We are falling. MM grabs for the net. This is not the honorable death she prefers. She grabs, it breaks, she grabs again and just gets the bottom, hanging there. R simply wills herself to fly with the power of the crystal. She flies in mid-air. Ash grabs, it breaks, he grabs the last piece and it holds. Peter grabs for the net and gets it in one. Sun does, too. All others are fine. MK is in mid-air, flying with his new wings. As we return to the cave, MK spots MM and flies down to where she is climbing back up the net. He waits until she gets safely back on the cave floor. He tests hovering, but it doesn't work. There are others on the net besides us. MK notices a four-legged man-sized snake (or maybe a man with a snake head) moving rapidly across the net, headed for our cave. R watches to be sure they all get to the cave safely. MM is the last one, and she also sees the creature. She can't get to the cave before it will. She shouts a warning. MM turns and sees the creature as she steps into the cave. She reaches for the sword she no longer has. She waits for it. It steps smoothly into the cave. He is armed. He wears armor on his arms and legs, sword at his side. And wicked looking fangs, which he flashes menacingly at us. It asks who is that, pointing at MK. She tells him honestly, he's my cousin. R goes ew, it's a snakey thing, and stays in mid air. It puts his hand on his sword and says "Is he a devotee of Nergal or Zteentch". She says certainly not this nergal being, but if anyone, zteentch, thinking about how he's been talking. He gets close to my neck with his teeth. Are you sure? Yes. He turns to R, steps to the edge, points at her. How are you flying? She moves back a little, and answers By the power that is within me. MK remembers that he can hover, just not with the wings. He does so. // We are in F'Thaktoi B'Kah, the name of this cave complex. // He says to R, it's against the rules of F'Thaktoi B'Kah. R say Tzeentch gave me this power. He hisses skeptically, in that case you should not claim it has coming from within. She shrugs. Yeah whatever. He says magic is strictly forbidden. (He's saying that he thought what she said originally was that it was magical, which is forbidden. He's not sure about it, but accepts her claim for now.) He leaps to the net and crawls down it quickly and agilely. R watches until he disappears into a cave down there. Then she joins the rest in the cave. We aren't the only ones in this cave. There are a number of other cultists, maybe 50 or so. MK hovers at the mouth of the cave. MM waited for him. R just landed, so she's right there, too. The are cultists right here, too. Crowded. No private conversations are possible. MK speaks in Nipponese, tels us about fight, sky shark, loss, fail, but since the hole is protected, it may be vulnerable. Jose points out that the hole might just be a hole where demons live. MK sticks to his guns; the demon's presence proves the hole is important in some way. MM explains about the item he had with him. She's certain they can recoer it and their things when they need to. MM says they had no interest inany of our belongings in particular, just that we shouldn't have them with us. Peter notices that the cultists moved away from us, staring at us feafully. Esp at Bark and the Nipponese-speakes. Peter also notes that this place is the most squalid pit he's ever seen. The people are in various states of ill health and disease, malnutrition, frostbite, fever, open sores. The place stinks to high hell. To one side of the opening is an alcove, and it's full of shit, flies, maggots, rats, smells, disease, etc. R sighs. They've got their work cut out for them here. If anyone will even let Peter and she do anything.

As I stared at the pile of filth and the poor idiot worshippers of death, Behind me, I heard Kyuskay say rather formally, "I have failed and am becoming a creature of chaos". I turned to look at him -- still hovering in mid-air, wings outstretched -- wondering why he was stating out of the blue the obvious, and he'd taken Carmella's dagger that he was carrying with him and sliced his stomach across. I stared, horrified, frozen, as he began to fall to the rocks below, blood and guts spilling from the gaping wound. Miara stood there, idly watching, not saying a word, even though she's been clear all along that she regards herself as his guardian.

Before he hit the ground, I managed to summon up an air spirit and have it catch and return Kyuskay. Could I save him before he died? I watched the air spirit fly him up, and Kyuskay, weakened and near death as he was, managed another cut, this one vertically. The dagger dropped from his lifeless hands, and the gush of blood slowed.

The air spirit dropped him at my feet. His last breath eased out as I dropped to my knees at his side, and I instantly gave him everything I had. Before I even sagged, Peter was there with me, restoring me, and again I sent it all to Kyuskay. Peter shared with me what was left of his strength, and we sagged against each other. I stared at Kyuskay, willing him to live. Was I too late?

But Kyuskay breathed, and breathed again, and opened his eyes. Yes, he was alive. But for how long? He was already looking at me with some irritation.

I told him, "Don't do that again." Like he'd take orders from me; so I backed it up with something he might accept. "Your mission is not finished." He and Miara take duties very seriously.

He eyes turned a little sad, and he said, "Please don't stop me again. You have no concept of honor."

That was definitely not an argument I could win, although how a pointless death at a crucial pivot point when anybody might be the one single person we need to stop Tzeentch could possibly be accounted as honorable was beyond me.

