breaths later and it's almost entirely gone. You look up again, trying to see through the darkness. To see anything.

There's merely shadows. Shadows, blood, and bone. The caverns wind far too closely through one another to make out much more than a few hundred yards ahead at any given time. Still, the clawing sounds of demons at the edges of your mind is keeping you too on edge to think clearly.

"Th-thank you, Ofelia. I know- you're right, but..."

(Options in next post)
>A) It's nothing. Try to compose yourself, talk, joke, ANYTHING to keep your mind off of the voices. If you all are truly close to your destination, you assume you'll get some relief from the sound soon enough. You can figure out their meaning at another time. Right now, you have a greater mission, and you have your friends. Lighten up.

>B) You need answers. Pray to Spirit to grant you Her wisdom. Focus on a single imp, and try to glean the meaning of its words. If Ofelia and Celegwen balk, do your best to reassure them, but don't falter. Fight them on this if you have to. You need to know what's going on here and you can't fathom wasting any more time.

>C) You can't ignore this. Record what you can discern in your journal, to the best of your abilities. You can't imagine distracting yourself from this. Take down what you hear, to translate at another time, and keep moving. You promised your friends to take better care of yourself, to rely on yourself. Now might be a good time to practice what you preached.

>D) Write-in.
>>C) You can't ignore this. Record what you can discern in your journal, to the best of your abilities. You can't imagine distracting yourself from this. Take down what you hear, to translate at another time, and keep moving. You promised your friends to take better care of yourself, to rely on yourself. Now might be a good time to practice what you preached.
>C) You can't ignore this. Record what you can discern in your journal, to the best of your abilities. You can't imagine distracting yourself from this. Take down what you hear, to translate at another time, and keep moving. You promised your friends to take better care of yourself, to rely on yourself. Now might be a good time to practice what you preached.
No hypocrisy yet please
>>C) You can't ignore this. Record what you can discern in your journal, to the best of your abilities. You can't imagine distracting yourself from this. Take down what you hear, to translate at another time, and keep moving. You promised your friends to take better care of yourself, to rely on yourself. Now might be a good time to practice what you preached.
Knocked out almost all of that homework, squeezing in some time here! Locking the vote, writing now
"I can't ignore this."

Once again, you sling off your backpack, flinching and grimacing at each whisper that seems to rise in the distance. You can feel Ofelia's and Celegwen's eyes on you as you fish out your journal and pen.

There's no way you can try to make light of your situation, not with how important this is to you. You'd feel like an idiot were you to ignore something so critical. You can't sit idly by, and you can't ignore the words of the Goddess.

You're not a hypocrite. You're not going to invoke the Gods again, not for something you can manage so readily.

You're going to rely on yourself. That's all.

Straining to discern any specific syllables, something tangible to write, you brush aside your hair. It's scarcely coming past the tops of your ears now. You can't remember it ever getting this long before, and you can't really find it in you to care. You're far more concerned with the looks that you're getting from your friends.

"I'll keep up," you insist, strapping your pack over your shoulders. You even flit your eyes up to them for a moment. "Really. ...let's keep moving."

Ofelia sighs deeply. "If you trip, there's no way I'm gonna be able to catch ya," she teases, setting back off.

"I would be able to easily enough," Celegwen muses, following after her. She turns back, offering you a coy smile. "Though- I cannot think of a reason to, at the moment."

You try to ignore their banter, trying with all your might to discern the whispers in the edges of the darkness. It takes a moment for you to get your journal rested in the crook of your arm so you can write with ease while you walk, but eventually you all set back off. Ray silently sticks by your side, looking up to you frequently as you clearly strain to make out the sound. Ofelia's and Celegwen's teasing is unrelenting.

"Can't think of a reason- Gwen. You're terrible. After everything our hero has done for us?" The halfling pretends to swoon as she picks the path ahead, leaning against a protruding stone and putting the back of her hand to her head.

You get down maybe one word, maybe two? It's so difficult to pick out singular sounds. The tone is so soft, the syllables intangible.

