The wind howled across a salt-crusted desert. The sun's reflection off the cracked, white earth was blindingly bright even through the dark lenses of my goggles. Heat warped the air like ripples on water, distorting the land into a broken and dreamlike mirage. The monotony was broken only by the dry, spidery shrubs and stunted, leafless trees which dared cling to life despite the relentless sun. Their bleached bark stood out only barely against the dead soil. There were no birds, nor other wildlife; not even insects. I rode through the desolation on a dusty, bone-colored horse, swathed in an ankle-length cloak which had once been white, with a scarf wrapped around my face. The only sounds to interrupt the wind were the creak of saddle leather and the clop of hooves.The ruins of a temple rose ahead of me. Its stone walls had accumulated a thick layer of white salt, but they still loomed over the landscape as a skeletal reminder of mankind's past folly. I knew it was one of many temples scattered across this desolate region, built to honor the goddess upon which they were built. Nearly all of them were abandoned, prospective monks driven off by the hostile environment or killed by raiders. The few who remained tended to be quite mad.The wind shifted, kicking up a swirl of sand which coated me with grit. I coughed, burying my face into my elbow in a futile attempt to protect my cracked and sunburnt lips. I'd been breathing dust for most of the day and I felt it coating the inside of my throat like so much broken glass. Tantalized by the prospect of shade, I spurred my horse forward and she picked her way over the uneven ground towards the gates. A pair of great iron doors had rusted through and hung uselessly on their hinges. I dismounted to pass between them, leading my mount by the reins.The wind died away within the walls. The temple courtyard consisted of a square tiled with faded and cracked red ceramic, and it was surrounded by empty stone buildings. Some had collapsed or been torn apart by the elements, but others were still standing and in relatively better condition than the outer complex, sheltered as they were. The largest of them was a crusted tower pockmarked by holes where windows permitted the salt to accumulate indoors.[1/3?]
>>5707792My attention shifted to the center of the courtyard, where a large well was housed beneath a threadbare canopy of sun-bleached cloth. It was surrounded by cracked and crumbling statues of the goddess carved from weather-beaten marble. She was depicted as a six-armed woman with voluptuous proportions rather than the tentacled monstrosity that she'd been in truth, however many thousands of years ago she'd died. I peered into the well, but it was too deep to see the bottom, so instead I found a piece of cracked ceramic and tossed it in. The splash far below was music to my ears. Working a crank experimentally, I was pleased by the resistance I felt, and proceeded to draw up a molded bucket of water. I carried it back to my horse, which drank gratefully, and I pulled down my headscarf to do the same. The water was warm and stank of rot, but it soothed my parched throat.When the horse and I had both drunk our fill, I led her into one of the intact buildings. It was a storeroom, dark except for the shafts of light pouring in from a row of high, narrow windows. Shelves had been built against the walls, stacked with fragments of clay pots and glass bottles. I pulled my goggles down to hang around my neck, then cleared a space for my horse's saddle before removing her bridle and tack. When I was done, I rubbed her free of sweat with the tattered saddle blanket, laying it out to dry when she was. Then I grabbed a stiff, rice stem brush from my bag and used it to free as much of the caked on dust and salt from her coat as I could. I'd always found the ritual of it meditative, and began to consider my evening meal while I worked. I didn't have much to choose from; just a bit of hard tack, dried meat, and cheese. Still, with water from the well I could boil a stew and add some dried herbs to make it a bit more appetizing.When I was done with the hard brush I switched to a softer, boar bristle brush and started over again, working my way from ears to tail. After the better part of an hour I put away my brushes at last, trading them in for a short iron pick with which I pried the salt and grime out of my horse's hooves. Before leaving I gathered what I'd need for dinner into a bundle of cloth, then fed my horse a few cubes of dried aspest. I left the building once I was content with her care, securing the door behind me.[2/3]
>>5707795It was as I turned from the storeroom door that I noticed a man sitting in the shade of the stairs leading up to the tower's entrance. He was thin and wiry, his hair so matted and greasy I couldn't tell if his beard was black or simply dirty. He wore a roughspun shirt and trousers, and a tattered cloak tied loosely across his chest. "Did you bring offerings, stranger?" he asked, his voice low and rumbling. He spoke so quietly I could barely make out the words across the courtyard.>Why of course, you're a devout worshiper of the corpse-goddess Jotna.>Of course not, there's no sense in worshiping a dead god.>Shoot the man and consume his essence in accordance with the scriptures of Leng.
>>5707800>Shoot the man and consume his essence in accordance with the scriptures of Leng
>>5707800>Shoot the man and consume his essence in accordance with the scriptures of Leng.
>>5707800>Shoot the man and consume his essence in accordance with the scriptures of Leng.Om nom nom
>>5707800>Why of course, you're a devout worshiper of the corpse-goddess Jotna.
>>5707800>Why of course, you're a devout worshiper of the corpse-goddess Jotna.Don’t shoot him he can be our corpse-eating buddy. Who else is going to worship a dead god with us
>>5707800>Shoot the man and consume his essence in accordance with the scriptures of Leng.If you don't follow the scriptures of Leng then you ain't my stranger, stranger
>>5707800>Of course not, there's no sense in worshiping a dead god.
>>5707800>>Why of course, you're a devout worshiper of the corpse-goddess Jotna.
>>5707800>Shoot the man and consume his essence in accordance with the scriptures of Leng.My body is ready for this quest, what an opener
>>5707810>>5707817>>5707819>>5707831>>5707879>Did you say your name was dinner?>>5707889>>5707877>>5707828>>5707825>What kind of barbarian shows up at a temple without offerings?>>5707867>Your god is dead, old man.So far it looks like you're gonna eat this guy's face, but I'll leave the vote open until after I finish up my Pathfinder game, three or four hours. Next post should be out either a few hours after that or sometime in the next day.
>>5707800>Shoot the man and consume his essence in accordance with the scriptures of Leng.Consoom
>>5707800>>Shoot the man and consume his essence in accordance with the scriptures of Leng
My hand fell instinctively to my pistol. A wave of calm stemmed my growing panic when my palm pressed into the ivory grip. The weapon was a relic forged of the flesh of the goddess. I found it amidst the luggage of a foreigner I'd eaten many years ago. It had not been meant for his hands, but for mine, and looking upon the ragged creature before me all I could think of was my hunger. I could sense a power residing within the monk. It was that which made me salivate more than mere flesh.He'd worn a hesitant smile but it faltered. Perhaps it was something in my ravenous expression, or my white-knuckled grip on the handle of my pistol. "It's fine," he said, holding up his hands. "You're welcome to rest here for the night. It's too dangerous to travel in these parts after dark. You'd only encounter the Lengites."The smile which split my lips was involuntary, and it revealed several more pairs of sharp teeth than were natural. I drew my sleeve across my chin to wipe away the drool that had gathered there. "I know," I said, voice trembling with anticipation.The monk frowned. He sat up straight, and I could sense the energy inside him shifting. His body seemed to lengthen, his shoulders broadening as the flesh of his face withered and fell away. He bared yellow teeth like a predator, and I watched his canines lengthen into fangs. "Then you should know better than to ride here at night," he hissed.The pistol leapt from its holster on my hip, my thumb pulled back the hammer, and I leveled it at the monster all in the space of a heartbeat. The sound of the weapon's report filled the courtyard, and the acrid stench of black powder smoke filled my nostrils. A great gout of black blood sprayed from the wound blasted in my prey's chest, and the creature howled with rage. The impact of my shot had sent him tumbling back into the shadows beneath the stairs, but as I approached, the darkness enveloped him. When I reached the steps I found no trace of the monk. It was as if he'd simply vanished.My body was buzzing. The energy from the shot was still flowing through me. I was so close to my next meal. I mounted the steps, feeling as if my heart would leap from my chest. A strange giddiness took hold of me and I began to laugh. I laughed until I was breathless, then I laughed some more. I couldn't stop myself.The door at the top of the stairs swung open, and I raced through. I needed to see him. I needed to taste him. The door slammed shut behind me, plunging the tower into darkness before I could properly assess the room. I cast my eyes frantically through the black, looking for any sign of movement, but found none. The dry rasp of claws across stone echoed in the abyss, and I felt fear clench my gut.>Draw a vial of refined ichor and use it to spawn a flame.>Draw your knife and close your eyes. Trust your body to react.>Forget your weapons. The claws beneath your skin are itching to tear flesh.
>>5708003>Forget your weapons. The claws beneath your skin are itching to tear flesh.If we're going to be some sort of feral cannibal might as well go all in.
>>5708003>Forget your weapons. The claws beneath your skin are itching to tear flesh.
>>5708003>>Draw a vial of refined ichor and use it to spawn a flame.
>>5708003>Draw your knife and close your eyes. Trust your body to react.
>>5708003>Forget your weapons. The claws beneath your skin are itching to tear flesh.going with the toothy cannibal theme
>>5708003>Draw a vial of refined ichor and use it to spawn a flame.Let’s not go full blood maniac just yet
>>5708003>Draw your knife and close your eyes. Trust your body to react.Fuck yeah! Cannibal gunslinging samurai!The weak are the substance of the strong and you bet we’re fucking hungry.
>>5708003>>Forget your weapons. The claws beneath your skin are itching to tear flesh.
>>5708003>Draw your knife and close your eyes. Trust your body to react.Cannibal assassin is a go
>>5708003>Draw a vial of refined ichor and use it to spawn a flame
>>5708009>>5708013>>5708045>>5708183>I'll kill you with my bear hands!>>5708251>>5708231>>5708181>>5708036>Close your eyes (and count to fuck)>>5708271>>5708079>Burn, baby, burn!Gonna leave this vote open for another four hours then get a post out sometime this afternoon.
>>5708003>Forget your weapons. The claws beneath your skin are itching to tear flesh.Rip and tearCAPTCHA: STDADA
The fear I felt bubbled up as a maniacal cackle, and I slid my revolver back into its holster on my hip. When I clenched my fist I felt alien tendons flex in my forearms. Six short, keratinous black claws emerged from pouches of skin between my knuckles; three on each hand. Retracted they looked like jagged extra fingernails sprouting between my joints, but extended they were sickle-bladed hooks two inches long. My hands had been covered in pustules for months while they were sprouting. When the diseased flesh finally sloughed off, the claws were left in its wake.The blessings of divine flesh can be mysterious and unpredictable, but I was grateful for them in that moment. Because when the monk leapt upon me from the darkness, I was able to hook my claws through his desiccated skin and into the rotten meat of his stomach. With a savage twist, I rent him open and flung him across the room, where he landed with a wet thud. He was barely a shadow on the wall in the dying sunlight which breached through the cracks in the ceiling; but, with time for my eyes to adjust, that was enough. I fell upon him, a frenzy of claws and teeth. My prey howled and shrieked and dragged his own bony claws across my back, but the hunger which drove me made me blind to the pain.The beast stilled when I took his blackened heart between my teeth and ripped it from his corpse. I was covered in the black of divine ichor, and I was victorious. The flavor was indescribable. The blood of the gods, and of those who have supped upon their flesh, tastes of everything all at once. It is as bitter as ashes, yet as sweet as honey, and I could do nothing but devour it, mouth full to bursting. For buried in the flavor was the hint of something so precious I could barely comprehend it. Power. A vitality so deep and strong that it filled me to overflowing. I became something greater than I had been when I ate the monk's flesh. I tore it apart with my bare teeth and carved it from his bones with my claws, savoring every bit.>In my frenzy I cut myself, but to my delight the wound closed on its own in mere seconds. Not even a scar was left.>I felt my senses expand, and suddenly even the smallest sounds thundered through the darkness around me.>Pain lanced through my head as pressure built behind my eyes. When it passed, I could see with perfect clarity in the darkness.
My feast left me uncomfortably bloated, but the hunger was satisfied at last. I lay panting on the cold stone floor, my robes stained black with the blood and filth of my meal. I was able to think clearly again after the emotional high of the hunt had faded. My hands twitched, claws flexing and retracting involuntarily, and my stomach felt tight. My body was replete with energy and yet I could feel it still trying to find its place. It pressed against my skin and strained at my joints, making me itch. My limbs felt larger, thicker, denser than they had been when I entered the temple.Like a snake glutted upon too large a meal, I needed to sleep. I also needed a bath, but that seemed much less important to me than sleep at the time. Struggling to my feet, I staggered to the wall like a drunk and leaned my weight against it. My breathing was heavy, and I could feel the pulse of blood pumping through my veins as clearly as I felt the ground beneath my feet. It took every scrap of focus just to move my legs. It was as if they belonged to someone else. Despite that I managed to reach the stairs and make my way half-crawling up them. At the top I found a door, which swung open to reveal a decaying barracks.I hissed involuntarily, raising a hand to shield my eyes against the light which poured in through a pair of salt-crusted windows, one at either end of the room. Blinking away the spots swirling through my vision, I stepped out of the doorway and let it swing shut behind me. The barracks had been deserted for decades; its occupants long since killed or driven away. But for the scurrying vermin picking over the skeletons which still remained, it was a safe place to rest. Dragging my body into one of the rotten beds, I fell into a deep sleep.While I slept, I dreamt of meals past. Particularly my first meal.>I'd been a young boy at the time.>I'd been a young girl at the time.>I'd not yet been castrated.And my victim,>I'd loved them once. More than anything. Obsessively.>I hated them. So much I wanted to destroy all trace of them.>Had been a stranger.Perhaps things might have gone differently for me,>Had my mother not supped upon mine own flesh.>Had I not met a kind man with a shark-toothed smile.>Had desperation not driven me to such extreme measures.
>>5708715>In my frenzy I cut myself, but to my delight the wound closed on its own in mere seconds. Not even a scar was left.Regen regen regen>>5708716>I'd been a young boy at the time.>I'd loved them once. More than anything. Obsessively.>Had my mother not supped upon mine own flesh.Mom taught us the rules of this world
>>5708715>In my frenzy I cut myself, but to my delight the wound closed on its own in mere seconds. Not even a scar was left.>I'd been a young boy at the time.>I'd loved them once. More than anything. Obsessively.>Had my mother not supped upon mine own flesh.Might makes right, and spite makes a good seasoning.
>>5708715>In my frenzy I cut myself, but to my delight the wound closed on its own in mere seconds. Not even a scar was left.Hard to beat the practical advantage of fast regen.>>5708716>I'd been a young boy at the time.>I’d hated them. So much I wanted to destroy all trace of them.>Had my mother not supped upon mine own flesh.This quest is some weird shit and I love it.
>>5708715>In my frenzy I cut myself, but to my delight the wound closed on its own in mere seconds. Not even a scar was left.Ok I guess we’re Wolverine now, wicked>>5708716>I'd been a young girl at the time.>I hated them. So much I wanted to destroy all trace of them.>Had my mother not supped upon mine own flesh.Picked girl cuz that sounds hot as shit.
>>5708828>>5708784>>5708735>>5708728>I'd like to be idiot-proofed, please!No surprise there.>>5708728>>5708735>>5708784>>5708828>Why yes I have mommy issues, how could you tell?>>5708828>>5708784>>>5708735>>5708728>We will be forever as one.>>5708728>>5708735>>5708784>Pangus>>5708828>VajonyaGonna get started writing but consider the vote open for at least another two and a half hours.
>>5708831Ah damn I forgot the thing for the hate option.
>>5708715>I felt my senses expand, and suddenly even the smallest sounds thundered through the darkness around me.>>5708716>I'd been a young girl at the time.>I'd loved them once. More than anything. Obsessively.>Had I not met a kind man with a shark-toothed smile.
>>5708715>I felt my senses expand, and suddenly even the smallest sounds thundered through the darkness around me.>I'd been a young girl at the time>I'd loved them once. More than anything. Obsessively>Had my mother not supped upon mine own flesh.
>>5708715>>In my frenzy I cut myself, but to my delight the wound closed on its own in mere seconds. Not even a scar was left.>>5708716>>I'd been a young girl at the time.>I'd loved them once. More than anything. Obsessively.>Had desperation not driven me to such extreme measures.
>>5708715>In my frenzy I cut myself, but to my delight the wound closed on its own in mere seconds. Not even a scar was left.>>5708716>I'd been a young boy at the time.>I'd loved them once. More than anything. Obsessively.>Had I not met a kind man with a shark-toothed smile.
>>5708715>Pain lanced through my head as pressure built behind my eyes. When it passed, I could see with perfect clarity in the darkness.>>5708716>I'd been a young girl at the time>I'd loved them once. More than anything. Obsessively>Had my mother not supped upon mine own flesh.
>>5708715>In my frenzy I cut myself, but to my delight the wound closed on its own in mere seconds. Not even a scar was left.>I'd been a young girl at the time.>I'd loved them once. More than anything. Obsessively.>Had I not met a kind man with a shark-toothed smile.
