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Priscilla     Supposedly, the long and arduous roud, with all its lethal twists and turns, to finally piecing together the route to the secret city 'at the end of the world is dangerously near its conclusion. Though, knowing how these things go, this will likely be just one leg of a much larger journey that will surely become even more perilous, but after months of work, Priscilla is apparently in a mood to have this conclusively finished.

    This legendary city was supposedly hidden away so long ago as to barely be considered the Age of Gods. None living even knew anything about it, never mind where it might be, until Priscilla had discovered the knowledge. A desperate need to know of her long-gone family and what might still survive of her homeland, of which she had missed the entire rise and fall, has compelled her to chase the unbelievably circuitous route left by the Great Lord Gwyn --Lordran's original Prime Deity, and Priscilla's grandfather-- which would eventually lead to every far-flung fragment of cipher and clue necessary to find it.

    And yet, despite the ample cooperation of the Four Knights, delegated by Priscilla, it'd taken a dozen harrowing journeys to corners of the world that themselves no longer last in memory. And there still lingers the impression that the nature of all of these fragments, when put together, are something that could have only ever been interpreted by her.

    The long period of time between the last 'adventure' has been spent almost entirely on the process of decoding lost and ancient meanings from four different dead kingdoms, reading the scripts of ancient chaos witches and the teachings of dragon-buddhas, scouring the bones of cities upon cities and combing through the endless secret knowledge hoarded in the City of the Gods. This is, Priscilla is certain, the place where the last third of the final cipher should be. Or as she calls it, a 'star chart'. In a metaphorical sense. Something that has just the right ancient knowledge to re-derive, from scratch, where something at 'the end of the world' could be.

    It is, most definitely, a name that hasn't been uttered in centuries. It barely translates, for how few still speak it, but the important aspect rings through; 'The Grave of Gods'. A primordial site, part memorial, part tomb, if what slim knowledge remains is accurate, far away from even the domain of Lordran's extremely strange version of a 'God of Death'. One which Priscilla is loosely personally acquainted, from years ago, and has specifically sought out. This time, she has entrusted everything to her allies, and the last of the Four Knights, so that she can make the solo journey all the way down to the spine of Lordran and have Lord Nito release two thousand years of layered seals and hexes upon that place by the time her allies arrive.
Priscilla     Her personal hand here is Lordsblade Ciaran. A knight in title, but in function, more similar to the head of a divine secret service. An investigator, spy, code-cracker, tracker, duelist and assassin without equal. The fact that she is merely 'very tall for a human' works to her advantage here, as does only the barest of black, nearly chitinous armour, swathed in royal blue cloths and a porcelain mask. Because this really isn't a place people were supposed to physically enter, and it hasn't been maintained in millennia.

    There are, obnoxiously as obviously, no Warpgates so many miles beneath the surface that an actual Earth would have stopped having passages or even air long ago. It is, predictably, pitch black. Rough and utterly ancient black granite becomes the world, faintly glittering in cast light with a mineral sheen, until it begins to blend in places with dusty and stained white stonework --now more of a dull tan-- that had apparently been buried by the geological activity of ages. What was probably once a grand arch forty feet tall, covered top to bottom in the unreadable divine language to proclaim its many warnings and provide its many lethal wards, has collapsed into an impassible heap of rubble.

    The worked stone extends all around, above and below, like an entire enclosed pyramid buried under the ground, and is itself still inscribed in enough of them to make simply digging around generally infeasible, to say nothing of it easily collapsing from the slightest shift in weight. And yet, visible through the miniscule gaps, one can see that the standing remains of the hall are lit from within by a raging fire that covers the entire depressed floor, burning from ostensibly nothing, its heat trapped inside an oven of stone. Any soft adornments have long become ash, for whatever reason, but it seems where most of them would be, instead carved grotesques and murals so gigantic they'd take an entire lifetime for a craftsman to finish, adorn mazelike, even identical halls, perhaps by way of being cryptic directions.
Yuuki Kuran Yuuki remains deeply thankful that she is only expected to do the work she's actually useful at, like hanging around within brooding, dark catacombs of ancient stone where a mythical ancestor's secrets rested in dark repose.

It's like a cozy basement! Look at the death traps, and dead drops, and acid pits, and skellingtons, and flying heads that petrify you over the dead drops!

Maybe not those last ones. Maybe only in her head.

A swirl of butterflies resolves itself into a short-hair Yuuki (with a white phonecase and a sun charm) and a long-haired Yuuki (with a black phonecase and a moon charm) at various points, snapping touristy mural-shots with the auto-flash enabled, swiftly having to run away from A Level Designed By Someone Who Hates You Both Generally And In The Specific and terrible ogres badly placed behind blind corners.

You know, the Standard Ancestor Basement attractions: Death, Instant Death, and Death That Wastes More Of Your Time Than Usual.

At the halfway point, Yuuki & Yuuki corroborate on bluetoothing the photos to each other (because they don't get reception in UNCLE MIYAZAKI'S MAGICAL LAND OF: THE BASEMENT) before grabbing Zero and pointing him down a single, straight path of stone.