"He clearly wishes to look after himself. I am merely respecting his wishes. Surely, you would approve of someone putting their body to good use, Ofelia?"

Is there even any consistency? Why is this so difficult to interpret?

You try penning a few reoccurring syllables. A single word or two seem more common than the rest- but then again, it's difficult to say. Are they words? Are they toying with you?

"H-hey now. I've got plenty of ideas about that and you don't gotta get into none of 'em."

"Perhaps I do. Why don't you elaborate? I am always eager to broaden my mind, Ofelia-"

Is the laughter ringing out between every other word an indication that these imps know what you're trying to do?

"...not that it'd matter, I doubt he's even listenin'-"

"I am trying to listen," you start, glancing up to make sure you're not about to hit a wall as you all turn another bend in the caverns. "...but it is proving increasingly difficult."

Both women look back at you sheepishly. Celegwen makes a gesture to Ofelia to close her mouth. You blush at how crude Ofelia's gesture is in turn, glancing back to your journal again.

The text.

Your writing seems to have smeared down the page, as if every character you painstakingly penned had melted away.

You glance back up to Ofelia and Celegwen, who show no indication of anything being wrong, murmuring banter between themselves quietly enough that you can't quite make out what they're saying.

Looking around frantically, you check your sleeves, your hands, to see if you somehow carelessly knocked the writing aside. There's no sign of a single drop of ink on your hands. You try to discern if anything from the shadows could have come out and done such a thing- there's no one behind you, nothing you can see immediately around you. No imps overhead, no creatures clawing out from the floor. Ray steadily walks beside you, on edge, but even he remains quiet as you all proceed forth. Celegwen's staff casts a light out a good 10 yards in every direction, and despite hooking on the bends in the rock and stone, it illuminates nothing next to you.

I need to calm down.

You look back to your journal. The ink is practically dripping off the page. You hold it a fair bit away from you to not stain your robes, and rush to catch back up to your friends.

Within a few strides you're back behind them. They show no indication of being disturbed by anything.

"Ofelia, Celegwen. Did you- did anyone-"

They both look back over their shoulders, oblivious. The halfling looks like she wants to groan, but is clearly trying to remain respectful.

Ray growls a bit her. You offer the mastiff an appreciative look and try to take a deep breath. It's all you can do to come up behind them and wave the melted ink at the sorceress.

"Celegwen. Are you aware of any Magic that would cause this writing to- well, look-"

Squinting, the elf stops walking for a moment. Ofelia's groan properly comes out as she stops again. "We'll see the next age before we get to this place-"

"Just a moment, Ofelia." The elf offers out a hand. You gingerly hand over your journal, looking around and behind you all while she scrutinizes the page. There's a few imps lurking in the shadows, but they don't dare to enter the radius of Celegwen's light. She hands the journal back to you, frowning. "This is no sorcerery. None, at least, that I'm familiar with."

There's a long pause as the elf is clearly thinking to herself. Ofelia looks about ready to snap, when Celegwen raises her eyes to you.


Even your patience is wearing thin. "Perhaps what?"

"...perhaps your Goddess does not wish to be heard in this fashion?"

Almost immediately, your grimace relaxes. "That... that is a comforting thought. But-"

Your gaze falls on the ruined parchment, the wasted ink. "...this is still something I would like to record."

Ofelia groans. "This is useless-" With a huff, she gets behind you and Celegwen, putting her hands to the small of each of your backs and trying to push you both forward with a heave.

Before you can protest, Ray immediately growls at her, nipping at her heels. You doubt she can hear you murmur, "...good boy," but you back away from her quickly regardless.

The rogue settles on bullying Celegwen physically, and you verbally. "Come on! We're gettin' out of here even if you both want to make a new library in the damn time in between-"

Your frown returns full force as you walk back after both women. The elf manages to pull away from Ofelia after a few moments.

You try to continue recording the demon's whispers, but within minutes, the ink spills off the page. You go through three sheets of parchment- trying alternating pressure, changing the pen and ink, and even trying to scratch the sounds you decipher straight into the pages. Nothing seems to work, as the markings run together each and every time. Ultimately you close the journal, focusing more on following the two women and keeping an eye out for Ray as you all proceed.