In my dreams I saw my mother always as I saw her last; face gnawed to the bone and stained black by her own ichor. It was not a beautiful memory, but in the swirl of my subconscious it didn't bother me. She'd loved me; I was perhaps the first and only person she ever loved. When I slept it was hard to keep the two sides of her separate. Flitting through memories I leapt fitfully from visions of her fanged smile to the feeling of those teeth tearing at my flesh. She only took bites out of parts of me I wouldn't miss. The fingers and toes that I would never use.I was a rare delicacy. Born of black blood, both my parents had tasted the flesh of the goddess. Because they had supped upon flesh my blood sang with the divine. They harvested pieces of me from the moment I was born, nibbling chunks out of my ear lobes and the soft pads of my fingers. As a girl I'd thought it a game.But she'd loved me. I remembered that. She took care of me all on her own after eating my father, and she taught me the Scriptures. If not for her, how would I know the holy truth that I stand above the soulless masses? I was born of the divine, a vessel for the ascension of mankind. Those who haven't tasted the flesh of the goddess are less than beasts in comparison, fit only to serve and be eaten.Our beliefs saw us driven out of any community that we lingered in too long. We traveled a great deal. My mother raised me to survive on my own and in the wild. I learned to hunt and forage, to read and to fight. As a girl I was eager to please her, but as time passed I came to resent her. To resent that she'd devoured my father and made us into the hunted instead of the hunters.She changed at some point. Her obsession with me shifted. I became a source of sustenance. My blood, the divine marrow, was her new passion. She stopped being a mother to me, and instead became a monster. She stole away what little childhood I'd ever had, and all that remained was fear. And yet I could never leave her, because she was the only one who cared for me. Who loved me.And then came the night I awoke to find her crouching over me, fangs poised to rip through the flesh of my throat. Her eyes were black and her breath stank of carrion. She looked upon me with such hunger. My body's response was violence. I lashed out in a blind panic, kicking and clawing. I struck her across the face, drawing blood. She recoiled, and I lunged for her throat. It was like trying to bite through iron. Her flesh was rubbery and stiff, but my teeth sank in anyway. She snarled, and I felt her claws pierce my ribs. The pain was instant, and intense, but I couldn't let go. I bit down harder, until I felt her black blood burst over my tongue. I swallowed reflexively, and I tasted my mother for the first time. It was like nothing I'd ever known.[1/2]
>>5709226As my body burned with the energy of the divine, the flesh around my mouth softened and fell away. The muscles of my neck grew thick, and the bones of my jaw hardened. I felt her claws driving towards my lungs, digging between my ribs, but all I could do was eat. The blood of the goddess is so delicious; it makes even the rotting flesh of my mother taste divine.The memory faded, and I awoke feeling better than I had in a long time. The itching which had followed my meal was gone. So were innumerable aches and pains which had plagued my body from injuries past. I felt whole, complete, and powerful. Sitting up on the rotten straw mattress, I stretched, relishing the feeling of strength in my limbs. It had been years since I'd felt so alive.Rubbing sleep from the corners of my eyes, I examined my surroundings properly. I'd been too blinded by exhaustion to do so the evening prior. The barracks was a ruin. Two rows of rotten beds lined the walls, twelve in all, sitting on a wooden landing missing more than a few boards. A few of the beds occupied by the remains of their former tenants, the rest lay empty. The windows had both been partially sealed with salt, allowing only a narrow column of sunlight to pour in from the east. It was still early, at least. I needed to feed my horse. I needed a bath. And, I thought with some disgust, I needed to wash my clothes. They were stained black with that creature's blood.>Explore the temple grounds. Might be a bathing complex, or valuables.>Climb to the top of the tower, might see something interesting from that vantage point.>Go take care of your horse, no sense lingering. You have a schedule to keep.
>>5709228>>Explore the temple grounds. Might be a bathing complex, or valuables.
>>5709226>>5709228Oh!…oh ok…I-ok. Wow…Guess this is what being a girl is truly like.>Explore the temple grounds. Might be a bathing complex, or valuables.
>>5709228>>Explore the temple grounds. Might be a bathing complex, or valuables.>>5709316Girl or boy mommy's eating us
>>5709228>Go take care of your horse, no sense lingering. You have a schedule to keep.Important to keep the horse well-maintained!
>>5709228>>Climb to the top of the tower, might see something interesting from that vantage point.
>>5709228>Explore the temple grounds. Might be a bathing complex, or valuables.
>>5709228>Explore the temple grounds. Might be a bathing complex, or valuables.the lore caught me now. curious if there's some truth to the "become divine by dinning on the goddess blood/flesh" or you just become a mutating beast.
>>5709642Based on what I’ve seen so far, divinity in this quest = lovecraftian mutating beast.I find it amusing that the QM made us select a gender as if we won’t inevitably turn into a voracious blender with legs
>>5709665He made us select gender to better figure out who was into vore and wants to be literally devoured by women
Goddam. I was NOT expecting that. An interesting quest for sure.>>5709228>Climb to the top of the tower, might see something interesting from that vantage point.>>5709670Hey, atleast its the most based kind of vore.
Rising to my feet, I searched the barracks for a light source. I found one in the form of an old naphtha lantern. It was out of fuel, so I bit into the tip of my thumb and allowed my black blood to pool within the reservoir. I had to keep biting because the wound sealed itself too quickly, but eventually I was able to fill the tank. Once my blood darkened the wick, I picked up a piece of flint tied to the lantern's base by a rotten cord and struck it against a piece of steel beside the wick. It took a few tries, unrefined ichor doesn't burn particularly well, but eventually I was able to produce a dim, smoky blue flame which occasionally popped, sending embers bouncing around the interior of the lamp. The fire would probably burn itself out in minutes, but I wouldn't need it for long.Lantern in hand, I descended the same stairs I'd crawled up the night before. Illuminated by the dim, flickering blue light I realized that the room in which I'd fought the monk was much larger than I'd assumed it was in the darkness. The ground floor of the tower consisted of a hall split in two by a low table; a dining hall. The end of the table nearest the stairs was a ruin of black blood and broken wood. The monk's bones lay amongst the wreckage. Continuing on, the table was lined with threadbare and dusty pillows embroidered with floral arrangements and scenes of the garden. At the far end of the hall a pair of wide double doors were sealed shut with a rusted iron bar. There were a dozen or so other, smaller doors, one of which hung slightly ajar to permit a thin beam of sunlight into the room. It was the one I'd entered through, and peering out into the courtyard beyond revealed the supplies I'd gathered for dinner scattered across the broken ceramic. A frown twisted my lips. I hated to waste food.Setting my lantern aside, I stepped out into the courtyard and spent a moment briefly gathering up what was left of my uneaten dinner. Blowing as much salt and sand free as I could, I tore off a chunk of jerky then carried the rest back into the storeroom where I'd left my horse. I found her sleeping on her feet, but her ears flicked almost the moment I stepped into the room. I packed away the recovered rations in my saddlebags, then fed my horse a few cubes of aspest before leaving her again. A trip to the well allowed me the opportunity to wash my hands and face. The ichor had dried beneath my fingernails and seeped into my skin, leaving my hands stained a sickly grey even after I scrubbed them. I left the water bucket in the storeroom for my horse, then ventured back towards the tower. Curiosity demanded I explore.[1/3]
Branching off of the dining hall I found a kitchen; just a cold oven, a hearth, and a pantry full of rotten remains. In another room I found a shrine to the goddess. It was dominated by a squat stone altar atop which sat a statue of Jotna ornately decorated with seashells and desiccated flowers. The statue on the altar was in relatively better shape than its kin in the courtyard. One of its six hands had been snapped off, but otherwise the marble was uncracked and unchipped. I set my lantern on the altar and then stepped back to examine it from a distance, kneeling so that Jotna loomed over me. Her six arms were spread, and the four closest to me held a variety of implements: a book, a cup, a knife, and a bow. The highest of its three sets of arms had once held a spear, but half of the weapon was missing along with the statue's hand. All that remained was part of the haft.The statue was bare-chested, dressed in an intricately carved skirt of human heads. Each head was rendered in a different style; some smooth and lifelike, others chiseled to look like a mask, still others crudely carved and shaped into a vaguely humanoid shape. The statue's chest and limbs had once been painted with swirling patterns in red and gold, but they'd faded to mere flecks of color across the stone surface. Its face had likewise been sanded away to a blank oval of smooth, featureless marble. I could see the impression of a nose, but nothing more.Abandoning the shrine, I shortly thereafter found a stairwell leading down into the earth. The stairs were wide enough for two men to pass abreast, and the stone had been polished to a gleam by the passage of countless feet over the years. They seemed somehow older than the rest of the temple. My lantern illuminated only a small section of the stairs before me, but it was more than enough to safely descend. I felt an odd sense of trepidation as I walked deeper and deeper into the goddess. The walls around me felt as if they were pressing in on all sides, and a primal instinct told me to flee. Yet, it was not like the hunger. I could ignore it.At the bottom of the stairs I found myself in a wide, domed chamber carved from the bedrock of Meru. The ceiling was a single, thick slab of stone supported by an immense pillar in the center of the room. The walls were covered in strange and abstract carvings of interlocking symbols whose meanings eluded me. The room was lit only by the soft blue glow of my lantern, and it failed to illuminate the corners. I could hear a strange, rhythmic groan coming from somewhere nearby, and it made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. It felt as if the stone was breathing around me, each exhalation stirring the air and causing the lantern to flicker.[2/3]
Walking a half circuit of the circular chamber's walls, I arrived at an arch opposite the one I'd entered through. I passed into a narrow hallway, which sloped downwards into the dark, lit only for a dozen or so feet by the wan blue light of my lantern. The walls were smooth and perfectly cut, sharp right angles at each corner. The rhythmic groaning was louder, and it sounded as if it was coming from the end of the passageway. Deeper and deeper I walked. I began to notice that the floor was slick with moisture, and then patches of slimy fungus began to appear on the walls. Soon they were coated in thick, finger-like cilia which clung to my hand when I brushed my fingertips across and wriggled beneath my boots wherever I stepped.I was beginning to consider turning back when I came to a crossroads. To my left I could hear flowing water, while to my right there was silence. Continuing straight, I could see that the fungus grew thicker; it seemed that the groaning originated in that direction.>Turn back, you'll wash your clothes at the well.>Go left, investigate the sound of running water.>Go right, away from whatever that groaning is.>Go straight, deeper into the fungus.
>>5709777>>Go left, investigate the sound of running water.Maybe let's try to bath VERY thoroughly, both ourselves and our cloths, to wash the stink of gore out? I'd rather sneak ahead with no scent if at all possible.
>>5709777>Go left, investigate the sound of running water.Maybe we can have water that doesn't come out of a moldy bucket
>>5709777>>Go left, investigate the sound of running water.
>>5709777>Go left, investigate the sound of running water.
>>5709777>Go straight, deeper into the fungus.
>>5709777>Go straight, deeper into the fungus.In the mood for some fungi
>>5709777>>Go straight, deeper into the fungus.If we're dirty we might as well go all the way before bathing
>>5710429>>5710218>>5710186>>5710153>>5710124>>5710050>>5709953>>5709951Turning left, I followed the sound of running water. The passage was not much wider than my shoulders and I was forced to hunch over to make progress. Fortunately, the farther I walked the thinner the fungus grew, until soon it had disappeared entirely. The water remained. My boots splashed where it pooled on the floor. It was getting warmer too; uncomfortably so. A faint light ahead drew my attention, and I pushed forward into a round room illuminated by a single column of sunlight which pierced a circular opening in the roof. A wide pool dominated the center of the room, steam rolling up from its surface in great plumes. For a moment I wondered if I'd found the source of the well, but that couldn't be it. I'd walked too far to still be so close to the temple.As I approached the pool I found that the water was a vivid shade of pink, and that it was teeming with a variety of aquatic life. I could see fish darting beneath the surface while small, amphibian creatures crawled along the edge, feeding on the algae which carpeted the stone above the waterline. Walking a slow circuit revealed the source of the noise I'd heard. The water bled pink from a breached aquifer on the left side of the room, gathering in a reservoir which overflowed into a system of small aqueducts. The water was filtered through sand and rocks before emptying into the pool, which itself overflowed into a rusted iron grate. I noted with some curiosity that the stone walls were themselves hot, as was the floor beneath my feet.The pool was man-made and simply overgrown with nature; the bottom lie just a few feet below the surface and it was decorated with an abstract mosaic. The white tiles reflected the sunlight from above while the black tiles created negative space, resulting in swirling patterns which shifted depending on the angle of observation. Where the tiles were missing the gaps were filled with algae, and a variety of tiny creatures had taken up residence there. It seemed silly to be scared of them when I'd eaten what was not quite a man the night before, but nonetheless I felt anxious. Kneeling, I ran my fingers through the water. It was quite warm, though not scalding. Raising my fingers to my lips, they tasted of salt. After a moment's further hesitation I decided that I had no better place to bathe.[1/3?]
>>5710489I wore a gun belt buckled around my hips. An additional cord secured my holster to my thigh. The leather was worn, embroidered with frayed white thread which stitched out calligraphy in a language I didn't speak. Often I wondered at its meaning, but I'd yet to find another who understood it. Brass cartridges were tucked into loops all along the belt's length. I took the time to draw my revolver, peeling the hammer back to half-cock so that I could thumb a latch above it. The weapon folded open to expose the cylinder, and with my fingernail I carefully extracted the one spent cartridge with an indent at its rim. I replaced it with a new one, then folded the gun closed and gently lowered the hammer down again before holstering it. That done I untied the knot around my thigh, then unlatched my belt, wrapping it around the holster before setting the bundle aside.I sat down to remove my boots next. Their once rich brown leather had become cracked and faded with wear. Sliding them off, I wore sweat-stained strips of cotton underneath knotted at my ankles. It took only a moment to unwrap them. My feet were ruins of scar tissue; I was missing four of ten toes, and some of those which remained still lacked their distal knuckles. The skin was thick and callused, my nails blackened and elongated into talons. My hands weren't any better given the bulging, reptilian claws sprouting between my knuckles, though my mother had taken only my littlest fingers.Standing once more, I began to remove my robes. They consisted of three distinct pieces of cloth. The outermost element was a cloak called a kampal which draped loosely about my frame without the support of my belt. It was worn pleated and wrapped about the torso, with the excess fabric draped over the shoulder. To remove it I needed simply to unwrap it. Underneath was a sleeveless tunic called an amsuk which draped to mid-thigh. Pockets and pouches in several sizes were sewn into the fabric, empty except for a handful of silver coins I set aside neatly stacked. Shrugging out of my tunic I was left in a loincloth; just a thin cord tied around my waist with a sheet of cotton tucked through it. I untied it before sliding into the pool.The water was deliciously warm, and the sensation of my muscles uncoiling drew a sigh from my lips. The last time I'd bathed had been weeks ago, and it felt wonderful to scrub away the blood, sweat, and general grime which had built up on my skin. The fish gave me a wide berth; most of them were the most remarkable shade of crimson, glittering like rubies in the pink water. They moved in a strange, synchronized manner, as if they were one creature with many eyes and fins rather than a school of individuals. There was another species which shared the pool, a dull brown bottom feeder which was slightly larger than the rubies and had a far more sedate demeanor. Part of me wanted to eat one out of sheer curiosity, but I resisted the temptation.[2/3]
>>5710491I lingered for nearly half an hour before climbing out and retrieving my clothing. The water had left my skin feeling soft, but more importantly I'd been able to free it of that black taint. There was a scent to the pool like faintly rotten eggs which I only noticed after I myself was clean, but it wasn't unpleasant. Kneeling, I dipped my stained kampal into the water and began to scrub the fabric against the pool's stone edge. As the dried ichor came loose from the cloth it discolored the water an odd shade of purple. Once I'd scrubbed my cloak to the point that it was merely a faint shade of gray rather than pitch black, I decided it was time to concede defeat and switched to my less heavily soiled amsuk. When I was finished doing laundry I glanced from my wet clothes to the pillar of sunlight streaming down from above, debating how exactly to dry them.Huffing in frustration, I retied my loincloth and shrugged back into my wet amsuk. The kampal I squeezed out to the best of my ability before folding into a tight bundle. By the time I put my boots back on, the thin strips of cotton wrapped around my feet were nearly dry. With my cloak tucked under one arm and my gun belt draped over my shoulder, I returned the way I'd come.>Go investigate the fungus corridor.>Continue on into the silence.>Go back to the courtyard, dry your clothes.>Climb to the top of the tower.>Write-in
>>5710492>>Go investigate the fungus corridor.Fungi friends
>>5710492>Go investigate the fungus corridor.Hopefully our scent doesn’t scream “EAT ME” and we’ll come off as more civilized if we meet another person now that we’ve bathed and done the laundry.
>>5710492>>Go back to the courtyard, dry your clothes.Are the other parts of our body (face, chest, waist) just as mutated?
>>5710521You can absolutely pass for human if you keep your mouth shut and your hands concealed, but I would say that the details of your appearance are still to some degree in flux.
>>5710572Would you be willing to comment on whether this sort of mutation is prevalent or whether it’s uncommon?I’m getting post-apocalypse/Stephen King/Lovecraft vibes from this so far and it wouldn’t surprise me if there are no humans left, only “humans”.
>>5710584It's a bit of a regional thing. What I'll say is that those who spend time in Meru, the mountain range formed from Jotna's corpse, inevitably begin to acquire inhuman traits. These might be as minor as slit pupils or so major that they're barely human. Generally speaking only Lengites push themselves to the point that they take on nonhumanoid forms. Foreigners at least begin completely human.
>>5710592Freaky, thanks for clarification.
>>5710491>My feet were ruins of scar tissue; I was missing four of ten toes, and some of those which remained still lacked their distal knuckles. The skin was thick and callused, my nails blackened and elongated into talons.Hard, but still tempted to lick >>5710492>Go investigate the fungus corridor.
