Still feeling the adrenaline pumping through my veins, still hearing the voice of warning echoing in my ears, I head down the stairs with the rest. Somebody mentions resting, and I manage to hold my tongue. Rest? Now? There is so much still to learn, to discover! Must hold myself in line though; a quick glance at each of the others revealed their wounds to me, and so I intone the words and watch as their flesh stitches together. Wonder how many times this will be done, once among my most guarded secrets.
Bronx begins to snore almost immediately, and Berty sleeps soon after. Heavy sleepers – a sign of their trust in us, or weakness? Tatalka practices his maneuvers and Chance tries to interrupt and generally makes a nuisance of himself. If they have such vigor in them yet, why do we stop?! Eventually Tatalka and Chance too sleep, and I am at last alone, or as alone as I ever am. The isolation is soothing, and after a few hours I too sleep; smiling in the dark at my ring.
At last everyone is ready to venture further. Spirits are higher after resting and a little more distance between ourselves and the dead. Down the stairs again, spiraling endlessly into the dark below us. Without understanding why, it feels right. I like this place, I think. As though to disturb such a tranquil line of though, a scuffle and muffled scream erupt from behind me. Spinning, mind instantly entering the acute sensation of time slowing that danger brings me into, Berty is clawed at by two shadowed hands, and being dragged under. No time to react, I fling myself headlong to tackle him out of the grasp, only to be propelled through as though he wasn’t there. An illusion perhaps? The others finally lumber into action, and Chance fires his incorporeal dagger at a hand, which jerks slightly at the impact. Perhaps they are real, then! No time to rise and be the dignified hero, I will freeze them from where I lay then. And of course, it works, and the hands subside. Berty looks relieved, and my mind begins to whir at the possibilities. A foolishly lowered guard, as eight arms rise in unison and wrench Berty through the floor instantly. That same bastard voice laughed, claiming he could take who he wanted, as he saw fit.
A stunned moment lingers in the air. I’ve never failed before. Tatalka stands mutedly, a thin sheen of sweat on his brow. Mmm, not so superior feeling with your piece of steel now? You have yet to understand anything, child. Bronx looks as though it were not Berty, but himself that were pulled under. Not for the first time, I wonder at the…‘structural integrity’ of his mind. Chance, as though to remind us that everything was okay because HE were still around, cracked a joke that was admittedly fairly amusing. Certainly not elevated by his presence, it did manage to remind me, however, that I was still alive, and I rose to my feet at last. As if on cue to not be mired by inaction, Berty’s cries were heard from deep below. Stairs fly by two, three, five at a time as I race downwards. The huffing and patter of short legs and the larger crashes of metal on stone do nothing to mask the lack of another pair of footfalls. At last we arrive at the bottom, and the screaming is no longer to be heard. A large door is all that awaits us. I gather my backup, and we act with unison to burst through the door, completely ready to tear down that which would restrain us. Instead we are greeted with an elaborately ornate hallway, filled with mosaics and blue marbled pillars. The greedy one and the bumpkin are lost immediately. By instinct I tune into Bronx instead, who’s trembling voice carries down the shaft of the stairs. More weeping and pining over Berty. No help there. Typical. On the other hand, noting the lack of screams or gurgles from the other two, it seems that there is no immediate danger to be had, and I too enter the grand entryway, inspecting the murals. Made quick mental notes of styles of adornment and the depicted scenes. Know thy enemy, after all.
Tatalka begins down a narrow corridor to the side, and rather than leave him to his fate, I stealthily slink after him. He is confronted by a man declaring himself as Jern Mazus, and a brief standoff occurs. Better to stay back for now; I can tend to escalate situations like these more easily than defuse them. Well, hah, except when there are none left to oppose me. Things progress well between the two. Unsurprising, considering they seem to be the same person, divided only by time. Eventually we are all introduced, including Bronx who has rejoined us at last. Jern seems less than thrilled at our magical talent. Tatalka should hire diviners to look into how they are related, for surely there is something in common there. Jern mentions that we are the True Born, or more importantly that they are not born. Why do some give up these kinds of details so willingly? I would think he was placating us intentionally, if it weren’t for his apparent thickness. Tatalka, at least, has youth and ignorance to blame. Jern, as is learned, has lived for ages too innumerable to benefit from the same excuse. Finally he buckles under the questions and the difficulty of making choices instead of following orders, and flees to bring back his superior.
We take the time to inspect the numerous pedestals in the hall, as I’ve made note of separately. While clearly from a different era, Jern’s name can be found, and in a position of authority and respect no less. Then who is this insecure person? The similarity of name and apparent occupation is too close to merely be a namesake or coincidence. Possibly a doppelganger? It would take a spectacular level of creative impotence to steal so blatantly though, so I can see no gain there. Possibly it is just meant to keep us distracted long enough to allow them to get into a position. If that is indeed the intent, let them – my failure has left a bitterness in my mouth and a chance to assert my dominance would be welcome. Instead, a muscular woman enters and demands our disarmament. The party complies, although reasonably hesitantly. I smirk despite myself, knowing myself even more powerful through being presumably constrained. The woman, Bella, issues a few commands of required conduct before meeting the leader in no uncertain terms. Forceful one, here. I’ll have to make note of the qualities of the leader that attract such followers.
The leader is introduced, a man named Lucian Asmodus. After a brief discourse he leads to his ‘community’. This community consists, I learn, of fellow shadows of powerful figures of the past. The prospect of immortality is tantalizing, but certainly not at this cost; these people are slaves, and slowly growing mad. Nevertheless, a fascinating lead-off. The Shades themselves would be of great interest for their stories and knowledge, but Lucian has them suppress the leaders they once were so that he may assert his control all the easier over them. Effective, certainly, but stagnant and wasteful. Focusing back in to current affairs, Lucian informs us that his community as at war with one Thalran the Black. The shade of a supremely powerful master of the dark arts. Lucian promises us a path to continue further through this vault if we put an end to this threat to his community. I can’t help but wonder at the situation. We, as Trueborn, are prophesied to come and end Thalran’s rule over them, and so Lucian must send us out to that end, and help us as best he can. However, without a front to be united against, his community will crumble around him and he’s sure to be aware of that. So he must, then, seek for us to fail secretly whilst supporting us publicly. Not one to turn our back to. Nevertheless, we can take use of his aid currently