The path through the caverns begins to blur together. You marvel at how adept Ofelia is at navigating the winding stone. There are countless pits and holes carved into the walls and stone, no doubt housing countless more demons in the shadows.

Despite her earlier promise, Ofelia eventually plies you with more food and water, insisting on everyone keeping on their feet while you wear through what must be very limited resources. Her excuse is that it's been four days since you did anything to look after yourself. You try to go along with it, despite the pain.

You swore to try.

Time wears on all of you. It feels like you've been walking for nearly a day- your feet are begging for relief, and you're starting to worry you're pushing Ray too hard, when something leans out of the shadows at you all.

There's a splash of gold, a deep shadow. Ofelia's voice takes on the utmost seriousness as she murmurs to you all,

"We're here."

"...I can't see anything," you try to explain.

The halfling's reply isn't very reassuring. "Yeah. I know. The demon tried to warn me. I didn't believe her, though. Gwen?"

"Of course," the sorceress replies. Her voice lifts. Light and heat envelop her words as she chants, waving her staff overhead and searing light out with the motion.

The radius extends out blindingly behind you all for hundreds of feet. For a split second, you see no fewer than 30 imps scurry off, away from the light, deep into the ruins you entered from.

Before you, the light is extinguished completely. It seems to suck all of the heat and joy out of the starlight and magic, devouring the spell as soon as it came.

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Celegwen slumps forward, leaning hard on her staff as she looks to you both. The light is nowhere to be seen, retreating back into a small radius as she seems to retain only the spell as before. Something about her looks completely defeated. "I have lost far too much to rival this sorcery."

Ofelia's shoulders sag, but she picks herself right back up, beaming at the elf. "Don't worry 'bout nothin' Gwen. We'll figure somethin' out."

The rogue takes a few cautious steps ahead. Glancing over her shoulder, she says with a trace of worry, "I can't see the bottom."

"Was there no other way?" You find yourself asking, looking all around. The cavern opened out into complete darkness. You know there to be at least twice as many imps behind you as what you faced in the abandoned church of Mercy. Ahead lies a massive void. The floor is slick, coated with metal. You speculate it's the last remnants of the demon's trail she left for you all, but it is the only trace left of anything here, it seems.

"There was... somethin' else," Ofelia says quietly. You look to her expectantly, as she looks out into the darkness.

There is absolutely nothing you can discern on the horizon.

Still, she seems like she can see something. Her words send a chill down your spine.

"She said to walk out."

You and Celegwen both say simultaneously, "What?"

"She said to walk out into the pit, or to walk home. Either way, she said to walk out. ...I thought it was a load of shit, but well, here we are. Fuckin' nonsense. There's gotta be a way-"

Her voice stops suddenly- she squints, looking out and asking, "do ya' see that?"

There's no amusement in your voice as you reply, "no."

Celegwen echoes your distaste. "You brought us out here knowing there was no path- what is it, Ofelia?"

"There's a light. Way, way out there. It's red. I couldn't see it before- you don't see that?"

The elf frowns, taking a long moment to look out. "...I might. It's hard to say, it's so small."

You squint again, straining your eyes. It's hard to tell if there aren't merely lights dancing in your vision from Celegwen's spell, or if there really is something on the horizon.

Rather, you take a few steps forward towards the edge of the abyss. You don't dare get right to the edge, as it's apparent even from several yards away that the drop is sharp and indefinite. No wind rises from the pit, and oddly, no chill, either.

You hadn't really noticed, but it's rather warm where you're all standing. Comfortable, even.

With a heavy heart, you look to your companions. They seem even more conflicted than you are. You know that none of you are giving up now, but you have no idea what will happen if you step out into this nightmare. You don't want to take any chances.