>>5710623>still tempted to lickI specifically had the thought, "How do I make this unappealing to footfags?" It was quickly followed by the realization that I can't.
>>5710642the thing is that 2D can still be made appealing, real feet is kinda hard to look good and those descriptions would make it nasty irl. alas 2D remain queens
btw how are we missing members if the regen option won ?
>>5710651New injuries heal but if the wound was already healed before she ate the monk then whatever evidence of it remains. The vanishing of aches and pains and all that reflects that there's no more inflammation/infection in her body.The protagonist is unsure what would happen were she to, say, cut off the stub of her pinky finger. Would it grow back as a stub? Would it grow back whole? No idea.
>>5710648>>5710651Presumably we have regen of new wounds only, our prior disfigurements are “locked in”?Or maybe if we upgrade our regen we can stay growing back lost digits and so forth
>>5710623>>5710515>>5710494>>5710521The walk was monotonous. The rhythmic groan which pervaded the corridors was interrupted only by the creaking of my rusted lantern and the click of my boot heels against the stone. That, too, was muffled once I reached the portion of the tunnel coated in fungus. It seemed that I was less tempting a prospect for the thin cilia which coated the walls. No longer did the fingers reach for me as I passed, following each step in a wave of motion from the floor to the ceiling. Instead they ignored me, protesting only against the oppression of my boot before returning to their aimless wriggling.Perhaps it was that fact which gave me the confidence to turn left upon reaching the intersection, delving deeper into the fungus-ridden depths of the temple's foundation. My footsteps were silent, but I could feel the earth groaning around me with every step. The air was moist and warm, thick with the stench of decay. The small, dim circle of blue light cast by my lantern made me feel as if the world were being created before me and destroyed once again the moment I took a step forward.I'd lost track of time and distance when the passageway finally opened into a wider room the walls of which I could not see. The groaning was louder, and the air so thick with humidity it felt like each breath was drowning me. The fungal cilia had grown longer the deeper I progressed, and then brushed the tops of my boots. I stared into the darkness, blinking, and slowly my eyes adjusted to detect another source of low light. High above me I could see motion. Something massive was suspended there, rhythmically expanding and contracting. Each beat was laboriously slow, and yet powerful enough to shake the very stone beneath me."The heart," a voice croaked from the darkness, startling me so badly that I nearly dropped my lantern. The voice was rough and hoarse, as if the words were being pressed from the decrepit lungs of a corpse, but it was feminine all the same. A diminutive figure appeared at the edge of the light. Her face was like melted wax, eyes milky white and askew. Metal prongs jutted from her mouth at odd angles, cutting into the flesh along her cheekbones. I couldn't imagine their purpose. She was swaddled in rags, a red shawl the only piece of clothing which wasn't so decayed it might as well have been part of her.My tongue flicked out, subconsciously running across my lips. Though I was still full from my previous meal, I could smell the taint of the divine coursing through her veins. My fingers twitched, but I stopped short of flexing my claws. Instead I asked, "What is it?""One of many like it, in the belly of the beast." The woman croaked. "The goddess may be dead but her body doesn't know it yet. Not all of it."A flutter of anxiety seized my stomach, but I forced it down and swallowed back the drool which threatened to spill down my chin. "And who are you? Why are you down here?"[1/2]
The woman cackled, and for a moment I was worried she might keel over, but she didn't. Instead she pointed at me, and the light from my lantern reflected from the metal implements piercing her face. "You're new." she said, voice strained, and then she began to laugh again, her whole body shaking with the force of it. I watched, eyebrow craned in confusion, until she calmed."I am," I answered. "How could you tell?""All the monks that have been through here in the last decade, and you're the first one that's actually asked me any questions." She said. Her voice was raspy and weak, but there was a hint of a smile on her lips. "You don't belong here.""No," I said, frowning at her, "I do not.""Well then, get out of here." She said, turning her gaze back towards the darkness beyond the light of my lantern. "There's nothing for you here but death."The walls groaned, and the floor shivered beneath my feet. "Is that a threat?" I asked, taking a threatening step closer and bearing my teeth in an bestial grin. She just shook her head, offering no other reply. "Who are you?" I tried again, bravado faltering.She laughed, and this time there was a note of sadness in her voice. "I was once a priestess," she said.>Kill and eat this poor creature.>Follow her advice and turn back.>Ignore the old woman, and continue deeper.>Seek a way to climb nearer to the heart.>Ask something else. [Write-in]>Write-in
>>5710817>>Follow her advice and turn back.
>>5710817>"Then why the hell are you here then?">Follow her advice and turn back.Both don't feel like going to an endgame area just yet AND wanna go kill and eat some surface dudes.
>>5710844>+1this, but I wanna hear more from her
>>5710817>Seek a way to climb nearer to the heart.
>>5710817>Seek a way to climb nearer to the heart.But don’t touch anything!
>>5710817>Follow her advice and turn back.I want to eat a goddess but this seems way above our level
>>5710817>Kill and eat this poor creature.I was against becoming a vorefag but if that's what we are we should keep with the theme.
>>5710837>>5710844>>5710922>>5710940>>5711068>>5711120>>5711272"Why in all the thirty-six hells are you still here, then?" I asked, the frustration I felt leaking into my tone."I'm not," she said, and then she took a single step backwards and vanished into the darkness, "not really.""What do you mean?" I asked, but I was answered by silence. "Where are you going?" I asked, and when no one responded, I shouted, "Tell me!"The groan of the heart and the rumbling of the earth answered me. I took a few steps after her, tried to find any evidence of her presence among the undulating cilia which covered the floor, but found none. She was gone, and as I stood there in the darkness I felt a panic rising within me. I was alone again, and in the depths of the earth where the very air seemed to press in around me. That was intolerable. Whose death had she been speaking of?I bolted. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and some instinct told me to follow her advice. My boots stomped, skidded, and slipped through the fungus back up the corridor, through the intersection, and up the stairs into the temple proper. A sense of safety returned only after slamming of the door shut behind me. The relief it brought was palpable, and I sagged against the wood clutching my gun belt and wet cloak against my chest. The naphtha lantern had burned out at some point, swinging in my white-knuckled grip, though I hadn't noticed in my flight.Hours had passed in the darkness beneath the temple, and emerging into the courtyard I discovered that the sun was approaching its zenith. My head was spinning with thrill and fatigue, so I draped my wet robe across a broken statue and then sat down beside it to rest. Dimly, when I listened for it, I could still hear that heartbeat. It was no more than the faintest vibration against my fingertips when I pressed them into the ceramic tile beneath me. A constant, gentle reminder that I wasn't alone in the temple; that there was more to the structure than met the eye.[1/2]
>>5711429After only a few minutes baking in the arid heat I reached up to grasp the fabric of my kampal and found that it was dry. Standing once again, I took the time to pleat the cloth before draping it about my torso and securing the excess with my belt. After that I retrieved the water bucket from the storeroom and refreshed it, slaking my own thirst before tending to my horse. When all was said and done I sat on a shelf beside my saddle, gnawing on a piece of jerky while I studied a parchment stretched across my lap in the light streaming through the high windows. It was a map of Merush Kele, where I then lay. It was rendered in a curious, calligraphic style, the letters arranged to form an image of the desert and a vague representation of the surrounding mountains. There were numerous annotations; scribblings about the goddess, ruins, rulers, and the names of local tribes all crowded the page. Unfortunately the calligraphy itself was illegible, in the same script as the embroidery on my belt. Another gift from the foreigner I'd eaten.With a piece of charcoal I marked the temple where I suspected it to be; in the southeastern desert at the center of what my map depicted as a lake. The salt flats certainly bore all the characteristics of a dried up lakebed, and it was three days to the northwest from the city of Aryokam. My final destination was somewhere deep in the heart of the desert. There, according to scripture, lie an oasis called Karya, which legends said was born of a source of living ichor. Pure and untainted by death, it was said to fill a depression in the desert with a lake of gleaming gold, pumped from a beating heart far below. I'd thought that part a myth, until that day. I still wasn't sure how much of it was truth and how much was influenced by hashish, but it was said that those who tasted of pure divinity were born again with the bodies of gods. That their very touch could bring death or rebirth. Scripture spoke of it as Jotna's final sacrifice; a spiteful act against those that had slain her. She gave the ants a means to ascend beyond the confines of their hill.My next destination was not, unfortunately, my final destination. I did not know where precisely the oasis lie. I needed a guide.>Someone of the northern tribes, who legend said guarded the location of the oasis.>Someone of the mountain tribes, hardy warriors acclaimed for their knowledge of secret things.>A scholar famed across the land. You'll simply need to kidnap them first.>A fellow traveler on the path to godhood, offering sanctuary among brethren.The map's not done yet.
>>5711432>Someone of the northern tribes, who legend said guarded the location of the oasis.Let’s be practical, the tribals will probably know of the God Lake is real or not.Also, traveling with another aspiring god seems like a horrible idea.
>>5711432>Someone of the northern tribes, who legend said guarded the location of the oasis.
>>5711432>A scholar famed across the land. You'll simply need to kidnap them first.
>>5711432>A scholar famed across the land. You'll simply need to kidnap them first.Cute needy scholar boy who we're totally aren't going to nibble on
>>5711432>Someone of the mountain tribes, hardy warriors acclaimed for their knowledge of secret things.I like strong warriors with secret knowledge
>>5711432>>Someone of the northern tribes, who legend said guarded the location of the oasis.
It was the northern tribes who guarded the location of the oasis in all the stories. They were a strange people, nomads with a language unintelligible to all but their own. I didn't know how many they were, nor the routes of their migration, but according to my map and to popular rumor they held a certain canyon to be sacred. They called it Kaynagin Gerchek, which an annotation translated as 'Source of Truth'. That was my destination. It seemed reasonable to suspect that even if I couldn't find the northerners themselves, I might find evidence of their passage or traces of their knowledge. If my map was accurate, the canyon should lie only another few days across the desert in the foothills of the eastern mountains. I could be there before the week was out.Traveling to the northwest for a day would see me arrive at what my map labeled as a village called Argakan. I could then depart towards the north, pass through the fortress-city of Khem, and reach the canyon in a total of five days' time. A more direct route was possible; I'd just need to head northeast into the territory of the mountain tribes. There was a village called Kikai and my map marked the canyon as less than a day north from there. Given the rough terrain between the temple and Kikai I doubted I could make the journey in less than three days. The mountains would be far less populated, but I might need to pay homage to avoid violence. Or I could just kill everything in my path.>Take the direct route through the territory of the mountain tribes.>Travel along the populous trade lanes of the desert as far as possible.With my route in mind, I gently rolled up my map and tucked it back into a cylindrical scroll case which sealed with an iron buckle. It vanished back into my saddlebag after that, traded for an empty mashka folded up for storage. It was fashioned from a single waterproofed calf's hide, with a cloth strap to make carrying easier. I took it with me to the well, stuffing a funnel into the narrow neck to make filling it from the bucket easier. It took the better part of half an hour, but when the mashka was full I traded the funnel for a horn stopper and knotted it tight. Then I hoisted the heavy skin onto my shoulder and carried it back into the storeroom.>Take a nap to wait for the heat of the day to pass, then travel through the night.>Depart immediately, you'll just need to give your horse frequent breaks until it begins to cool.>There was something else you wanted to do in the temple before leaving. [Write-in]>Write-in
>>5712038>Travel along the populous trade lanes of the desert as far as possible.more people to eat this way?>Climb to the top of the towerWould be good to take a look around before we head out
>>5712038>Travel along the populous trade lanes of the desert as far as possible.>Climb to the top of the tower
>>5712038>Take the direct route through the territory of the mountain tribes.Imagine taking a safe route>Climb to the top of the towerSounds fun. You can finally post the perfect Artstation desert landscape photo from your collection.
holy shit is this actually real?
>>5712038>>Travel along the populous trade lanes of the desert as far as possible.>>Climb to the top of the towerOi soma, did you write the desert merchant quest on akun too?
>>5712180>You can finally post the perfect Artstation desert landscape photo from your collection.My art collection died, unfortunately.>>5712193It is indeed real. Undecided if I'll switch back to Soma or stick with Yaldabaoth.>>5712262>did you write the desert merchant quest on akun too?I ran a bunch of stuff on Akun but nothing that I'd specifically describe as a desert merchant quest. Link it?
>>5712268>I ran a bunch of stuff on Akun but nothing that I'd specifically describe as a desert merchant quest. Link it?I thought it was yours because it has deserts and was very neat and detailed.https://fiction.live/stories/-Merchant-of-Arakhu-/2rCpy9HLPMF4yxJ3z/home
>>5712268>My art collection died, unfortunately.Well, your stuff from 6 years ago is still saved at least: https://steelbea.me/quest-shit/
>>5712284o shit son this is a godsend and I don't even have a reaction image to properly convey my gratitude.>>5712279Huh, looks neat but wasn't me. Might read it though.
>>5712285I have to ask one more thing. Were you actually a communist or just larping as one?
>>5712288I am, in fact, an anarcho-communist. I wish to move the world towards a stateless, classless, and moneyless society in which all people are treated equally, but I expect to die long before that society is born. Billionaires and cops deserve the rope.
holy shit Soma is back>>5712268
>>5712309I'll still read his garbage. Although I miss our old shitposts.
>>5712321Motherfucker. I don't have my shitposting reaction folder anymore.
>>5712077>>5712101>>5712166>>5712262>>5712313>Stick to roads well traveled.>>5712180>Take a walk on the wild side.>>5712077>>5712101>>5712166>>5712180>>5712262>>5712313>Climb the tower.Aw sweet wasn't sure I'd get to use this bit.
>>5712268Welcome back you glorious bastard.>>5712279Thanks for the rec. Looks very interesting.
>>5712336Ayo, welcome back, fucker.
>>5712292>I am, in fact, an anarcho-communist.you know that in any revolution that happens the autoritharian commies will be the one in charge, so what makes you side with the anarchists ?
>>5712268Did you end up writing that book you talked about?
>>5712336Soma, I’ve been on a one-anon crusade to save /qst/ and increase board traffic (although truthfully I haven’t done anything yet).What do you think about advertising OtPtG Quest on related 4chan boards through banner ads and such to find new players? 4chan ads are hilariously inexpensive.This is the perfect type of high effort quest to showcase the board!
>>5712531You're only going to get Soma'd
>>5712531I would consider it if and only if OtPtG was one of several quests being advertised. Basically, if you can get buy-in from other QMs we can talk about taking out like a shared banner ad or something, I dunno. I am sympathetic to your goal. Part of my motivation for posting this quest on my twitter was an effort to drag a few people back to the board that might have stopped browsing.>>5712503Nope. I've got a manuscript sitting at about 60k words and a few published short stories but that's it. It'll happen eventually, I've got my thirties and forties to stress about it.>>5712431The authoritarian commies are currently putting out takes like "violence is bad", "don't destroy property", and "it's good to cooperate with police, actually". So no, I don't think our Marxist-Leninist comrades are going to be overthrowing anything anytime soon.>>5712405Ah, I never really left, not entirely.
>>5712682>multiquest banner adObviously the support of several popular QMs would be helpful here - glad to know you’d at least consider contributing to such an effort! Maybe a good goal would be 3-4 quests to be featured?
>>5711429Damned if that heart isn't a big juicy upgrade of sea god sushi just await'n a platter. Maybe we could come back with some decent firepower and darksight.So enterprising ancient worshipers had mined themselves near the hearts of Jotna, and this is something later people found and built the temple over. Presuming the understructure is older than above and its not eldritchness aging everything up reflexively. If it has trouble dying, I wonder if that means it could be transported or repurposed. Obviously, its size would forbid traditional efforts.Though given our danger sense(?) what gathered there seemed to have our same kind of hunger, or something did, hidden in that darkness. Meaning it may function as a lure. Could be we happened upon these ruins in our quest for Karya because of some eldritch blood association magic and the call of its buried vascular drumbeat.I wonder if it eats too.>>5711432That's some hopeful scripture for a god so clearly fucked into the dirt. With the idea of Jotna having been slain the Oasis gives me the impression of a wound without poison. Perhaps the area around it was cauterized pre-bleed. Interesting.
>>5713012Maybe this is too literal but I assumed we were talking to a fragment of the dead goddess Jotna down there by the heart.Death is maybe not so straightforward for the gods?
>>5713083I can see it. Like a death = temporary dreaming sense, or a cyclical method where it's one useful property for its extreme lifecycle. Or the still living organs are abandoned parts it has no use for. Death could be its weird flesh cleansing ritual before it finds something new to be, or an incremental part of a long process. Need more of that religion to guess with.I wouldn't discard it potentially being the literal thing. Jotna being a priestess to something else, being called a God by those ignorant and far lesser, ala Cthulhu, wouldn't feel out of place.
>>5712682>The authoritarian commies are currently putting out takes like "violence is bad", "don't destroy property", and "it's good to cooperate with police, actually".strange. anyway are you an atheist or you're a religious commie ?