"Do you want to walk down that totally normal hallway? I bet it'll be fuuuun!"

It will not be fun. A skeleton with an enormous sword and without bouceboxes on walls stands at the end.

Thankfully, Zero's blood is a gun. He'll be fine.
Zero Kiryu There are days when Zero Kiryu seriously wonders how life was able to come to be and thrive on Priscilla's homeworld. He is, routinely, reminded that the life that thrives is just as ludicrous and colossal as she is-- or some different-but-similar scope and ability, even if smaller in comparison most of the time. The end result, of course, is funnel web spiders that are about twice the size of an elephant and can be bribed with food that is easy instead of fighty.

His appearance follows Yuuki's, at which point he simply exists by her side suddenly. Or, more accurately perhaps, he comes into existence between the two of them, since the thing letting him teleport in is on both of their persons.

He's pretty spacey throughout, in the way that is characteristic of him, and largely presents as a sort of not-quite-sour brooding. Until, that is, Yuuki asks him for something.

//Do you want to walk down that totally normal hallway?//

Zero inclines his head a little and then walks forward, apparently perfectly content to bait out whatever nastiness is inevitably within this Perfectly Normal Hall in what is sure to be an awful, ancient maze.

Seeds appear in his wake, beginning to grow at his back, spreading out and providing a new layer of structural support-- as well as marking the way, to an extent.
Kukuru After getting a whole feast's worth of raw materials prepared back home, Kukuru had nearly forgotten about her duties to actually do some real work out in the strange city. Almost is the operative word, though, as she arrives just in time in her...

Kukuru has no battle-ready gear. Aside from her claws and a thick apron that's already got blood smears on it, she still looks like she shouldn't be here at all. This is especially apparent when she stands next to Ciaran, sliding her clawed gauntlets on and cricking her neck with a relaxed sigh while getting herself warmed up with a few languid stretches.

"Well... We're in the home stretch, I think. Let's get this done so we can help Priscilla get some closure. And then we can get back home to have a big meal with everyone." Kukuru suggests with a glance upwards at Ciaran. "You're coming, too."

She sounds insistent about that, leaving little room to refuse. It's easier said than done, of course, with all the death traps and deadly local things in the way trying to shove them into those traps. Kukuru's definitely not rushing to go down, although she does teleport from time to time when it looks like there's a pesky archer or caster in a hard-to-reach area so she can nothingpersonnelkid.mp4 them right in the spine.

The spine and the rest of their back region, anyway. Her claws are really big.

Otherwise, she's lingering behind everyone else, providing healing when appropriate and bottles of water when requested. She's certainly not going to rush anyone in getting through this place, prioritizing safety and comfort over clear speed.
Tomoe It has been some time, Tomoe has either been dealing with the mysterious Gungeon or other issues on her homeworld with the various game zone. Or worse paperwork being the vice guild master of a guild back on said Earth. It had been harrowing yet she would see it through to the end. She had her word to keep and felt she still owed Priscilla aside from that. With that in mind, she's returned once more to go into another forgotten place. The last piece that was needed would be here.

She trusted in what Priscilla's into so she was confident about where they were going. Also given her experiences on this world this would tax mind, body or both.

The Gave of Gods? That was a heck of a name, she had no worries about the last Knight who was going to open the seal. Given the power and skill of the first three? There should be no issues for them to get this time it was just a matter of time to get it done.

With there being no warp gates? It was time to dot his the old fashion way and being so underground she would have a split second of flight and nothing more.

The place also left a heck of an impression on her the fire the murals all of it.

"Things are never done by half measures here."

Seeing Kukuru here she'll fall in with the healer to help watch her back.

"GOod to see all of you and hell to the rest of you."
Eryl Fairfax     Eryl is here, having traversed those trecherous drops by digging his fingers into rock walls instead of falling onto ancient rotting platforms and crumbling stone. His added weight could rob the others of the sole path down. He's terribly quite the whole time. Out of respect for this 'grave?' Or just unwilling to converse with those outside his faction?

    Upon reaching the crumbled arch, he pauses. The writing, faded as it is, could still be legible, were the thing only whole. "I'll catch up, don't wait for me," he calls to the others moving ahead into the labyrinthine halls. Carefully, he climbs the pile of rubble, taking large chunks of stone into his arms, and brings them down.

    It's a laborious task, but he has some ways to cheat. Namely, he doens't have to recreate the arch's shape to figure out the full inscription. Just laying them out and creating the link in his head with the implants is enough. Once he's done, he attempts to crack the old language it's written in, and decipher the message.
Staren     Staren... missed all of this, but if there's a chance she can help... of course she will! She doesn't exactly relish the trip, though. Does anyone's pack have room for her cat form to nap in it, maybe?

    And now they're in a room of runes, with much of the floor burning, and lots of rubble. Rrrgh, where do you even begin?