I just replied sternly, "Your mission is not yet done, and you can't leave yet." I winced at the admission I'd just made inadvertantly. Later, I seemed to tell him, I'd let him kill himself. I didn't mean it that way and I wondered if I would be pressed to keep to that unholy implied promise. But for now, he shook his head, muttered something about honorless barbarians, and laid back down hopelessly.

Peter and I were very tired, and we sat against the wall. Still, I heard what Miara said to her young cousin. She sat down beside him, and told him gently, "Yours was a small failure, not a large one, since you did not lose the item. We still have it, and can still do what we need to with it." He nodded agreement, but reminded her that he was dishonored by becoming a beastman. She nodded and replied, "It may well be that taking care of the item will clear your condition and return you to normal."

"Perhaps, but then again, perhaps not." He looked at Miara with a peculiar pleading expression, but asked nothing. She nodded, and he smiled, relieved. I have no idea what they managed to communicate to each other, but I suspect it's something I won't like.

I thought about the dagger he'd dropped. We'd had it a long time, and we'd destroyed a lot of undead with it. It was technically Carmella's, not that she cared about much of anything anymore. I thought about sending an air spirit to recover it, but I was tired and nobody else thought about it. So there it stayed, and is probably there still.

What now? The other cultists are quite afraid of us. We were supposed to hide our powers and pretend to be simple cultists. That hasn't worked out so well.

A woman steps into the cave from the net, not as agile as the snake guy. She was clearly once a lovely woman, but her clothing is now ruined, she's lost all her teeth, her skin is marred (facial lesions). She's tall, matted blond hair, still built. She's still the best bet around (besides us, that is). She intros herself as Adriana. Looks at us, ignores the rest cowering as near to the back of the cave as they can get. She ignores beastmen-like (MK, Bark, Slurk); she ignores warrior-types (WD, Ash -- MM looks like a woman in little clothing, no arms, not a warrior). She speaks to the rest (Peter, R, Sun, Car) Motherly towards R, MM, Car, Sun and alluring to Jose, Peter; maybe a little competitiveness towards MM (but not a lot, MM's just average, not gorgeous). She is here to tell us some of the rules of this place. How they do things here, so that we might more quickly rise in the glory of Tzeentch. We don't seem hostile to her ideas, so she continues. She pauses, to gather her thoughts, trying her best to explain something to us, preparing to speak. She's emotional about this. She begins in an almost rapturous voice.

Death, will come, mutations, growths, etc. Welcome to Fthak, welcome! Every member has a rank, and sleeping arrangements are given out accordingly. We are lowest rank and will sleep her. If w follow the rules and seen in the light of Tzeentch, we will rise quickly in the ranks. And our sleeping quarters will improve, and our privileges will as well. Life is hard here. We struggle to follow the wishes of Tzeentch in all things. The quickest way to rise in rank is to follow quickly and without question the rules here. These rules are:

  • To obey the great master Mario Malusalbus.
  • To throw off false doctrine for the pure teachings of the master.
  • To contemplate the teachings of Tzeentch.
  • To cast off love.
  • To embrace change including the great change, death.
  • To abandon material things.
  • To wait in ecstasy for the moment all things will be changed forever.

These people are seriously disturbed.

MM has a thought, keeps it to herself. They can make things happen as if by Zeentch, and no one needs be the wiser. The woman smiles, turns, and leaves. MM explains the above, and her idea, to MK. Sow confusion. Or kill someone who needs killing. There is a boy (sickly, but healthy for around here), and he cautiously is trying to get around us and out the door. Peter steps aside and lets him go around, and he sidles around and scampers up the net. MM explains why we're here to MK. Slurk is here also, with us. Hasn't been here the whoel time: he was chased out of the questioning place and he left. He was waiting here in this cae for us. MM asks Slurk the best way to get to tak to Malusalbus a quickly as ossible. He says follow his teachings, and I believes that if we can avoid appearing to be a threat while still coming across as ... interesting, he might ask to see us. But I remind you that if he belives you are a threat, he will never see you willingly. He preafceas all that with telling us it's best to call him the Great Master around hee (conspiratorially, looking at the others who are both trying to stay away and to listen in). Another cultist is trying to leave the cave. MK Steps in his way. He looks, and the hobbit stares back at him and grins. MK has an impending sense of doom, then realizes the hobbit has no teeth. He squeaks, Hi! MK asks what he's doing (in Nipp). He looks at us in fear and hopefulness. Sun says he wants to know what you are doing. He says it kindly but firmly. The hobbit says I, i, i, need to report to Primo Grigio Vermay. Sun translated between. MK asks how do you know? I have to see him at this time very day What for To make sure my son is doing what he's supposed to be doing.. What's that He is recording the words of Primo Grigio Vermay's tumor (Sun stumble over that for a moment and comes up with unnatural growth) MK steps asides and says he may continue. He stammers his thanks and leaves quickly. MM Looks out and sees where he goes. We are in the cave farthest to the right, as if flying in the air and facing the cliffwall. He heads for a cave slightly to the left and closer to the top of the cliff. MM says in Nip, I suppose the first thing to try is to try to appear not threatening, interesting (probably not too difficult), and to seems devoted to their strange ideas. If that doesn't seem to get us anywhere, we'll have to try a more direct approach. We arrange ourselves carefully and MM repeats. Ash asks how long, and she says she doesn't know. We sit down and contemplate the glory that is Zeentch. Others come and go. MM watches, noting who comes and goes when and where. Occasionally, someone comes over with a handful of feces and throws it on the pile. The crowd that was watching us intensely with fear calms down a little bit. As we can see ore as our eyes adjust, we see other beastmen in the crowd. The crowd seem to give them a little more space then the rest. With something between fear and appreciation for their chaotic nature. As time passes, one or two younger cultists come over and talk with Slurk. They know him, and don't fear him the same way. THey want know where Slurk has been. He says he's been helping these great ava... the vulture hisses at the finch ... guiding these acolytes to join us here...join you here at Fthak. THey want to help in the final destruction of the world. They also share basic small talk. They are young and not yet ready to contemplate death whole-heartedly.