Easing the waterskin down onto the cleared portion of the shelf, I next reached for my saddle blanket. Flapping it through the air a few times stirred the dust in the room but also freed the fabric of dried salt in the process. I draped it across my horse's back, but she nipped at me when I turned to grab her saddle, earning a swat on the nose for her trouble. She was hungry, I couldn't blame her. I'd been rationing her feed for weeks in preparation for the journey. I fed her a few more cubes of aspest, the dry fibers coming apart under her dull teeth, before heaving my saddle onto her back. Once it was buckled around the horse's belly and chest, I hauled the mashka onto her back as well. Some shifting saw it arranged between my two saddlebags, then with a length of rope I lashed it to the high back of my saddle. I knotted the naphtha lantern to the rope; it had been useful.Slipping the bit into her mouth, I led the horse back out of the storeroom and towards the gate, but paused at the well. Glancing up towards the top of the tower high above, then back to the gates, I decided it couldn't hurt to scout my surroundings from a higher vantage point. That in mind I slipped the reins around the arm of a shattered statue before grabbing my dark goggles and headscarf from a saddlebag, setting off back into the temple. Ascending from the dining hall, I passed through the barracks to another, narrowed stairwell which spiraled up through three additional stories.Above the barracks was a sparring room. Wooden dummies lined the walls and the floor was marked out with a bisected circle in faded chalk, for wrestling. Above that was a storage room, ransacked long ago and filled with broken crates. I still poked through the wood for anything useful. The wood itself was valuable but too bulky to transport. Unfortunately that was the only thing of value; nothing more than a rat's nest otherwise.The next and penultimate level of the tower was devoted to a library. The aridity was good for preservation, and unrolling a scroll from one of the dusty shelves I found that the parchment was incredibly delicate but still covered in legible script. Many were technical manuals and histories, and while interesting, they weren't the type of knowledge that I sought. I took a few anyway, just for reading material on the road.The final level was the roof of the tower, and I had to use my shoulder to bust open a salt-crusted hatch to access it. The wind whipped my headscarf, and I lowered my goggles to guard against the glare. The sky was a vibrant, brilliant blue, and the sun was high overhead, blazing down on me with a vengeance. It was so hot that the sweat beading on my skin didn't even have the chance to fully form before it evaporated away. The salt which had gathered on the roof was too hot to touch for any length of time, and the air hurt my throat to breathe. I'd grown too accustomed to the cool darkness beneath Meru.[1/2?]
There was a bleached and threadbare awning over the hatch which provided some measure of shelter, but when I stepped out from under it the full force of the sun was upon me. I was baking in the heat, and the glare from the white stone was almost blinding. Shielding my eyes with one hand, I searched the sky for signs of movement, and when I found none I turned my attention to the distant horizon. Far to the east I could see the mountains which marked the border of Merush Kele, and beyond them a storm was gathering. Puffy white clouds had built themselves into a towering plume of white, though given the distance they seemed harmless underneath the bright blue sky. I doubted it would reach me; the wind was blowing south. To the west the horizon dissolved into shimmering glass; an endless sea of heat rolling off the face of the desert. To the northeast, just barely, I could make out a hole in the earth through which steam rose. I wondered absently if that was where I'd bathed earlier.Descending the tower, I crossed through the dining hall to the gate. My horse had wandered off and was nosing about the courtyard, so I whistled to her and she loped obediently towards me. While I waited for her I adjusted my robes and head wrap to ensure as much of my skin was covered as possible. When she reached me I threw the reins over her neck and hauled myself into the saddle, twisting once I was seated to tuck away the scrolls I'd found. A light kick with my heels was all it took to spur my horse out into the desert.The ride was monotonous. Minutes turned to hours with only the howling of the wind for company. Wherever there was shade I stopped to water myself and my horse before moving on again. Only once the sun began to dip below the horizon did it become comfortable for me to remove my goggles, at which point I reached back into my saddlebag for a scroll. Unfurling it, I began to read. In dry, curt language the text discussed methods of farming salt, and the different varieties of salt which existed, and the many different uses for salt. It was maddening, but better than staring off over the endless cracked desert. When the light grew too dim to read by, I reached for my lantern and refilled it with blood.[2/3]
As the night grew deeper, the temperature began to plummet and the wind grew more frigid. My breath turned to white smoke in the air before me, and frost crept over the cracked earth beneath my horse's hooves. The light of a nearly full moon cast the salt flats in an ethereal light, but the stars were no less brilliant for it. They glimmered across the vault of the heavens, uncountable. More importantly, they reassured me that I was heading in the right direction. There was a constellation called the Hunter's Sword, a great arc of stars which formed the silhouette of a curved blade. Following an imaginary line from its pommel guided the eye towards the sky's singular fixed point; the North Star. All I needed to do was keep the North Star slightly to my right.The moon was at its zenith in the sky above when I began to pass through lands that were cultivated. My reading material had been prophetic; great piles of salt had been scraped from the earth, and already the villagers were out in the fields gathering more. They took advantage of these cool hours before the dawn to dig, and were even now carrying their harvest back to the village where they would dry and pack it away for sale. They greeted me with suspicion, most of them, and some envy. A horse was a rare sight on the salt flats, and it was unusual for a woman to travel alone.>Fortunately, your mother taught you the ways of her people. You have the look of a southern tribal; bronze skin baked darker still by the sun, and tightly curled black hair which stays naturally short. You try your best to seem smaller than you are, hunching over and adjusting your headscarf so that only your reptilian amber eyes are visible. Eventually, their attention shifts elsewhere.>Your foreignness inspires fear. Though once pale skin has been tanned dark the villagers see your pallor, your jade eyes, and your fiery orange hair and they conclude that you're risen from the grave. And so you're treated with suspicion and respect. You're given a wide berth and those you pass stick their thumbs through their index and middle fingers in signs of warding.>They see your dark hair, hooded eyes, and pale skin and they correctly identify you as an Imperial. Where they err is in assuming that you wish to trade. The salt farmers take your arrival as an excuse to hawk their wares, holding out their baskets and shouting for your attention. Pulling down your headscarf and smiling a sharp-toothed smile kills their enthusiasm for barter.[3/4]
None could mistake me for a farmer. I was a towering woman, corded with muscle, and the scars upon my body attested to a life lived close to death. I might have been dressed like a monk, but the gun I wore in plain view, holstered at my side, spoke a louder message than the robes ever could. It screamed that I was an outsider, and likely a dangerous one at that.The village of Argakan itself was clinging just as desperately to life as the sun-bleached foliage scattered across the desert. Riflemen patrolled its outskirts, watching me as I approached a crumbling citadel erected between two pillars of salt. Were it not for the shrine which anchored the southern end of the village, it would have certainly withered away to a forgotten ruin. Yet there were pilgrims camped among the ruins, and where there were pilgrims there were charlatans with things to sell them.>Seek out an inn, or otherwise attempt to lodge near the village. It'll be a chance to refresh your water and rations.>Look for a sheltered place on the outskirts to camp until the heat of the day has passed. You have enough to get to Khem.>Write-in>>5713131I'm an atheist.
>>5713245>Fortunately, your mother taught you the ways of her people. You have the look of a southern tribal; bronze skin baked darker still by the sun, and tightly curled black hair which stays naturally short. You try your best to seem smaller than you are, hunching over and adjusting your headscarf so that only your reptilian amber eyes are visible. Eventually, their attention shifts elsewhere.>Seek out an inn, or otherwise attempt to lodge near the village. It'll be a chance to refresh your water and rations.We still look human enough to blend in and I don’t think we should fear the townsfolk, between our claws and healing factor.
>>5713245>They see your dark hair, hooded eyes, and pale skin and they correctly identify you as an Imperial. Where they err is in assuming that you wish to trade. The salt farmers take your arrival as an excuse to hawk their wares, holding out their baskets and shouting for your attention. Pulling down your headscarf and smiling a sharp-toothed smile kills their enthusiasm for barter.>Seek out an inn, or otherwise attempt to lodge near the village. It'll be a chance to refresh your water and rations.
>>5713242>They see your dark hair, hooded eyes, and pale skin and they correctly identify you as an Imperial. Where they err is in assuming that you wish to trade. The salt farmers take your arrival as an excuse to hawk their wares, holding out their baskets and shouting for your attention. Pulling down your headscarf and smiling a sharp-toothed smile kills their enthusiasm for barter.>Look for a sheltered place on the outskirts to camp until the heat of the day has passed. You have enough to get to Khem.
>>5713242>>Your foreignness inspires fear. Though once pale skin has been tanned dark the villagers see your pallor, your jade eyes, and your fiery orange hair and they conclude that you're risen from the grave. And so you're treated with suspicion and respect. You're given a wide berth and those you pass stick their thumbs through their index and middle fingers in signs of warding>>5713245>>Seek out an inn, or otherwise attempt to lodge near the village. It'll be a chance to refresh your water and rations.
>>5713242>They see your dark hair, hooded eyes, and pale skin and they correctly identify you as an Imperial. Where they err is in assuming that you wish to trade. The salt farmers take your arrival as an excuse to hawk their wares, holding out their baskets and shouting for your attention. Pulling down your headscarf and smiling a sharp-toothed smile kills their enthusiasm for barter>>5713245>Seek out an inn, or otherwise attempt to lodge near the village. It'll be a chance to refresh your water and rations.
>>5713242>They see your dark hair, hooded eyes, and pale skin and they correctly identify you as an Imperial. Where they err is in assuming that you wish to trade. The salt farmers take your arrival as an excuse to hawk their wares, holding out their baskets and shouting for your attention. Pulling down your headscarf and smiling a sharp-toothed smile kills their enthusiasm for barter.>>5713245>Seek out an inn, or otherwise attempt to lodge near the village. It'll be a chance to refresh your water and rations.
>>5713242>Your foreignness inspires fear. Though once pale skin has been tanned dark the villagers see your pallor, your jade eyes, and your fiery orange hair and they conclude that you're risen from the grave. And so you're treated with suspicion and respect. You're given a wide berth and those you pass stick their thumbs through their index and middle fingers in signs of warding.>>5713245>Look for a sheltered place on the outskirts to camp until the heat of the day has passed. You have enough to get to Khem.
>>5713842>>5713832>>5713635>>5713540>>5713467>>5713374>Imperial>>5713282>Local>>5713749>>5713474>Foreigner>>5713282>>5713374>>5713474>>5713540>>5713635>>5713832>>5713842>Seek out an Inn.>>5713749>>5713467>Camp on the outskirts.Calling it.
>>5714179peddler of low quality goods?
I decided to look near the crumbling citadel for lodging. A stable was my first priority, and I found a crude excuse for one. It was more of a shed than an actual building, but a man who worked there took one of my coins and told me he could tend to my horse. He even gave me directions to a place that could offer accommodations. I still took my saddlebags with me, carrying them over my shoulder rather than leaving my belongings to be picked over by thieves.>6 Imperial liI found the inn in the midst of the ruins; an innocuous stairwell led down into the earth with an unintelligible, salt-crusted sign dangling above on a rusted iron post. The door at the bottom opened into a surprisingly well-appointed common room, filled with the din of boisterous, drunken laughter. The patrons were mostly locals, but the few foreigners present were obviously well-to-do. They were Imperials mostly, wearing elaborate silk robes of blue and green and drinking their wine from delicate porcelain cups. Some tables played cards, others diced in the light of naphtha lamps. They used refined ichor, not raw blood, and so the light was brighter and the smoke less cloying. The room was clean and smelled like cedar, a fact which earned it the dubious distinction of being the nicest place I'd considered staying at in quite some time.A middle-aged, bronze-skinned man with a neatly trimmed black beard and a bald crown was seated at a table by the hearth. He smiled at me as I entered. His eyes were solid black, the deepest black, as my mother's had been before I ate her. "What can I do for you, Generous One?" He asked, beckoning me to approach.I did so, suppressing a scowl before I dropped my headscarf in the process of crossing the room. There was the barest whiff of divinity in the air, but it wasn't enough to whet my appetite. Leaning against the table, I said, "I'm looking for a place to rest for the night.""That's why we're here, isn't it?" He replied with a smirk, raising a glass to his lips. "For a few silver and a prayer, we can make you feel welcome."I disliked prayer. The only god I respected was dead, mostly. She would not hear nor care for my petty concerns. Those gods which did still dwell out there in the black between stars were not beings to be worshiped; they were architects of the greatest cruelty. They cared only for blood and bone, and their followers were their cattle, herded from one land to the next as a means to satisfy their whims."How about two li, I get a room, and we never speak again," I suggested, slipping a hand beneath my kampal to fish two silver coins struck at the Imperial mint in Yunwu from one of the pockets sewn into my amsuk. They met the table with a satisfying clink, and I slid them across stacked together.>4 Imperial li[1/3?]
"Generous and frugal," he replied, sliding the coins off the table into his palm. I watched him hold the silver up against the light and study the lotus punched on its face, looking for any signs of counterfeit or deception. Finding none, he said, "Here I thought you were a nun."A frown, then I answered, "Clothes can be deceiving.""I suppose so," he agreed, tucking the coins into a purse at his belt and selecting a key from a row of hooks behind him. "Third floor down, third door on the left," he said, nodding towards a winding staircase carved into the wall beside the hearth."Thank you," I said, and then I was off again.My room was just that, a room. There was a bed, with a shelf on the wall beside it, and just barely enough space for me to spread my arms comfortably. The only light source was my own, dim lantern. After a moment's consideration, I dropped my saddlebags at the foot of the bed. Then I removed my gun belt, setting it along with my lantern down on the shelf above the mattress. Sitting down to ease off my boots and unwrap my feet, it occurred to me that for once my legs didn't ache after a day's ride. It was a strange, but welcome realization. Unwrapping my kampal, I shook as much of the grit out as I could before laying down and dragging it across myself as a blanket. The mattress was straw, but it was clean, and with the twist of a knob to extinguish my lantern I closed my eyes to rest.Sleep did not come easily. Laying there in the depths of Meru I meditated upon the yongjiu, that monotone hum drowning out all other conscious thought. Then I heard it again, a heartbeat. Distant and faint, but the vibrations of its titanic pulse resonated through the taut ropes upon which my mattress was suspended. I felt the blood in my own veins thrumming along in time, and for a moment I imagined it was my heart, and I was the great beast which would consume the world.The following afternoon I awoke. My dreams had been a haze. When I looked back on them I could only recall the smell of rot and the feeling of thick, black blood flowing over my fingers like sludge. Sitting up I stretched my shoulders, allowing the tension to drain away before climbing to my feet. It was a moment's effort to drape my kampal, and I secured it with my belt. Then I rewrapped my feet before shoving them into my boots. Throwing my saddlebags over one shoulder, I grabbed my lantern and left the room.The smell of roasting animal fat lured me to the ground floor, where I found that they were cooking a whole goat over a spit in the kitchen. The meat was falling apart as the skin cooked, dripping fat onto the fire beneath it, and the smell was absolutely delicious. The same innkeeper that had greeted me that morning was watching the food cook, leaning against the stone hearth beside his desk. He perked up when he noticed me emerge from the stairwell, and asked, "Have a good night's sleep?"[2/3?]
"As well as I can, in an inn like this," I replied, trying not to drool at the sight of the food."The room was up to your standards, I hope?" he asked, smiling with pride.I shrugged, "It was adequate.""Adequate?" he repeated, his voice going up an octave, "Adequate is not good enough for one such as I, humble though I may be. Please, let me carve you off a piece of the roast while it's still hot," he added, stepping forward to retrieve a knife from a rack beside the spit and a fork to pin down the carcass. He carved off a generous helping. It was fatty, and when he presented it to me on the end of his blade I felt my mouth watering. "Please, eat," he insisted, holding it closer to my mouth.I took the meat from his knife, chewing thoughtfully on the savory flesh while he watched with his black, featureless eyes. He didn't blink until I'd swallowed, then bragged, "We use a combination of sixteen herbs and spices from across Bhu in our cooking, the finest ingredients money can buy."No part of me wanted to compliment the man but it was a good roast. The skin had blackened into a crispy, tender bite and the meat underneath fell apart when I chewed, full of tangy and rich fat. I wanted more, but I didn't trust myself not to devour the whole animal if I had another taste. So instead I wiped the grease from my lips across my forearm and said, "It's unreasonably good. You don't need to try so hard.""I have no need to lie," he replied, turning away and wiping his knife down the front of his robes before returning it to its place in the rack, "I will be honest; it's because of the goddess that I'm here. I see her in my dreams, calling me to provide hospitality for her children. I hardly sleep at all anymore, and when I do the dreams are so vivid.""You're one of the faithful, then?" I asked, unable to suppress a note of derision in my tone."Oh, yes," he replied, turning to face me with a smile which made his eyes wrinkle at the corners. "I was a pilgrim once, in my youth, but I returned home after my group ran into some bandits in the mountains. I was the only survivor.""You must have a terrible story," I replied, my voice flat."Terrible," he agreed, and then he laughed, "but it's nothing compared to the horrors which you've surely witnessed, dear sister. Your life must have been difficult if your scars tell even half the story."I was caught off guard by his perception, but he didn't wait for me to respond before continuing, "You're on the road for a reason, aren't you? You've seen the world, and you know the suffering which has befallen it."It was a bizarre statement and I wasn't sure how to respond. "I'm bound for Khem," I finally said.[3/4]
"But the journey overall?" he asked, and before I could answer, he pressed, "Where's your path leading you, sister?">Discuss your quest for the oasis with this stranger; it is not an uncommon goal, many more than just Lengites seek a source of untainted ichor.>You are not his sister and you will not entertain his delusions any longer. Thank him for the hospitality and then leave.>Ask him about any opportunities to earn a little coin in the area.>Ask him where you might restock your water and rations.>Write-in
>>5714351>Discuss your quest for the oasis with this stranger; it is not an uncommon goal, many more than just Lengites seek a source of untainted ichor.