(Options in next post)
>A) You're light- and you have the Gods on your side. Get as much rope from Ofelia's gear as you can find, and trust your friends to hold on while you walk out. Step into the abyss. If anything, ANYTHING happens...
>A1) Pray to Time. Ask Her to stop everything, if it comes down to it.
>A2) Pray to Agriculture, to manipulate the Aerth. Create a ledge to fall onto. You don't know if you'd be able to act quickly enough, but you're willing to hedge your bets on the Goddess more readily than Time. Even if your life might depend on it.

>B) Gather all of Ofelia's rope, and ask her if she will walk out. She's lighter than even you are. You'll make sure she doesn't fall. Pray to Flesh for His blessing, and hold onto her.

>C) Try to find a way around. The darkness seems to stretch on in every direction, but there must be another way. You can't afford to rest with how many imps are around you all- but it's worth searching. You'd rather risk wearing yourselves out than to trust this demon.

>D) Write-in.
>A) You're light- and you have the Gods on your side. Get as much rope from Ofelia's gear as you can find, and trust your friends to hold on while you walk out. Step into the abyss. If anything, ANYTHING happens...
>A-Bonus) Nothing will happen. Mercy is here with you. You can feel Her in the air in a subtle way, unlike how She usually is when you call on Her. There is nothing to fear. You need only have faith in yourself, your friends, and Her. Stride forth with confidence.
Muh invisible floors dungeon puzzle.
lets last crusade this
Quick google search tells me maybe you guys should get a bullwhip? Just kidding.

Good shit guys. Writing now.
There is light. There's light in your friends. Not just the from radiance cast off from the elf's staff, but in their trust in you. In Ofelia, who was willing to come this deep into the ruins, alone, without a guide, trusting only in your word and a demon she professed to hate. Light in her willingness to lead you right back, despite not knowing where you might take her. There's light, too, in Celegwen's readiness to do everything that she can to protect you. In her kindness, her acceptance of you and all of your flaws. There's even light in Ray's unwavering loyalty, as he stays by your side no matter the danger.

There's light in Her symbol, as you hold it tightly against your hand.

You look to your friends resolutely, letting your gaze linger a moment on Ofelia as you speak to her. "Let me see your rope. ...all of it."

"Now's not the time, Richard," she teases, immediately going to take off her pack. You try not to frown, but can't help yourself as Celegwen obviously tries not to laugh.

With absolutely no amusement on your face, you do at least try to lighten up as the halfling fishes through her gear. You assumed that supplies were low, but you have never once taken a look over what Ofelia's brought with her. Curiosity gets the better of you. You lean over- and your eyes go wide.

Her backpack is practically bursting with trinkets. Metal, glass and gemstones catch in the light, reflecting off of Celegwen's spell, goblets and jewels. Along with the precious items are a huge collection of daggers, and countless vials of what you assume to be poison. It's all carefully padded with dozens of pieces of cloth. Not clothing, but handkerchiefs.

There's no more food that you can easily identify, though she seems to have a little water and liquor left.

Ofelia gives you a cheeky grin as she fishes out a huge spool of rope from a side pouch, and more from the back. "It's impolite to look at a lady's things, Richard."

You blanch, leaning back as straight as you can and averting your gaze. Celegwen offers you an easy out, as she clearly can't help but fire back, "since when have you ever called yourself a lady, Ofelia?"

The floor and darkness don't offer much respite, but give you a moment to collect yourself. You gaze out over the abyss ahead.

Ofelia comes back into view after a moment, rope in hand. "100ft, give or take. ...you about to do somethin' we're all gonna regret?"

It's impossible to not smirk as you reply, "have a little faith, Ofelia."

She groans, laughing to herself as she shoves the rope into your hands. It weighs enough to cause your arms to drop for a moment.

How has she been carrying so much with her this entire time...?

"You gonna do somethin' with that, big guy, or do you need me to tie some knots, too?"

"Ofelia, please, have a little self-respect," Celegwen drawls, shooting her a smile as she comes over to both of you.

"I c-could use a hand-" You start, unable to stop any heat from coming to your face. You try to focus on avoiding their gaze, working on securing a length around your waist instead.

Your face drops. It's impossible to avoid glancing up, fear of scrutiny written all over your face. Both of your friends look like they've lost a few years off their life as they see how little rope is needed to get around your waist.