After a timeless while that probably wasn't nearly as long as it seemed, the snakeman returned, with a second one! As if one wasn't awful enough. I shuddered and moved back from the cave entrance, and I sat down behind Ashe, hiding.

But they saw me, and looked right at me, their eyes boring into me. One of them hissed at me and I repressed another shudder, "You must come with us." Was this my punishment for not giving Peytra the right answers? I was to be taken by a snakeman? But if I struggled, if I refused, the others would be drawn into a fight, and our mission would fail. Could I go with them? Really?

I gulped and nodded. I couldn't get a word out of my dry throat. I stood up, and Ashe stood with me. Just that simple gesture gave me some strength, and I pulled myself together. The one who hadn't spoken to me stared at Ashe, and the other one ordered me to come with him. I followed him to the cave entrance. As Ashe began to move with me, the second snakeman moved into his way, and Miara sharply told Ashe to sit down and wait, which he did. The snakeman gave Miara an unfriendly look, but moved into place behind me.

Surrounded! My heart beat furiously and I almost hoped for a heart attack, just to get me out from between the two snakemen. But I allowed them to escort me away, to a cave pretty near the middle of the whole thing. A man waited for us, but it was otherwise empty.

He introduced himself as "Loric, a devoted servant of Tzeentch and the Great Master. I help new acolytes learn to follow the rules." Oh great -- I'm in for it now. He was a big man, wearing black armor beautifully engraved with utterly horrible symbols of chaos. His skin had a sickly green pallor, but that probably wasn't the best time to offer to help him with his health problem so I remained silent. He looked down into my face, and I smelled decay on his breath. He told me "Magical healing is strictly forbidden. Do you understand?"

"Yes," I said quietly and firmly. It also wasn't the time to debate magical vs. holy healing. So it seemed it wasn't my failings with Peytra, but the fact that I had saved Kyuskay's life that had gotten me in trouble.

He turned to my snakemen escorts, "Two days penance!"

Penance! My mind screamed to itself while one of the snakemen grabbed my shoulder -- eewww! it touched me -- and pulled me back to the net. I almost jumped out over the cliff, with no thoughts of saving myself, but I managed instead to follow them to another cave.

They marched me through, and I saw only a little. It was small and filled by cots with dying people laying on them. They were filthy, of course. No sick person should be anywhere near here, even though the sleeping arrangements were still better than "our" cave. They took me to a curtained-off area in the back. I looked at the cots as we passed. I could help them, but I couldn't make the snakemen understand. I couldn't even make myself address them, and I walked with them silently.

They led me to a small cave with an iron grill and told me to enter the small cell. Small, dark cell.

So dark.

But they pushed me in, and I was equally terrified of what was in front of me and what was behind me. They locked me in, and much to my shame I heard a slight whimper and knew it was me. One of the snakemen sat down, in front of the cell, leaning against the side wall. The other one left.

There wasn't room to stand without hunching over, so I sat. Against the far back wall. It wasn't completely dark after all; some light from the -- "hospital" I suppose, though it seemed wrong to apply that word to this place -- seeped in. The cold touch of the dead receded, leaving me with only the snakeman in front of me. But separated from me by the iron grill. What kept me in also kept him out.

Two days.

Ravenna, A Monk of the Biancan Order

Part the First:
Blood and Mud

Part the Second:
Murder and Mayhem

Part the Third:
Puzzles and Crystals

Part the Fourth:
Dwarves and Rocks

Part the Fifth:
Diplomacy and Daggers

Part the Sixth:
Crystal and Chaos

Part the Seventh:
Sheer Insanity

~ The End ~