>>5714351>Discuss your quest for the oasis with this stranger; it is not an uncommon goal, many more than just Lengites seek a source of untainted ichor.le wacky exposition hook optionwelcome back
>>5714351>>Discuss your quest for the oasis with this stranger; it is not an uncommon goal, many more than just Lengites seek a source of untainted ichor.
>>5714351>Ask him about any opportunities to earn a little coin in the area.>Discuss your quest for the oasis with this stranger; it is not an uncommon goal, many more than just Lengites seek a source of untainted ichor.
>>5714351>Ask him where you might restock your water and rations.
>>5714351>>Ask him about any opportunities to earn a little coin in the area.
>>5714351>Ask him where you might restock your water and rationsThis guy seems unreliable at best, I’m not sure that sharing our story or goals with him is a good idea
>>5714694>>5714653>>5714516>>5714506>>5714474>>5714445>>5714380>>5714374>I'm on a quest and definitely don't eat people, by the way.>>5714516>>5714570>Who do I have to eat to get paid?>>5714586>>5714519>Where's the snack stop?Writin'.
You good, OP ?
I thought about not telling him anything, but did I really need to be so paranoid? Many were those who sought the same myth that I did, in one form or another. It was among the oldest legends I knew of, and innumerable grand expeditions had been launched to find it. Unsuccessful expeditions. Armies sent into Meru had an unfortunate tendency to vanish. Some of the greatest Imperial generals in history died that way. There were those scholars who blamed the fall of entire dynasties on the quest for Karya, which most serious men of learning dismissed as fiction.The innkeeper was not a serious man of learning. So, sighing, I answered, "I, too, am a pilgrim I suppose. I seek the heart; the oasis of Karya."He chuckled, and for a moment I wondered if he was mocking me, but when he spoke his tone was kind, "You're looking in the wrong place.""And what would you know about it?" I snapped, my patience worn thin."Well everyone knows it's up north with them bug-folk," he replied, waving a hand dismissively, "but the truth is it's just a story, sweet sister."I frowned at him, "Bug-folk?""I mean, they're not really bugs," he said, scratching his bearded chin, "but yeah, their royal tribe looks bizarre. All these chitinous plates on their skin, and their eyes look like molten gold. It's quite fascinating actually.""Have you seen them?" I asked, leaning forward on the counter, suddenly invested in the conversation.He hesitated, and I could see that the memory was painful. "Got just about killed by them, in fact. They attacked my group while we were making camp in the foothills. They're ferocious warriors, those bugs, and their skin is impenetrable.""So what did you do?" I pressed, feigning less interest than I felt."Well, we weren't going to just let them have us, so we put up a fight," he said, shrugging, "but when a swarm that big attacks you, there's no way to defend yourself, no matter how skilled you are. We weren't even all that skilled to begin with, and the terrain wasn't in our favor either. We'd camped at the bottom of this shallow ravine, tents all lined up in a nice orderly row for them to set on fire. I'm not ashamed to say I ran when things started to get hairy, and the others... well, they didn't run fast enough."I watched his face, searching for any sign of duplicity, but he was merely recounting his memories. "They're a nomadic people," he mused, "always moving, always fighting over resources. I think we must have just gotten unlucky and crossed paths with a raiding party. Life is cruel like that, isn't it?"Part of me suspected the man of leaving out details, so I asked, "Do you remember where you were at the time? In the foothills, yes, but can you be more precise?"[1/2]
"Well, no," he answered, his expression pensive, "it was so long ago, and the desert has a way of erasing the past. I can tell you it was north and east of here; maybe a week, week and a half. No more than that, certainly."It sounded like his band of pilgrims camped near the northerner's sacred canyon and got slaughtered for it to me. A good thing to note, they're hostile to outsiders. I knew that already, but maybe he could tell me some other things I didn't know. "How were they armed? Mostly traditional weapons?""You're correct. A few had pistols, old muzzle loaders, but most had spears or short swords or bows," he replied, "As a lover of peace, of course I ran at the first sight of the bug warband so I couldn't assess their skill with their weapons. They were certainly skilled enough to butcher harmless pilgrims.""I suppose so," I replied, frowning, and then I asked, "Who would I speak to about rations?"He gestured towards the simmering goat and said, "I could carve you off a few pounds for the road but if you're talking about dried stuff you'll want to see the good brothers and sisters at the shrine. They bake crackers and sell a variety of salted meats." Then, with a note of undeserved pride, "They even use the local salt."Feeling distinctly the lightness of the few coins remaining in my pockets, I asked, "And I don't suppose you know of any opportunities to make some quick coin?""Same answer, you'll want to speak with the abbess of the shrine," the innkeep said with a shrug. "Can't imagine you want to scrape salt for hours on end, but I think she might have mentioned needing a courier.">Thank the man and depart for the shrine. You're not opposed to running errands if they're convenient.>You'll spend the last of your coin on supplies and that should last through to Kaynagin Gerchek.>Thank the man and depart, you'll find coin and supplies in Khem.>Write-in>>5715745This will probably be the last post of the thread. I'm going to a music festival and I'll be traveling from tomorrow through to next Tuesday. If this thread is still up then, I'll continue. If not, I'll start a new thread.
>>5715811>Thank the man and depart for the shrine. You're not opposed to running errands if they're convenient.Well, I suppose that the oasis of divinity isn’t going anywhere soon. Maybe make a few bucks while we’re getting ready to head out?Although hanging around for too long is a bad idea, we did eat that priest in the temple. Someone might have known him.
>>5715811>>Thank the man and depart for the shrine. You're not opposed to running errands if they're convenient.Don't you worry about the thead. It's going to last for another 40 days.
>>5715811>You'll spend the last of your coin on supplies and that should last through to Kaynagin Gerchek.
>>5715811>Thank the man and depart for the shrine. You're not opposed to running errands if they're convenient.
>>5715811>Thank the man and depart for the shrine. You're not opposed to running errands if they're convenient.Time to collect some rat tails
>>5715811>>Thank the man and depart for the shrine. You're not opposed to running errands if they're convenient.
>>5715811>Thank the man and depart, you'll find coin and supplies in Khem.
Calling it for>Thank the man and depart for the shrine. You're not opposed to running errands if they're convenient.By the way.
>>5721816I'm sure soma would never abandon us again
I wasn't a stranger to courier work. Running the right message for the right people could pay very well, and if I was going in that direction anyway then certainly it was the universe aligning to guide me. "Thank you for your hospitality. What did you say your name was?""I didn't." The silence which stretched after that terse answer grew uncomfortable. I'd heard there were certain taboos around names among the southern tribals, but that was my first time encountering them. To use a person's given name was to express a degree of authority over them, or so they believed. A belief they extended to gods and spirits as well.Clearing my throat, I ventured, "Thank you again, innkeeper." Then I wasted no more time climbing back to the surface.Stepping out into the sun was like stepping into an oven. The heat was all-consuming. Each breath stung my throat. It was all I could do to stop at the top of the stairs and acclimate, wrapping my headscarf tighter around my face before putting on my goggles. Smoky quartz lenses obscured the world in a misty haze, but they filtered out the worst of the glare.The village itself was quieter than it had been the previous night, the only people about were a handful of merchants who had set up shop in the crumbling citadel. A few more were selling goods outside of their tents. I ignored them, walking a quarter circuit around the pillar of salt anchoring the southern end of Argakan. The shrine was carved into its western face. A narrow path guided my feet towards an even narrower entryway carved into the salt. To my left was a humanized representation of the goddess, the largest of all the carvings. She had a round face and a long beak of a nose; features I typically associated with the settled peoples of the southern desert.Around the goddess the artists had carved a group of three supplicants, their backs turned to me, and their left hands outstretched. It was difficult to discern their features due to the placement of their heads, but they were feminine. Two of them had lost their offerings to erosion, but one of the carvings still clutched a delicate lotus flower. It was faded by the elements, the petals chipped away and the stem cracked, but the artist must have been very skilled to have created something so fine from rock salt.The right side of the carved edifice was given over to many small alcoves each containing statues of the men and women who sponsored the shrine. Each of the statues were painted in a rainbow of colors made all the more garish by the ravages of time. Flakes of chipping paint rendered once serenely smiling faces grotesque and terrifying. Salt accumulated wherever it could, blocking off eyes and building up around joints. Some statues had been left in a state of disrepair; the limbs broken or the face chipped.[1/3]
Peering into the crack at the center of the carved wall, I could see pure blue light at the end. Shrugging, I twisted myself sideways to fit through the entrance. It struck me that defensibility must be more important to these monks than welcoming pilgrims. After twenty paces the narrow hallway opened up into a rectangular chamber. There was a wooden door directly across from me, but when I tested the handle I found it locked. The light in the room was cast by narrow troughs of burning ichor running along the walls to the north and south. The flames blackened several inches of the stone above but gave off no visible smoke, casting flickering light across the scenes carved into the walls to the east and west.The work on the interior was much better preserved and much more delicate. Everywhere I looked was a scene of the hells. Men and women being boiled alive by blue-skinned immortals, or eaten in droves, or forced to fight to the death over and over again for eternity. The carvings were a nightmare, the artistry so exquisite that I had to get a closer look. I became briefly fixated on the image of a man impaled upon a spear, screaming in agony while a winged demon devoured his liver. It left me with a pang of hunger after I moved on.It was as I tested my finger against the stone tip of a demon's tail that a child opened the door. They were perhaps ten, dark skinned, dressed in white robes not dissimilar to my own, with a shaved head. At first I escaped their notice. I watched them retrieve a bucket of water and a brush from inside the doorway, but then they turned around and our eyes met. They froze."Hello?" they called, tentative and curious.I took a step back, tucking my hands behind my back. Then, "I was hoping to speak to the abbess. About a message she wanted delivered.""Oh," the child replied, fidgeting before setting down their bucket and brush. They dusted their hands off on their robes, then quickly bowed before finally explaining, "She's in prayer, but she should be done soon. Would you like to wait for her?""Here?" I asked.The child hummed, squinted at me, then shook their head. "You can wait inside if you want.""Lead the way," I agreed, following the child deeper into the interior of the shrine. The hallways were short enough that I had to duck in order to pass comfortably, but thankfully they were more than wide enough to accommodate the width of my shoulders. I was led to a small room with four squat tables, cushions arrayed around each.The child stepped aside as we entered and bowed again. "Would you like tea?" they asked.[2/3]
"Certainly," I answered, taking a seat at the table to the right of the room's only doorway. My guide vanished, and I was left to admire the fresco painted on the domed ceiling. Concentric rings depicted the stages of creation and destruction, each ring progressively smaller than the one before it. In the center was a depiction of Jotna, her disemboweled entrails forming the structure in which the rest of the painting was framed.The child returned with a tray. On it was a shallow wooden bowl the size of my palm and a steaming clay teapot. Setting it down, the child poured black tea for me and then retreated a step. They stood there, watching me while I raised the bowl to my lips and took a sip. It was warm, bitter, and faintly floral. It was good, and I drained the rest quickly before pouring myself another.Evidently pleased by my approval, the child bowed again. "The abbess should be out soon, sister." Just like that they were gone again, sprinting back to their chores perhaps.I savored three more bowls of tea before I was interrupted when a woman stepped into the room. She was elderly, with a scalp covered in white bristles, and a dark face transformed into a leathery mass of jowls and wrinkles. Her lips were pursed into a thin line and her hands clasped behind her back. She had the air of a person who was always in a hurry, small grey eyes still clear and bright despite her age. "You must be the courier," she said, her voice brittle and hoarse."I am," I said, bowing my head but remaining seated.It was a slight given that she was my elder and one so highly ranked within the temple, I should have stood and bowed, but the abbess didn't seem to mind. She remained at the entrance, staring down her nose at me like I was a piece of cattle to appraise. Finally she asked, "Do you know how to get to Khem?"I nodded, "Yes.""There is a monastery in a ravine two day's travel across the desert to the northwest of Khem," she explained in clipped, precise language. "I was once a nun there. I need you to deliver a letter to the current abbot, whoever that may be. The monastery is called Pawe Bhajam." Powder Pot. An odd name for a monastery. Before I could ask about it the abbess continued, "You'll be paid ten sarwa up front and ten when you arrive."Sarwa were a low purity gold alloy coin stamped in vast quantities by the city of Khem. They were practically worthless outside the bounds of Meru, but they'd spend just as well as any other coin so long as I was in the desert.>Haggle for more money.>Ask if it's possible to be paid in Imperial li.>Ask if they can provide supplies for the journey.>Ask about the name of the monastery.>Agree and depart.>Write-in>>5721902Of course not, Anon. It'd sure be funny though.
>>5722193>Ask if they can provide supplies for the journey.>Ask about the name of the monastery.The supplies and information are probably the more valuable currency here.
>>5722193>Haggle for more money.Imagine having a desert setting where the MC isn't a chronic jew. It just wouldn't make sense.
>>5722193>>Ask if it's possible to be paid in Imperial li.>>Ask if they can provide supplies for the journey.
>>5722193>Ask if they can provide supplies for the journey.>Ask about the name of the monastery.
>>5722193>Ask about the name of the monastery.
>>5722649>>5722338>>5722235>What's with the name?>>5722338>>5722310>>5722235>Gimme food>>5722310>I don't want this trash money.>>5722241>Pay up, scrubs.Writing for:>Ask if they can provide supplies for the journey.>Ask about the name of the monastery.
"That's a generous offer," I said, "but I have a question for you.""Speak," the abbess commanded, crossing her arms over her chest."Why is the monastery called the powder pot?" I asked, curious.She frowned, "Because the monks there use divine ichor to create fireworks and ammunition in vast quantities.""I see," I said. "I'll need supplies.""I'll pay for them out of the ten I owe you," she replied. "How much do you want?"I shrugged, considering the matter. It was four days to the monastery, then two days back to Khem. From there I had four days more to reach the sacred canyon. "Ten days' worth, ideally.""You'll barely need half that to reach the monastery then get back to Khem," the abbess pointed out, craning one sparse white eyebrow."Who said I would go back to Khem?" I asked. "I need to travel north from there.""Then you're going to have a problem," she replied. "The only road to the north leads through tribal lands. The locals aren't exactly welcoming of outsiders.""You speak from experience, I take it?" I asked.She snorted, "If you have the right contacts you can find a guide, but it'll cost you more than just coin.""Then let's hope I'm fortunate." I leaned back, taking another sip of tea while the abbess considered my response. She tapped her foot impatiently, but didn't rush me.After a long moment's silence she asked, "So, do we have a deal?""Sure," I said, and I held out a hand. The abbess shook it firmly, scowling at the sight of my warped knuckles.She reached into her robes and pulled out a small leather envelope, pressing it into my palm. "Don't open it," she said, reaching back into her robes for a purse. From it she withdrew five of the small golden coins, tucking them back into a pocket on her amsuk before handing over the purse. "You'll get your food at the entrance, I'll send an acolyte to bring it to you. You'll also get a map of the ravine to find the monastery.">4 Imperial li>5 sarwa of KhemHonestly this is as much for my record keeping as yours, for now."Thank you," I said, tucking the envelope and purse away in my own amsuk, "for the tea.""You're welcome," the abbess said, nodding her head. "Best of luck on your journey. May the goddess protect you."[1/3?]
Taking that as my cue to leave, I rose to my feet and offered a terse bow. The abbess stepped out of the doorway, and I passed her on my way into the hall. The route out of the temple was easy enough to remember, but I paused by the open doorway into the carved foyer beyond. Uncertainty gripped me for a moment; should I wait outside or inside? The question was irrelevant, a bald child ran up to me carrying a heavy bundle of neatly wrapped white cloth under one arm and a leather scroll case in the other. They handed both over to me with a grin, then waved before running off down the hallway again. I looked around, but there was nobody nearby, so I slung my supplies over one shoulder and stepped out into the bright blue light.After shimmying down the narrow tunnel to the exit and emerging into the heat of the day, I took a moment to sit down and inspect the supplies they'd given me. Shrugging off my saddlebags, I carefully unknotted the twine holding together the bundle of cloth. The first of the parchment-wrapped packages I removed contained dried meat. The strips were hard, but when I bit off a corner and chewed I found the meat was good, if intensely salty. The next package I unwrapped was full of hard, flat biscuits. The were difficult to bite through and terribly dry but their flavor was subtly sweet and floral, I'd probably even genuinely enjoy them dipped in tea. Much better than the last batch of biscuits I'd bought in Aryokam. That thought brought me a measure of annoyance. Argakan, Aryokam; I wondered at their etymological relationship.After dividing the meat and crackers between my saddlebags, I turned my attention to the scroll case. Unbuckling the latch and popping open the lid, I found a tightly rolled bundle of parchment inside. Unfurling it revealed a map rendered in many hundreds of lines. It took a moment for me to recognize the style, and then a moment longer for my eyes to adjust. The lines were elevation, where they were denser that meant elevation was changing more rapidly. With this in mind, I could begin to sketch out a mental image of the ravine in which the monastery had been built. It had been constructed at a bend in the canyon. There were two major branches downstream to the south from Pawe Bhajam, while following the canyon upstream led one east instead. The map only depicted a relatively small area, but I thought it enough for me to find my way there.Rerolling the parchment and tucking it back into its scroll case, I finished packing my saddlebags and then threw them once again over my shoulder. My next stop was the stable, if it could be called that, where I'd left my horse early that morning. The beast was happy to see me, nosing at my hands and snorting while went through the motions of securing her saddle to her frame.[2/3]
The old man sitting by the entrance to the shed, a different man from the one I'd paid that morning, frowned up at me as I slipped the bit into my horse's mouth and asked, "That your horse?""Looks like my horse, acts like my horse," I fixed him with a flat stare, stroking the mare's nose. "Must be my horse."He scowled at me. "That's not funny," he said."Who said I was joking?" I shot back, annoyed. Collecting my waterskin from where it hung on the wall, I added, "Look, I paid for the stabling this morning, I'm not paying again when it hasn't even been a day."The old man grunted, rising to his feet and stepping aside. He waved me on with one hand, "Don't let me keep you.""I wasn't planning to," I replied, leading the mare out of the shed and into the sunlit ruins of the citadel.I walked my horse out into the salt flats a few dozen paces before pausing to drape my saddlebags over her hindquarters. I tied them to rings of metal protruding from the back of my saddle, then secured the heavy waterskin between them. Climbing into the seat, I sighed, turning my head to the northwest.>Read the letter that the abbess gave you. There's no way they really expect privacy.>Don't read the letter, read those other scrolls you took from the temple.>Write-in
>>5722972>Read the letter that the abbess gave you. There's no way they really expect privacy.