"Fuckin' hell, Richard. Gwen, you can't do nothin' bout this? I mean, I hate to ask but I hadn't realized-"

The elf takes the hand away from her mouth, collecting herself. "It is a blessing in disguise, if you look at it a certain way- do not give me that look, Ofelia. I meant that we will have significantly more rope to work with, this way. ...and I fear what tampering with his body may do with..."

"...with the Gods." You finish, grimacing, and tightening the rope further. Ofelia starts to fuss, taking the length out of your hands.

"I wasn't jokin', here- gimme that-" she starts, entirely taking the length away from you and off your body. "You'll cut yerself in half doin' that.

You wince, vividly remembering your last excursion rock climbing. You have to wonder in how many ways your prayer to Flesh saved your life that day.

"Here. Take off your robes."

"Ofelia-!" The faintest possible blush blossoms over Celegwen's face. You're completely at a loss for words as the halfling begins to make a series of loops in the rope. She groans again.

"Get yer mind outta the gutter, both of ya'. They'll get in the way. I know you've got a shirt and pants on- keep 'em on. Step into this."

You begrudgingly doff the lengthy black fabric and tighten your belt to the smallest notch. It's still loose, but you can't think of any better alternative before steping into the strange harness Ofelia's fashioned. She makes a few adjustments around your legs and steps back, giving you a thumbs up. Her face is still wrought with worry. It's getting under your skin.

Celegwen's blush is all but gone, looking over you both with extreme concern. "You should leave your shield and supplies here. I do not know if I will be able to support your weight... modest though it may be."

I've been saying I'll take better care of myself.
I'll do better.
These things take time. I've been struggling with Agriculture for years.
I won't get better in a few days or weeks. They need to understand that.

You take a deep breath, and try to restrain yourself. "I'm fine. The Gods are with me. Mercy is with me. There is nothing to fear."

Both women look to each other, silently exchanging some message that you don't particularly want to interpret.

Another deep breath.

There is nothing wrong with me.

You walk up to Ray, leading a huge length of rope with you. His eyes absolutely light up, and yours can't help but get some relief at the sight.

Ofelia nudges Celegwen and they watch you for a moment as you play some tug-of-war with the mastiff. It's not hard to imagine that his strength dwarfs all of your combined. Your heart feels a good bit lighter for it- you affectionately scratch his ears and give him a pat on the head before getting back to business.

You place a hand out, firmly commanding the dog.

"Sit, Ray. Stay. ...good boy. Now, bite."

The mastiff snatches up the rope. You leave a fair amount of slack to walk with, but stay put. You put your hand up, making your voice as firm as you're able. "Stay. Do not let go, Ray. Stay."

His dedication seems unwavering as you stride forward, leading the rope towards the ledge with complete confidence.

At least I have one friend I'll never have to explain myself to.

As you approach the edge of the pit, you look to Ofelia and Celegwen. "His bite is incredibly strong. I worry more that the rope will break before his grip does, but I would never forgive myself if he got hurt. Please, hold onto this."

Celegwen sets down her staff for a moment to take the rope in both hands. Ofelia removes her gear and does the same.

You take a step towards the edge of the abyss, looking out to the horizon. Now that your eyes are adjusting to the more intense darkness, you can see a faint, red speck off in the distance.

It's impossible to resist the urge to look down.

The world turns for a moment as vertigo seizes you- you nearly stagger, as a seemingly endless void leers back at you. Your stomach turns, but you do not step back.

You glance back at your friends. They're both visibly sweating, hands white-knuckled as they brace themselves. Ray is dutifully sitting right behind them, unwavering.

You turn back, and utter a single word as you step out.


The rope tugs on your body with impossible force.

The wind is knocked out of your lungs.

The world flies past you.

You can't catch your breath. You can't see, for a brief moment, as everything shifts.

The rope snaps.

You're falling.


You are still standing- grasping, white-knuckled, clutching onto the knotted cord with all of your strength.

You're on flat ground.

You look up.

It's like a Dream.