>>5722972>Read the letter that the abbess gave you. There's no way they really expect privacy.Plot? hook?
>>5722972>Don't read the letter, read those other scrolls you took from the temple.>>5722980>>5722986You guys think the monks don’t have a way to know if we opened the letter?They”ll know we opened it and punish us.Not to mention, the letter is probably written with divine ichor and the ink will jump off the page to strangle us
>>5722972>Read the letter that the abbess gave you. There's no way they really expect privacy.>>5722997>divine ichor and the ink will jump off the page to strangle usI wasn't sold before, but you've convinced me. Reading the letter is way cooler.
>>5722972>Don't read the letter, read those other scrolls you took from the temple.
>>5722972>>Read the letter that the abbess gave you. There's no way they really expect privacy.We're a nudist cannibal. What do we care about privacy?
>>5723227>>5723211>>5722997>Be a goody two-shoes nerd lmao>>5722980>>5722986>>5722998>>5723610>Man FUCK privacy.Writing. Might or might not get a post out today depending on plans later. If not today, then it'll be out tomorrow.
A kick of my heels set my horse into motion. Her hooves clacked over the salt, kicking up a plume of dust in her wake when she broke into an easy trot. Truthfully I was deeply curious about the contents of the letter I'd been tasked with delivering. I'd been offered less coin for far more dangerous jobs before, but it wasn't as if I had anything better to do.Minutes turned to hours and the sun continued its journey across the vault of the heavens. Its rays beat down upon us without mercy, turning the world into a shimmering mirage. Still I noticed the landscape shifting. Drifts of sand blew across the cracked, white salt and gathered into sparse dunes to interrupt the otherwise flat terrain. The dunes became larger and larger, until I was riding through a proper desert.When the sun began its descent and the light dimmed from its blinding intensity, I lowered my goggles and reached back for my lantern. Bleeding myself into the reservoir, I struck the flint a few times to ignite the wick. Then I reached back to rifle through my saddlebags for reading material. Except when I twisted in the saddle I felt the leather envelope in my amsuk pressing against my side.It was only curiosity that tempted me, but the fact was that I didn't have anything else to entertain myself with. Tugging it free, I unwound the cord tying it closed and carefully opened the flap to peer inside. Surely they wouldn't send anything truly sensitive in the hands of a random woman they'd only just met? But they had.There were two folded pieces of parchment inside. I withdrew the first, a letter addressed to the abbot of Pawe Bhajam. The message itself was written in the language of the southern tribes, which I spoke passingly but read only with difficulty. It was slow to decipher, particularly because of the precisely formal tone of the letter, but sentence by sentence I picked apart the meaning."Venerable Sir of the Monastic Community at Pawe Bhajam,I write to you on the 26th day of the month of Paggal in the 17,463rd year of the Goddess. It is my hope that this missive finds you in good health and fortune.The purpose of my letter is to propose a joint effort between the surviving monastic communities on Meru. For too long we have been disparate, our efforts divided while the Imperialists encroach ever closer to our sacred places. Many have lost their lives while others have been forced to flee to foreign lands. Yet we have survived, and we are strong still. Yet it is your community which is the envy of us all; it is your community which so effortlessly refines the substance of our goddess and in such quantities that even the Imperials dare not march against you.[1/4]
I know that you have your doubts about the wisdom of working together with the rest of us. You fear that banding together will only bring down the wrath of the Empire, but I know it is your destiny to lead. Our goddess has brought you to this place of plenty. She has blessed your community with resources unmatched in all the world. She has granted you power, and it is your divine responsibility to use that power to protect what is left of her children.Please, accept the humble offer of one who would call herself your sister in faith. A discussion is to be held, in person, at the monastery of Saniwa on the night of the full moon after next. Join us there, and let us pool our meager resources together to create a lasting peace. I know that you must agree with my arguments. Please, write back to me with your response as soon as you are able.In the spirit of cooperation and friendship,The Abbess of the Wayshrine at Argakan"By the time I'd finished translating the letter my head was pounding. I'd had to stop reading and restart multiple times. The syntax was odd and the author was clearly more eloquent in the southern tongue than I, but I was certain I'd understood the gist of it. It seemed unwise that the abbess would entrust such an important letter to a stranger, but then again perhaps she mistook me for a fellow monastic? The robes were identical, despite the blood staining mine.I turned my attention to the second folded piece of parchment, a map. Perhaps of Saniwa, though the location was unlabeled. It was in the same style as the map of the ravine I'd been given, depicting elevation using lines. In this case there was a small depression in the center of the map surrounded on all sides by a high plateau, it was a bizarre topological formation. I could already imagine the dizzying maze of underground tunnels it must contain.Folding the map carefully back up and replacing it, I stuffed the envelope back into my amsuk. The moon had risen over head, still mostly full, the darkened part barely visible against the backdrop of the night sky. The better part of two months remained before it would be time for the meeting.>You'll make sure the letter gets into the hands of the abbot.>You got half your payment. That's good enough. You'll burn the contents of the envelope.>Burn the letter, keep the map. Who knows? Maybe you'll need it.>Write-in[2/4]
Once the sun began to lighten the horizon, I started to seek out shelter to rest through the heat of the day. The sea of sand was no less harsh than the cracked salt I'd left behind. Thankfully, while the stars remained faintly overhead in a sky lightening from purple to blue, I spied a craggy mesa rising out of the desert. My horse, exhausted and parched, was not particularly enthusiastic about climbing the slope leading up to it. Eventually I dismounted, walking her the rest of the way to its shaded base. I tied her reins to a nearby rock, then carefully dispensed cold water from my skin into a smooth, wind-worn depression in the stone. After she'd drunk her fill I did the same, taking a few cautious gulps before lashing it back to my saddle.Finding shelter wasn't difficult. The mesa was riddled with fissures and cracks in its surface, and I found one large enough to crawl into after only a few minutes' searching. It wasn't deep, but that was all right, it wasn't as if any creature large enough to prey upon me would have been able to squeeze inside. Even if it did, I'd probably just eat it.It was uncomfortable, sleeping upright on my back in a cramped cave in the side of a rock wall. I'd spent enough nights sleeping in trees as a girl that I was at least accustomed to that much discomfort. The sun rose slowly in the sky, beating down upon me as the temperature outside rose steadily. I woke repeatedly, using each time as an excuse to crawl out and stretch my limbs, tend to my horse, or relieve myself. I ate dried meat and crackers when I was hungry.By the time evening fell and the desert cooled I was almost rested. My horse certainly was, she was energetic and eager to continue onward when I finally led her out into the light of day once more. Climbing into the saddle, I oriented my horse so that the setting sun was over my left shoulder then continued northwestward. I rode through the night, reading another impossibly dry scroll from the temple's library to pass the time. Instead of salt harvesting I was privileged to learn the intricacies of knot tying as a meditation practice, a subject I found infinitely more engaging.Again the landscape shifted around me with the passing of time and distance. The dunes were replaced by hard, baked earth scattered with patches of grass and palm trees. It was a strange sight, but even stranger that I could spot small herds of camel grazing on those same green shoots. I'd only ever seen camels before in Imperial markets, to see them roaming wild in the open desert was something else entirely. I watched a herd of several dozen from afar, traveling in the same direction I was though careful to keep their distance. The largest of them was an enormous beast. He towered over his fellows, but he was old and stooped and his legs seemed weak. His body was covered in scars, particularly his neck.[3/4]
At some point in the early morning the herd changed course, bringing us within spitting distance for a brief moment. As we passed the camels one of the calves turned to stare at us with eyes set in a flat face. My horse whinnied, rearing up to stomp its forelegs into the dirt. "Easy girl, it's an ugly creature, but it won't hurt you," I soothed my mount, leaning forward to stroke her neck. We passed by without further incident, though the adults of the herd watched us intently until we rode past.It wasn't even an hour later that I spied the walls of Khem in the distance. The sun was rising behind me, the moon was setting ahead, and in between the two a smudge on the horizon gradually resolved itself into a city. The walls themselves were massive, perhaps eighty feet high. They were a dull yellow color in the morning light. There were three gates leading in and out of the city, one to the north, one to the south, and one to the east, but I was approaching the southern gate. It was a slender canyon between the monumental walls, guarded by multiple gates and a horde of sharpshooters. The city had to be brutal in its conservation of space, building up rather than out to remain within those walls. It was a fact driven home once I got close enough to make out the throng of people clustered outside the southern gate. Most of them were clearly merchants. They were camped in tents outside the walls, surrounded by crates full of goods. The rest looked like refugees, beggars, pilgrims, and other destitutes.>Avoid the city, you have more than enough food and water to reach your next destination>>Your next destination is Kaynagin Gerchek, sacred canyon of the northern tribes.>>Your next destination is Pawe Bhajam, powder mill for the monastic community.>Enter the city to find lodgings for the day.>Enter the city to find work.>Enter the city to hunt for someone else gifted with the black blood.>Enter the city to rob someone for quick coin.>Write-in
>>5724662>You'll make sure the letter gets into the hands of the abbot.>>5724665>Avoid the city, you have more than enough food and water to reach your next destination>>Your next destination is Pawe Bhajam, powder mill for the monastic community.
>>5724662>You'll make sure the letter gets into the hands of the abbot.>Your next destination is Pawe Bhajam, powder mill for the monastic community.Let’s avoid this rat’s nest for now, we can come back once we’ve delivered the letter
>>5724662>You'll make sure the letter gets into the hands of the abbot.>>5724665>Enter the city to find lodgings for the day.
>>5724662>Burn the letter, keep the map. Who knows? Maybe you'll need it.>>5724665>Enter the city to find work
>>5724662>You'll make sure the letter gets into the hands of the abbot.>>5724665>Enter the city to rob someone for quick coin.
>>5724665>You'll make sure the letter gets into the hands of the abbot.Seems harmless to us, unless I'm missing something.>>Your next destination is Pawe Bhajam, powder mill for the monastic community.
>>5724662>You'll make sure the letter gets into the hands of the abbot.>>5724665>>Your next destination is Pawe Bhajam, powder mill for the monastic community.>Enter the city to find lodgings for the day.
>>5724662>You'll make sure the letter gets into the hands of the abbot.>>5724665>Your next destination is Pawe Bhajam, powder mill for the monastic community.
>>5724677>>5724686>>5724695>>5724760>>5724840>>5724890>>5725038>You'll deliver the letter>>5724729>Man FUCK that letter, cool map tho.>>5724677>>5724686>>5724840>>5725038>Do not pass go, do not collect $200.>>5724890>>5724695>Take a lil nap>>5724729>Gotta make that schmunny>>5724760>Gimme all your schmunnyWritin'.
I decided to skirt around the western edge of the city rather than enter. There were those who feared the desert and its unforgiving sun, but that seemed a far less daunting opponent than the teeming hordes of humanity within. Khem could well have been the largest city on the mountain, though Aryokam certainly compared. It would take a lifetime to explore. That thought alone was enough to discourage me from entering. My goal was Pawe Bhajjam, and I already had more than enough food for the trip there and back again. I wouldn't need anything from Khem.So I turned my horse north, following the wall for a time. I couldn't see over it, it was simply too tall, so I was left to wonder what went on in its shadow. Eventually I left the wall behind and shortly thereafter came upon a carriage track worn into the red clay, a road leading north. I followed it until the heat grew too unbearable to withstand, at which point I sought shelter for the day among the ruins of a small outpost. There were a handful of buildings in various stages of collapse. A few still had roofs, and there was a well. I refilled my skin before letting my horse drink her fill. Then I found the most structurally sound building in the ruin and curled up inside to sleep.The following evening I set out to the northwest, abandoning the road to follow the stars. I read, as was my habit. Yet the scroll I retrieved from my saddlebags was not another dry treatise on salt farming. Rather, unfurling the scroll revealed a faded illustration at its center of some great beast chained upon a platform. The form of the creature reminded me of a lion, but looking closer I could tell that it had human hands for feet. Its flesh was decaying, or perhaps it was merely injured, its ribs protruding grotesquely through the gaps in its shriveled skin. The beast's head was bowed, but its face was twisted in agony, mouth agape in a scream.Writing surrounded the illustration but the ink was so faded I could barely read it. Holding my lantern closer I could begin to discern two poems, one inscribed upon either side of the creature. I translated the first slowly, not daring to touch the page lest my finger wear away the words.[1/3]
"Your being is naught but thorns and weeds,Cast it all away from you.Sweep out the chamber of your heart,Make it ready to become the dwelling of the Beloved.When you depart, She will enter,And in you, devoid of yourself, will She display Her beauty.The man whom the pains of negation purify,He finds an abode in a laudable station.He finds a portion of what the eye hath not seen and the ear hath not heard.Yet while the stain of your own being remains upon you,The knowledge of the knower assumes not the form of experience.Until you cast away obstacles from before you,The light enters not the chamber of your heart.As there are four obstacles in this world,So also are the modes of purification four.First, purification from the sordid flesh;Second, from the whispers of temptation;Third, from those bad habits which make men as beasts;The fourth is the purification of the secret,For this is the point at which the pilgrim's journeying ceases.Whoso is cleansed with these purifications,Verily they are fit to commune with God.Until you utterly destroy yourself,How can your prayer be true prayer?When your essence is pure from all stain,There remains then no distinction;Knower and known are one and the same."I reached a ravine as I was finishing with the first poem, guiding my reluctant horse to its edge so that I might peer down into the shadows below. Though I couldn't see the bottom I could faintly hear rushing water far below. The walls were sheer, many different layers of stone stacked on top of each other in horizontal bands. I turned my horse west, keeping my eyes low while I searched for the monastery. The second poem, I decided, would have to wait.The sun was still sitting low on the horizon when I spied a stone bridge arching across the canyon. It looked ancient, carved decorations long ago worn away by the elements. Still, I crossed it without incident. On the other side I found a narrow path along the cliff face, and I dismounted to lead my horse down step by slow step. I mounted again at the bottom, riding across slick stones until at last I spied the monastery of Pawe Bhajam emerging from around a bend. It was a massive facility which appeared carved from the very walls of the ravine. Cannons bristled from two large towers guarding a river port, where perhaps two dozen small boats were docked. Steam poured in thick columns from the ventilated domes of three large structures arranged in a row at the center of the complex. The refineries, I guessed.There was but a single gate that I could see, and the narrow path my horse walked led directly to it. I rode closer, squinting at the tall figures standing guard at the entrance. They wore dark clothes with hoods drawn low to obscure their faces. Atop the wall above the gate were more guards with rifles. When I got within shouting distance the guards at the gate called out to me in the southern tongue, "What business do you have here?"[2/3]
I drew to a halt two dozen paces from them. Reaching into my amsuk, I withdrew the leather envelope I'd been given and called back, "I've come from Argakan with a letter for the abbot."The guards exchanged glances, and then one stepped forward to beckon me. "Come closer, then. There's no need to shout."I obliged them, reining my horse to a stop a few paces before the gate. The one who had beckoned me held out his hand and said, "Give me the letter then, I'll see it gets to the abbot and you can be on your way.">Accept his offer and depart.>Lie and insist that the abbess wanted it delivered personally.>Point out that you were promised a payment of ten sarwa.>Lie, and claim that you were promised a payment of twenty sarwa.>Ask if you might be permitted to stay within their walls for the day.>Write-inSorry about the wait, got swamped at work and couldn't slack off quite as much as usual.
>>5728888>Accept his offer and depart.
>>5728888>Point out that you were promised a payment of ten sarwa.
>>5728888>Point out that you were promised a payment of ten sarwa.>Ask if you might be permitted to stay within their walls for the day.