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There's a red moon overhead. It's barely obscured by clouds, though the sky is absent of all starlight.

You spin around, panicked, your breath still taken away from you.

Ofelia, Celegwen and Ray are all unconscious, on the floor beside you. The rope is lying all around them. You rush to their side, your vision swimming as your body screams for oxygen.

It's all you can do, to fall to your knees beside them, gasping for air. You try shaking them. They aren't responding.

A scream catches in your throat as you whip your head back around, trying to figure out what the hell happened.

There's a field of grain on the outskirts of the horizon. You can't see any mountains, any hills. There is fog- and sheer walls, in every direction, stretching up indefinitely.

In between the grain and walls are doors. There must be hundreds of them.

You tear off the harness, tossing the rope aside and off of your friends. None of them have any of their things with them, though it looks like Celegwen grabbed onto her staff. Their hands are slick with blood. There's a bit of blood around Ray's teeth as well, though it's hard to tell how badly any of them are hurt. You spin your head around again, frantically. You heard something dripping in the grain.

There is a woman- a demon- walking towards you.

You stagger to your feet, looking between the woman and your friends as your panic reaches critical mass.

The demon's face is dripping with gold and paint. Alongside her are a number of minor demons- you count five. They're all golden, with faces made of light. You recognize the one you saw before, and you take a step forward, fists clenched, wanting to kill these creatures with every fiber of your being.

It's impossible to tear yourself away. You can't stop looking at the woman, once you catch your eyes on her. Her hair is molten wax, wreathed in a golden halo. Everything from her pools over an intangible form. Bone pokes through the cascade of molten light, and though she is unclothed, it seems her flesh is nonexistent. Your eyes burn as you try to glance away from the unclothed body of rot and radiance. She leaves a trail of gold in her wake, cutting a path through the grain as she stops her procession, opening her arms and hands towards you.

You step in front of your friends, and finally catch your breath. There is no way you can show any restraint at a time like this. You scream at her.

"What have you done?!"

"The question is not, "what have I done?" It is, "What will I do?""

She lowers her arms.

"I know what you seek- and I intend to give it to you. I wish to give you much more than that, still."

She takes a step forward, practically gliding across the grain. You bristle, clutching onto your holy symbol so tightly you draw blood.


"Father Anscham, there is no need to fear me. I wish to answer your questions. All of them."

With that, we'll wrap up our third thread of Catalyst Quest!

I'll be sticking around the thread to drop some images in the coming days as I'm working on making a cohesive journal. Will be based on your findings throughout your journey through the ruins, such as the mentioned entries regarding the demons you've fought. Should be posting a Google Drive link with it all by the next OP, but for now, here's the last entry you guys made regarding your inventory and prayer.

If any of you have any feedback, questions or critique I would love to hear from you. Thank you all so much for all of the votes, support and to you just lurking as well.

Archive (First three threads, should work properly now): http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?tags=Catalyst%20Quest
Discord (Update notifications, art, music, etc.): https://discord.gg/24cmNWp

As always, we'll resume within the next week, once we're off of page 10.

Thanks again guys.
Thanks for running!
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It was my pleasure, thanks anon!

As promised, more tidbits from the journal as I'm compiling it. Got the little handwritten, old tenets of Mercy that you all found in Ostedholm's ruined library.
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Cleaned up the first and second page of the demon record. Will post its resized and tidier version in the Google Drive. Got the third and fourth here. Looks like the demons will take up the bulk of the journal (appropriately).

More to come soon, hope you guys enjoy.
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One more page for the night, got a little ways to go before it's all finished.

Sure is taking a bit to drop to page 10, shame the board is so slow but it's plenty of time for prep, at least.
Have had a terrible head cold so likely will not be able to get out the rest of the journal or clean up the bit that's there before the next thread. I'll be sure to share the completed link when it's all finished, though.

Next thread will launch some time tomorrow (Friday) afternoon/evening, EST! If we're still on page 10 I'll post a link here, either way I'll drop a link in the /qst/ general.

Thanks again so much everyone.
You are welcome my man

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