>>5728888>>Point out that you were promised a payment of ten sarwa.>>Ask if you might be permitted to stay within their walls for the day.
>>5728888>Point out that you were promised a payment of ten sarwa.Nice quads
>>5728888>Point out that you were promised a payment of ten sarwa.>Ask if you might be permitted to stay within their walls for the day."Would your Abbot not provide respite to a wearied messenger, if only for a night?"
>>5728969>Aight, cool.>>5729037>>5729062>>5729083>>5729108>>5729128>>5729390>>5729828>Oi bitch get my money>>5729828>>5729390>>5729108>>5729083>Respect the siestaWriting for nap time and payment.
"I was promised a payment of ten sarwa," I countered.The guard frowned at me, but nodded. "I'll get that for you. Now, the letter please."I held it out, and he inspected the knot, casting a glance at me before stalking away. The other guard stared at me openly, his weight leaned against a rifle of an unfamiliar form. It looked like the long jezails common throughout Meru, but where normally those were muzzle-loaded this weapon had a complicated lever action which glowed softly with the blue light of refined ichor. His veil left only his dark eyes visible, but I could smell the divine ichor singing in his blood. It was a faint trace, but nonetheless my stomach growled. The hunger grew sharper the longer I waited, until finally I reached back into my saddlebag for a cracker."Are those from Argakan?" the man asked, a note of jealousy in his voice."They are," I confirmed, taking a bite and chewing slowly. Honeydew, that was the subtle sweetness I was tasting. There must be a grove of tamarisk trees near the shrine. In the early months of summer scale bugs would coat their branches, producing copious amounts of a sweet, sticky secretion which could be scraped off and refined into a syrup. It was a rare treat.The guard watched me eat with open envy until his comrade returned, tossing a purse towards me. I caught it, pulling it open to count the coins inside. Ten sarwa, as agreed. I cinched the purse tight before tucking it into my amsuk. "A pleasure. Might I not entreat you to provide respite to a wearied messenger? I'd be gone with the heat of the day."The guards looked at one another, and then the one who'd fetched my coin said, "Go on, tell the quartermaster to prepare a room for her. And make sure she has an escort while she's here.""Thank you," I said, bowing my head.The guard who lusted for my travel rations turned to go, and I followed, leading my horse past the gate into the monastery proper. It was bustling with activity at that early hour, and I quickly realized that there was a hierarchy in place I wasn't privy to. Dozens of men in dark robes rushed between buildings carrying boxes while guards with rifles stood in pairs observing the proceedings. Yet we passed between market stalls selling food, trinkets, and jewelry to the minority of men dressed in white robes like mine who wore nothing to cover their bald heads. There were very few women around, but they all wore white and wrapped themselves in headscarves like my own.Rising in the stirrups, I swung my right leg over my horse's flanks and then dismounted without missing a step. I led her into a red brick stable to the right of the gate, where I handed the reins to a man wearing a black robe with a hood and veil. He bowed his head briefly and said, "We'll take good care of your horse, sister."[1/2]
I inclined my head in return, then stepped back outside into the busy street with my escort. I could hear shouting voices and the deafening clang of metal against metal echoing from the enormous furnaces built into the cliff wall. Yet I could not smell the heady richness of divinity wafting from those chimneys, nor from the men who rushed past me bearing raw iron and finished cannon. They must refine the ichor elsewhere, perhaps even beneath the very earth.We entered the largest building, a seven story block of stone whose front entrance opened into a courtyard centered around a large fountain where women in white were washing robes. My guide led me past the fountain into a room at the rear of the building. Inside was a woman sitting behind a desk. She was dressed in a black robe with a hood and veil like the man tending my horse, the first woman I'd seen in black. She was writing something on a sheet of parchment, but when she glanced up at us she set down her pen and asked, "What is it?""A messenger from Argakan," my escort said, gesturing to me with one hand. "She's been promised a room and an escort."The woman at the desk squinted at me, "You're early.""I was expected?" I asked."The abbess mentioned that she was sending someone in a dream, but said not to expect you until a few days hence," the woman explained, rising to her feet. "I am the quartermaster. You can call me Sister Amelia," she introduced herself, holding out a hand. She had a thick accent, so unlike the native speakers I'd met, yet it wasn't until I heard her name that I realized she was foreign. Hers was the first name I'd heard since stepping into the desert.>Introduce yourself>>雅玲 - Yaling - Elegant tinkling of jade.>>淑威 - Shuwei - Beautiful power.>>蔼芬 - Aifen - Succulent scent.>>Write-in>Remain nameless permanently.>Remain nameless for now.Stick to vaguely Chinese names, no surname.>What was that about dream messages?>Ask where you'll be staying, you're ready to get some sleep and then continue on to Kaynagin Gerchek.>At the earliest opportunity you plan on giving your escort the slip to snoop around. You want to learn more about refining ichor.>Write-in
>>5729993>>蔼芬 - Aifen - Succulent scent.Weird meaning, but I like the sound of it best.>What was that about dream messages?
>>5729993>蔼芬 - Aifen - Succulent scent.Ponder the aroma
>>5730192>What was that about dream messages?forgot this one
>>5729993>雅玲 - Yaling - Elegant tinkling of jade.>What was that about dream messages?
>>5729993>雅玲 - Yaling - Elegant tinkling of jade.This is sort of amusing given the fact that we are a cannibal weirdo.>At the earliest opportunity you plan on giving your escort the slip to snoop around. You want to learn more about refining ichor.
>>5729993>>Introduce yourself>>>雅玲 - Yaling - Elegant tinkling of jade.>At the earliest opportunity you plan on giving your escort the slip to snoop around. You want to learn more about refining ichor.
>>5729993>Remain nameless for now.>Ask where you'll be staying, you're ready to get some sleep and then continue on to Kaynagin Gerchek.
>>5730587>>5730324>>5730293>>5730254>Tinkle tinkle, bitch>>5730169>>5730192>Why yes, my parents did want to eat me. Why do you ask?>>5730365>The (wo)man with no name.>>5730587>>5730254>>5730193>>5730169>Your dreams talk to you?>>5730293>>5730324>>5730365>Time 2 snoopI'll write for asking about dreams and then sneaking away as early as possible.
I frowned. Normally I'd shake hands when I introduced myself but the woman hadn't offered, and she was the host. It was very rude of her. "Yaling," I said, the sound of my own name unfamiliar. Clasping my hands behind my back, I offered only the subtlest bow at the waist. "You said a dream spoke of my arrival?"Amelia nodded, "It's useful for sending short messages but everything is subject to the strange logic of dreams.""What does that mean?" I asked, tilting my head."It means you don't always receive what you expect," Amelia shrugged. "I'll give you an example: my warning of your arrival took the form of a lioness stalking through the gates of the monastery holding an envelope in its mouth, accompanied by the taste of honeydew and a vague impression of a time in the future. Yet here you are, a week early, without a lion, and honeydew isn't in season. What does that tell you?""That dreams are fickle," I suggested.Amelia smirked, "Or that reality is."I squinted, but couldn't think of a retort. Dreams were indeed fickle, and not a tool I'd ever attempted to use. "How does one send a dream message?" I asked instead.Amelia shrugged, "By drinking a vial of refined ichor mixed with opium dissolved in alcohol and falling asleep while thinking of the person you wish to speak to and the message you wish to send. It's easy, but unreliable.""Opium is a potent poison," I noted, frowning."So is divine ichor," Amelia pointed out."Divine ichor is a powerful medicine," I corrected her."So is opium," Amelia countered. "To a degree.""It's addictive," I insisted."Divine ichor is highly addictive, opium merely takes the edge off withdrawal," Amelia replied. "But we digress. Come, follow me, I'll show you to a room. You can get settled there while I find an acolyte to serve you during your stay.""I don't need a servant," I argued. "I can get my own food and drink."Amelia shook her head, "There would be a very orderly riot if an unaccompanied stranger was allowed to walk freely among us. Trust me, it's easier this way. Now, follow."I followed, my previous escort making for the exit while the quartermaster led me up several flights of stairs. On the fourth floor I was shown into a small, featureless room carved from yellow stone. It was oppressively dark until Amelia twisted a brass key on the wall and snapped her fingers. There was a spark, and a lamp on the back wall ignited. It cast rhythmically flickering white light across the room, positioned above a small desk. To the right of the desk was an empty bookshelf, while to the left stood a wardrobe. The bed was to the right of the door and consisted of a straw mattress suspended on ropes.[1/5?]
Amelia pointed to the wardrobe and said, "There should be robes in there to replace the ones you're wearing. Just toss yours into the laundry downstairs when you get a chance," she paused, glancing at my bloodstained, dusty, threadbare robes. "Or burn them, it's probably better that way.""Thank you," I replied, nodding politely.Amelia didn't smile or say goodbye. She just left, pulling the door shut behind her. I listened to her footsteps retreating down the hall before stepping over to the wardrobe. It was made of a rich, dark wood I didn't recognize, but which must surely have cost a fortune. The hinges and lock were made of brass, the handles solid iron. It was a beautiful thing. Opening the doors revealed a freshly bleached set of kampal and amsuk, plus a handful of neatly stacked loincloths and footwraps.I stripped out of my old clothes, folding and then tucking them into a shelf at the bottom of the wardrobe. Then, donning the fresh robes and transferring my belongings into new pockets, I closed the doors and felt a thrill when they latched automatically. It was such a small, simple pleasure to have a wardrobe that shut by itself, but I enjoyed the novelty regardless.There was still no sign of an acolyte by the time I'd rewrapped my feet and shoved them back into my boots, so I tested the door handle. Locked. Still, the door hadn't been built to hold someone like me. Adjusting my grip on the handle, I slowly leveraged more and more of my weight against it until at last I heard a loud, metallic snap. The handle fell to the floor with a clatter, the door swinging outward.I picked up the handle and managed to put it back on the door, but there was no way to close it. Instead I left it slightly ajar, making for the stairwell. I descended to the ground floor, following my nose deeper into the monastery through brightly lit corridors towards the smell of fresh food. It led me to duck through an archway, beyond which I found a cavernous chamber, its vaulted ceiling painted with a fresco of the blue sky above. Low wooden tables were arranged in long rows, embroidered silk cushions cutting their own messy lines in parallel. It reminded me very much of the dining hall where I'd eaten the monk. Garlanded lampposts hung from the ceiling, spaced regularly to cast the room in artificial daylight. Yet for all the decoration, there was nothing that could hide the essential truth that the ceiling and walls were carved from the bedrock. The weight of the earth above, the knowledge that at any time it may collapse and crush all those within, unsettled me.[2/5?]
Still, my stomach growled at the smell of fresh bread and cooked meat wafting through the chamber. The source was the kitchen, which lay at the far end. There I found two dozen women in white toiling away, cooking and washing dishes. Six deep ovens were carved into the ground, heavy ceramic lids covering their openings. Two women knelt beside each, working in teams to slide out finished loaves of flatbread and slap fresh dough onto the sides of each oven. Another six worked at a long wooden table, kneading dough. Two women were cutting slabs of goat meat into cubes, while two more peeled and chopped vegetables, and the youngest girls were left with the grunt work of grinding spices and cleaning dishes.I joined a queue; meals, at least, were not divided between those in black robes and those in white. Each person approached a counter where they received tray bearing a bowl of rice, a plate with few rounds of flatbread, and a cup of goat khoresh. A young girl served me, bowing her head and smiling widely, "Thank you for coming Sister, may you be blessed in your labors.""Thank you," I said, echoing a hundred others before me. Then with a bow of my own head I retreated from the counter with the proffered meal, turning to study the crowd. There were hundreds, likely even thousands of men and women living in Pawe Bhajam. Yet they seemed organized, efficient. I wandered the chamber, weaving between crowded tables until I found a vacant cushion by the wall and sat crosslegged.Setting my tray down, I tore off a chunk of flatbread and used it to pinch off a mouthful of steaming rice. Then I dipped the flatbread into the khoresh, scooping up goat meat and vegetables before popping it in my mouth. It was delicious. Rich, gamey, and spiced, the khoresh was perfectly complimented by the chewy flatbread and the tangy, pungent rice. They must have added vinegar.I ate slowly, watching the people around me. There were dozens of conversations, but most were in the southern tongue and I didn't bother trying to parse them. Yet there was one pair speaking the language of the Imperials, and their words caught my ear. I strained to hear them over the din, focusing my attention."...do you think he'll do it?" a man asked. He had a southern Imperial accent, his speech slower and more guttural than my own. He was dressed in dark robes like the guards at the gate.His companion, an older woman wearing a white robe like mine, shrugged. When she spoke it was in the refined, lilting pronunciation of the Imperial court. "It would be the first time in centuries that the monastic communities sent representatives to a meeting."[3/4?]
"Centuries is a bit dramatic," the man replied, frowning. "This century perhaps. It's certainly been at least sixty years.""Still," the woman said, shooing away the inconvenient truth. "Why now, and why him? He's the most conservative abbot in the region.""I'll tell you why," the man said, leaning closer conspiratorially. "It's because the Imperials have their eyes set on Pawe Bhajam. There are spies, right now, within our very midst. Perhaps even listening in on this very conversation."The woman scoffed, "You don't really believe that, do you?""They could be anywhere," the man hissed. "Even in the black robes. The Imperials are a threat, and Abbot Rijah doesn't understand that.""Abbot Rijah understands exactly what the Imperials are and what they intend," the woman shot back. "Which is why he refuses to acknowledge their existence. It's not cowardice that motivates him, it's wisdom. The Imperials are a hydra, cut off one head and two more will grow in its place. You'd do well to follow the abbot's example and keep your sword sheathed.""If you won't fight them, they'll devour you," the man insisted. "This monastery will fall, the refinery will be captured and turned against us, and then the Imperials will march on Khem.""If the Imperials capture the refinery, we'll build another," the woman retorted."And what will you do if they capture Khem?" the man pressed."Survive," the woman replied, shrugging. "That's what we've always done. The Imperials have never been an existential threat to us, and they never will be."The man scowled, "You speak of it so easily now, but I have a feeling that once we're refugees in the desert you'll sing a different tune.""Not refugees," the woman shook her head. "Pilgrims.""Pilgrims," the man echoed, rolling his eyes.I finished my meal while listening to their conversation, but the topic drifted elsewhere. I'd always heard monastics were terrible gossips, but to think that already the contents of the letter were a matter of public speculation was troubling. It hadn't even been an hour since I'd arrived.Setting my tray aside, I rose and made for the archway I'd entered through, weaving between tables. Yet before I could reach the exit a diminutive woman in white robes accosted me, blocking my path. "Aren't you going to take your dishes to the kitchen?" she demanded."I... what?" I blinked down at her, then I smelled it. The scent of divine ichor radiated from the woman so strongly my mouth began to water despite my recent meal. I wet my lips unconsciously, pupils dilating. "I'm sorry, what did you say?" I asked again.The woman gestured to the tray I'd left at my table and said, "This is communal space. If you're finished, take your dishes to the kitchen.""Right," I muttered, glancing back the way I'd come. "Of course, sorry."[4/5]
Turning, I wound my way back through the crowded room towards my vacated cushion. Snatching up the tray, I navigated the tables to the kitchen. There I handed it over to one of the girls washing dishes, who bowed her head and said, "Thank you, Sister!" before depositing it in a bin beside her.I started to leave, but then an idea struck me. I wanted to find the refinery. I could do that by following someone that already knew the way. It stood to reason that the people who worked in the refinery would probably be those that smelled strongest of divinity. Glancing around, I spotted the woman who'd scolded me still standing near the archway and watched her for a moment. She was a diminutive, old thing, her white robes hanging loosely off her shoulders. White hair poked out from beneath her headscarf, a stark contrast to her dark, wrinkled skin. Yet she stood with her back straight, shoulders squared, arms crossed. There was no fragility to her stance.It was hard for a woman my size to go unnoticed, so I wasn't surprised when the older nun glanced in my direction. I smiled, bowing my head politely, and her brow furrowed. She turned and stalked off, disappearing into the corridor.>Follow her.>Look for someone else.>Attempt to find the refinery on your own.>Return to your room, see if that acolyte made an appearance.>Check out the forges.>Explore one of the other buildings.>Write-in
>>5731139>Return to your room, see if that acolyte made an appearance.
>>5731139>>Check out the forges.
>>5731139>Return to your room, see if that acolyte made an appearanceBest to come to an arrangement before we go sneaking around. Let’s tie them up if we have to?
>>5731139>>Attempt to find the refinery on your own.
>>5732104>>5731872>>5731311>>5731276>>5731213>Go bully a child>>5731812>Wander aimlessly>>5731239>On this episode of How It's Made, cannons.
While I was sorely tempted to follow the old nun, after a moment's hesitation I decided to return to the room I'd been provided. I was curious to see whether that acolyte really would show up; I'd need to convince them that it was in their best interest to cooperate with me. The easiest way to do that was usually bribery but I didn't exactly have much to bribe them with. Navigating the halls back the way I came, I climbed the stairs to my room and pushed the door open. The handle fell to the ground, the latch clattering. "Fuck," I muttered."Fixing that will be expensive," a voice observed from within.Stepping inside, I found a girl seated on my bed. She was around twelve, the second nun I'd seen wearing the black robes. Her veil and hood were down, revealing a shaved head. Amber eyes glared at me from a deeply tanned, freckled face. She'd leaned her weight against the wall and sat with her legs tucked up against her chest, arms wrapped around her knees."It's not broken," I said, kicking the handle up off the floor with a boot and snatching it out of the air. "Just loose. Slap some glue on, it'll be as good as new."The girl smirked, shaking her head, "You think glue can fix a broken latch? They'll have to cut the entire handle off, carve a new one from the same wood, and hope they can get the grain the same way. It'll take weeks, and it still won't close properly.""You sound awfully sure of yourself," I observed, closing the door behind me as much as possible. "Why not just cut an entirely new door?""Because wood is expensive," the girl explained, shaking her head, "and the quartermaster is frugal.""Why use wood at all, then?" I asked, crossing the room to deposit the handle on my desk. "I'm not responsible for your reckless ignorance of the desert's realities. Use metal. Use fabric and forgo privacy altogether."The girl raised an eyebrow at me, "Metal is expensive too, and we need it for our cannons.""Perhaps the quartermaster should consider that the next time she locks me into a room," I spit, more venom in my tone than I'd intended."Who are you?" the girl asked abruptly.I blinked, "Yaling. Who are you?""Acolyte Nushana," the girl replied, uncurling to swing her legs over the side of the bed. "I've been assigned to serve you.""Oh," I paused, studying the girl. There was hardly a morsel of flesh on her bones, her robes hanging loosely from her frame. Yet beneath them I could still smell her blood calling out to me faintly."Oh?" the girl echoed, craning an eyebrow at me.>Demand that she take you to the refinery, under threat.>Ask for a tour, and try to glean the location of the refinery that way.>What's the deal with the black and white robes?>Ask something else about the monastery [Write-in]>Is there any mischief to get up to?>Tell the acolyte to leave, you're going to bed.>Write-in
>>5733496>>Ask for a tour, and try to glean the location of the refinery that way.>>What's the deal with the black and white robes?
>>5733496>Ask for a tour, and try to glean the location of the refinery that way.
>>5733496>Ask for a tour, and try to glean the location of the refinery that way.>What's the deal with the black and white robes?>Is there any mischief to get up to?>How did she end up here as a nun?
>>5733536Backing this, let’s stay on target. No need to get the whole life story, show us the godgoo kiddo
>>5733496>Ask for a tour, and try to glean the location of the refinery that way.>What's the deal with the black and white robes?
>>5736810Update Soon™Work got busy, haven't had as much time to write. Probably 2/3rds of the way done.
I pulled the chair out from the desk and turned it to face the acolyte. Then I sat down and asked, "What do the robes mean? Black and white, I've realized there's a division of labor but I can't figure out what it is.""I belong to the biruni sect, those who concern themselves with the external," Nushana explained. "My brothers and sisters wear black, study martial arts, operate the forges, and defend the monastery. Those in white belong to the daruni sect, those concerned with the internal. They cook, clean, study theurgy, teach, care for the gardens, and work with the essence of the divine.""Interesting," I nodded, glancing down at my white robes. "How many are daruni and how many biruni?"Nushana shrugged, "Enough. Are you going to send me on errands or not?""Doesn't it kind of seem cruel to make the people who stand out in the sun all day wear black?" I asked, ignoring her question."It's actually not that bad," she replied, reaching down to tug on her loose robes. They were of a different cut than my own; the girl wore a loincloth so voluminous that it resembled trousers nearly hidden underneath a knee-length drape of dark cotton. "You're less exposed and the robes breathe better, plus the veil has a thin film of silk that protects the eyes and face. Biruni wear black because that's the color of death, the color of the darkness in which the divine was born.""That sounds awfully pretentious," I noted.Nushana snorted, "You should hear the daruni lecture on color theory. Red is the color of passion, orange the color of creativity, and so on.""I have a task for you," I announced with all the gravitas I could muster. "I require a tour of the monastery.""A tour," Nushana repeated, craning an eyebrow at me.I leaned away from her, resting my elbows on the back of my chair and steepling my fingers beneath my chin. "Yes," I intoned. "A tour.""I could do that," Nushana mused, rising to her feet. "It would probably be more interesting than sitting around here."I smiled, "Excellent. Lead the way, Acolyte Nushana.""Just Nana is fine," the girl grumbled, pulling her hood up to cover her shaved head and then affixing her veil across her face. Once she was sufficiently concealed, she glanced at me and asked, "Ready?""Lead on," I rose, gesturing to the door.Nana pushed through it. I set the handle back, suspending it precariously in place before cracking the door. Hopefully no one else would notice the damage until I was gone. Then we descended the stairs together, Nana walking so quickly I had to jog to keep up. When we reached the bottom she said, "This building is the dormitory. There are two hundred rooms like the one they gave you. The first floor is given over to storage, communal space, and offices for administration. Follow me."[1/5]
I followed Nana past the large fountain which dominated the ground floor courtyard, no longer crowded with daruni washing laundry. Instead a handful of biruni practiced sword forms, their blades whistling through the air. Nana didn't pause, exiting the dormitory into the network of brightly lit corridors carved into the bedrock that I'd briefly explored on my own."This is the dining hall up here on the right," Nana gestured, "and down there is a bathhouse," she indicated a hallway on our left, perpendicular to the one we were walking down. "Women bathe on even numbered days, men on the odds. Next is a classroom, an armory, an infirmary, and here is the library," she said, pointing to each of three doors on our left before the path we walked curved sharply to the right. The door to the library was at the apex of that turn, and Nana led me inside."There are five libraries in Pawe Bhajam," Nana loudly explained, sweeping her arms wide to indicate the cavernous chamber we'd entered. The center was dominated by row after row of shelves carved into the bedrock, each occupied by countless scrolls. Ladders on rails hung against each shelf to allow access to their upper reaches. There were two levels of desks set against the walls, where daruni dressed in white robes sat in silence reading or taking notes. Nana's bold declaration drew several baleful glances. "Each library is restricted based on sect and rank, and this is the lowest," Nana continued, lowering her voice to a whisper."The lowest?" I whispered back.Nana nodded, "There are two biruni libraries and two daruni libraries, but members of both sects are allowed access to this one. It mostly contains historical records, practical manuals on mundane topics, and religious scripture.""I'm guessing I wouldn't be allowed into any of the restricted libraries?" I asked, glancing around at the scrolls.Nana stared at me for a moment, then shrugged. "Come on, I'll show you the lesser of the biruni libraries."We exited back into the hallway and continued around the bend, a slight decline in the path suggesting we were descending deeper into Meru. We passed a guard stationed at an archway, a biruni armed with one of their unusual rifles. She glanced at Nana, ignoring me, and nodded her head, "Acolyte Nushana.""Ostiary Vahti," Nana returned the greeting, nodding her own head. Then she led me past the guard into a subterranean courtyard. The ceiling was painted to resemble the night sky, with stars that cast a soft glow across the room. A recessed pool dominated the center, surrounded by sand. A handful of biruni practiced sword forms in the cool, dim light. Nana led me past them, approaching a doorway set into the far wall. Again we were nodded past a guard, descending a winding spiral staircase which seemed somehow more ancient than the rest of the monastery.[2/5]
"This library is accessible by biruni who have attained the rank of acolyte or higher," Nana whispered to me upon reaching a door at the bottom of the stairs. She led me through into a winding maze of carved stone shelves. The scrolls within this library were more diverse, theology and philosophy mixed with martial arts and herbalism. "It's mostly reserved for biruni preparing for their trials, but any of my brothers and sisters may study here.">Snatch a few scrolls, hide them in your amsuk.>Keep your hands to yourself."Trials?" I asked, jogging to catch up with Nana."To advance ranks," Nana explained. "I'm just an acolyte so I haven't actually undergone any of the trials, I don't know what they are. Even if I did, I couldn't tell you.""Of course not," I nodded. "Do biruni undergo trials exclusively, or are daruni involved?""I don't know," Nana admitted. "I'd guess that both have their own tests to advance.""Interesting," I mused.We exited the library into another hallway, staying on the lower level. I saw no more guards or acolytes, and I wondered if that was because we were within the biruni section of the monastery, or because it was approaching the heat of the day. When Nana opened the door at the end of the hall, however, the sound of hammering and shouting drew my attention. A wave of heat washed over me the moment we stepped into a large, open chamber. At its center was a smelter, belching out clouds of smoke while black robes swarmed around it like insects."This is the forge, one of them," Nana shouted at me over the din, leading me to the right side of the room where we could stand against the wall.I nodded, looking around. It was hard to see through the haze of smoke, but there were men and women working all around me. They were using hammers to flatten glowing metal into thin plates, bending those plates to form the shapes of barrels and wheels. Others worked bellows, stoking the flames that roared from within the heart of the smelter.Nana led me along the wall past a few dozen men and women laboring away in the heat, and we exited into another corridor. She stopped there, turning to face me and saying, "There are dozens of forges beneath the monastery. The biruni are in charge of manufacturing our weapons and equipment, the daruni handle the refining and distribution of ichor. They also inlay pieces of the goddess's bone into weapons and armor. The abbot is a master of that art.""Where is the refinery?" I asked, doing my best to sound innocent.Nana snorted, "You're really terrible at this.""What?" I asked, frowning.Nana shook her head, "You're a spy. That's obvious.""I'm not a spy, just curious," I said defensively. "I'm a pilgrim, remember?""A pilgrim who carries a pistol with a grip of divine ivory," Nana countered.I squinted, "It's a dangerous place, this desert. It seems like you'd want your pilgrims to be armed."[3/5]
"I don't really care," Nana said, shrugging. "I'm just a lowly acolyte. I don't need to know what's going on to follow orders.""I'm not a spy," I insisted. "Or if I am, I'm only spying for my own selfish interests and have no desire to interfere with the inner workings of your monastic society.""I won't answer your question," Nana replied.I sighed, "Fine, lead on. Can we at least go to the gardens for a snack?" I reasoned that, given the daruni tended the gardens, they'd be positioned closer to the refinery.Nana glanced at the door back into the forge, then cast a suspicious glare back at me. "I guess we have time for that," she said at last, leading me back up to the surface. We emerged into the heat of midday, the air scorching my throat with every breath. It was oppressively hot, so I followed Nana quickly across the docks to another section of the monastery, one I'd walked past upon arriving. It was accessed via a narrow alley between the stables and another forge, this one belching a horrible sulfurous scent into the air.I was surprised when Nana ducked into another spiraling staircase, leading me once again beneath the earth. "You garden underground?" I asked."Yes," Nana confirmed. "There's a network of tunnels and caves below the monastery. Most are natural but we've expanded them greatly over the years, creating chambers large and small. This is where we grow the crops that feed us, where we keep our livestock, and where we process the black blood of the Goddess."A smirk tugged up the corner of my lips but I suppressed it. I'd been right. The refinery was near the gardens. It wouldn't be hard to find once I was alone, but first I'd have to get Nana to leave me behind.We descended the stairs for what felt like an unreasonably long time, at one point passing a sharp division between newly laid stone and ancient, worn bedrock. Finally we reached the bottom, where we stepped into a cool, dim cavern. Lampposts flanked the path, casting a throbbing orange light across the room that made my exposed flesh tingle uncomfortably. That light failed to reach the ceiling, fading into a black void high above us. Row upon row of crops stretched out before us, mostly rice and millet. Yet I could see beans and squash too, plus there was a large pen off to one side crowded with milling goats. The smell of blood and animal hung heavy in the air.I followed Nana through the crops towards a sound that I couldn't place until we got closer. It was a chorus of rhythmic sloshing, the sound of a dozen people moving around a large, shallow pool. At its center was a fountain, pouring forth a steady stream of water from a pipe jutting out of the wall. The daruni used enormous wooden pestles to pound rice, loosening the husk and bran from the grain. Other white-robed figures separated the milled grain into baskets, while still others sifted through the slurry for rice hulls and other detritus to feed the goats.[4/5]
Nana led me past the laborers to a small grove of date palms growing in the unnatural light. There were baskets piled high with fruit beneath their branches, and Nana plucked two for us. I popped the entire thing in my mouth, spitting out the pit while I chewed. She peeled hers, discarding the pit but offering me the skin. I shook my head and she tossed it over her shoulder.I was surprised to realize I was having fun. The girl was a good guide, and I found myself genuinely interested in learning about this underground society. Still, I was there on a mission and there was something distracting me from the food. I could smell that delicious scent, the stench of ichor. It wafted through the caverns like a song, calling out to me.>Make your excuses and ditch Nana.>You can be patient. Get some rest then come back later to snoop.>This is more trouble than it's worth, time to move on to Kaynagin Gerchek.>Write-inDon't forget to vote on >>5739050
>>5739050>Keep your hands to yourself.Best not to steal something - our door won’t lock and we can reasonably expect that the monks will go through our belongings.>Make your excuses and ditch Nana.We’re an ichor-junkie, ditch the kid for our fix
>>5739050>Snatch a few scrolls, hide them in your amsuk.>>5739053>Make your excuses and ditch Nana.
>>5739053>>Keep your hands to yourself.>>Make your excuses and ditch Nana.
>>5739050>Keep your hands to yourself.>>5739053>You can be patient. Get some rest then come back later to snoop.
>>5739056>>5739206>>5739342>>5739732>Swiper no swiping!>>5739245>Five finger discount>>5739056>>5739206>>5739245>>5739342>Ditch this kid>>5739732>Take a lil nap.
Oh shit dude it's Soma, how've you been dude? Still doing archeology and stuff?
"Where's the latrines?" I asked, chewing another mouthful of date."At the back of the cavern," Nana said, gesturing over her shoulder. "Why?""Because I need to piss," I explained, wiping my forearm across my mouth."We can go back up now," Nana offered."No, no, I'll take care of it quickly," I said, stepping past her. I turned, glancing over my shoulder and adding, "It'll just be a minute or two."Nana watched me go, but didn't follow. I wove my way through the crops to the back of the cavern, where I did indeed find a row of latrines dug into the bedrock. They were little more than a bench with a hole over which to squat, and they smelled terrible. I passed them, following the scent of ichor into the dark of a tunnel near-by. I had to stoop to enter, and then I walked slowly through the passage, hands outstretched to feel my way in the dark.I had no idea how far I walked, only that the smell grew stronger the deeper I went. The walls began to change. Unyielding stone transitioned into soft, fleshy tissue. The floor became spongy and yielding, my feet sinking an inch deep with every step. The stench of divinity was overpowering and my thoughts felt like they were swimming through a fog of hunger.Then a light up ahead revealed the horror that I was walking through. The roof was supported by a monstrous spinal column, ribs curving down the walls like a cage. Bony growths like teeth jutted out from the walls, some nearly a foot long. The floor was covered in a layer of rancid fat and pus. More of it gathered in swollen sacs, pushing through the flesh like cancerous tumors.I stopped before a membranous valve, bright white light spilling through the thin flesh. I pressed my hand against it, suppressing nausea and focusing on my purpose. The membrane pulsated beneath my palm, trembling and throbbing. Then the tripartite valve split open with a wet squelch like a flower in bloom. Beyond was a cavernous chamber in which a heart lay suspended amidst a web of tendons. It was a massive thing, ten feet tall and easily that wide. It throbbed slowly. Each rattling beat pumped blackened ichor through a network of arteries that fed back into the fleshy walls of the chamber.Belatedly I realized that the heart was a constructed thing. I could see limbs sticking out of the muscle at odd angles, the curve of a spine, a set of ribs. It was dozen people melted together by some horrible alchemy. Yet it lived and breathed and throbbed. I hoped fervently that no remnant of a mind lingered within, aware of what it had become.[1/2]
The chamber was lit by an enormous blister that dangled from the ceiling, pulsing and throbbing and filling the room with sickly yellow radiance. In that unnatural light I could see that modifications had been made to the chamber to facilitate the flow of the goddess's black blood. Pacing around the horror in a slow circle, I saw that a silver needle as long as I was tall pierced its right atrium, suspended on a wooden frame. A thick rubber tube extended from the needle, carrying ichor from the heart through a hole drilled into the walls. A door lay underneath, and I could hear voices beyond it.>Rip the hose, drink ichor straight from the heart.>You're dressed like a daruni. Step into the refinery and act like you belong.>Retreat. Now that you know where it is, you can always come back later.>Write-in>>5742514Only as a hobby these days. Somehow ended up as a software engineer.
>>5742609>You're dressed like a daruni. Step into the refinery and act like you belong.As hungry as we are, I don’t think we can handle a blast of godjuice right from the source - we would probably mutate into a mindless abomination. Maybe we can blend in and look for a smaller, digestible amount?
>>5742609>Retreat. Now that you know where it is, you can always come back later.tic tac tic tac
>>5742609>>You're dressed like a daruni. Step into the refinery and act like you belong.Yum yum
>>5742609>You're dressed like a daruni. Step into the refinery and act like you belong.
>>5742609>Retreat. Now that you know where it is, you can always come back later.>Somehow ended up as a software engineer.Many such cases
>>5742609>>Rip the hose, drink ichor straight from the heart.SCHLOP SCHLOP
>>5742617>>5742735>>5742805>>5743079>Fake it 'til you make it.>>5742692>>5743041>Come again soon>>5743247>SCHLOP SCHLOP SCHLOPWritin'
>>5745552It's probably coming on a new thread
>>5745570>>5745552Yeah I'm gonna let this thread die then pop another one up same day.