    Staren recoils from the heat. She considers analyzing the properties of the stone to fabricate protection, but... wait, do the others have a way? And then she gets that expression on her face, realizing she has an idea: "I've got just the thing for this!" She focuses on a HUD only she can see. "Deploying secondary wormholes..." And then... intense cold begins to pour out of points in space near her, which should hopefully cancel out with the heat to make a comfort level, as Staren demonstrates her imitation of Pramanix's ice powers!
Hiromi     In Hiromi's first foray into the underground beneath the lands of Lordran, she decides to stick the paths, to see where they lead. This results in her running into one ambush another, being unable to distinguish between the scent of skeletons waiting to rise from the ground and stab you, and ones content to lay there forever.

    When she catches up (or otherwise arrives at the same area as the rubble-buried pyramid), she's covered in stone dust, gnawing on a femur, still regenerating from the acid burns on her feet, and has a legless skeleton stuck on the fur of her tail. It's hitting her back with a rusted sword, over and over.

    Hiromi makes a "Hrrm," sort of sound through the bone, and then walks back and far enough away from the destroyed archway to return to that ancient black granite. It's what she'd call 'stubborn,' but there isn't a stone that won't yield to her. From outside, it appears to grow, a section of it extending like rough, huge, dark crystals. She leaps on top, her skeleton rider clacking against it, and surfs the stone growth all the way back to the archway, first hitting the right side, then flying upward and over, and down the other, replacing the whole area of support of where an archway had once stood.

    Now the stone beneath it can be removed without worrying about anything collapsing.
Kukuru With all that fire in the way, meanwhile, Kukuru does what she does... Not quite best, but it's the best she can manage for now. So long as people aren't burning themselves on the giant fire, she keeps throwing dirt and rubble onto it to try and smother the flames. If someone does get themselves injured, though, she shifts gears to pump those freaking healing nanomachines into them so she can get back to playing with the dirt and the rubble.

Totally to help, of course.
Captain Flint      "It's not the most welcoming place," notes John Silver, the wavy-haired quartermaster of the Walrus.

    "Were you expecting any different, from a place with a name like this?" Captain Flint's mustache frames his smile handsomely. His face is illuminated by the flickering light of an electric lantern, which also dances across the dimly glowing mineral deposits in that great expanse of black granite.

    Billy Bones, the musclebound boatswain, carries another, which illuminates his shorn blonde hair, the quiet frown of the swordsman Joji, and two fellow crew members--Joshua, a Carib man with several tattoos, and Old Jim Carver, a stout grey-haired man looking at least ten years Flint's senior.

    "Look there," says Flint, gesturing his lantern towards the cracks from which that fire can be seen. He turns his lantern off, and Billy does the same. "Get through them if you can."

    "And what if we can't?" sourly asks Old Jim, the widest of the pirates.

    "Then make use of Mr. Kiryu's vines to see yourself through, resist the urge to turn to your explosives, and await my instructions."

     Old Jim and Joshua grumble to themselves, but there is a sharp 'thud' and another after which seems to quiet this. "Thank you, Billy," says Flint with dry amusement. "You and Joshua, with me. Mr. Carver, Joji, with Mr. Silver." Opposite ends of the entry point. "Those of you with me--hands, prybars, hammers and chisels only. Work carefully, and back up if you hear anything shift too suddenly."

     "Those of you with Mr. Silver, take care to avoid the flames. One man shall carry a length of rope to mark his passage, the other two shall cover him. Mark passages leading to dead ends with chalk, to keep our allies from wasting their time."
Yuuki Kuran At the end of the hall (it is on fire, but this is normal), Zero gets swung at by a HITBOX ABUSING SKELETON.

It dinks against him. It proceeds to go through an absolutely brutal series of seeking overheads (dink dink dink) and then some sweepy attacks, and then...

While it is on fire, and he is on fire, and Yuuki is trying to not be on fire, Staren begins blasting around with ice powers. "Oh! Staren!"

Longhair Yuuki nowhere to be seen, Shorthair leans into the wormhole path of an ice blast. "It's like a summer treat!"

Frost clings to the tips of her hair where smoke had curled before.

"Don't worry too much, John. This place wasn't made to be hospitable - imposing, yes, and brutal, yes again, but not safe. There is a malice in the halls that makes me think of..."

She pats off a burning hem of her sleeve. "... the sort of traps someone who still needed a viable path through made, when they had all the time to make them. That kind of thing. Sometimes, the art of misery is the point."
Starbound Flotilla "'Grave of the Gods'. I like this."
"Doesn't 'god' mean a bunch of different things around here?"
"Being fair, this certainly weights 'the' with some heaviness."
"Gravesss bad!"
"Dreading. I'm curious, why do you say that?"
"Meat not fresh!"
"Excellent. Now, focus on keeping the march's pace."

    They've arrived recently. The whole team sets about helping out. The shattered archway is something they'll help try to carve out a wider opening for, but god's sakes, don't set off a collapse! They still wind up having to squeeze themselves through, especially after establishing any structural support. George, of course, only takes a break and then wanders through Zero's helpful vines. And then: How to manage the fire, which threatens the vines? How to navigate the maze? In this, the Flotilla have nothing but the usual solution. And what a solution it is: rub some dirt on it! Yes, smothering fires by spraying them down with dirt is always a classic. One way or another, at least, it should end in a walkable area, after enduring plenty of heat.

    After there's a chance to settle in, Seft kneels down and sets out one of her brass-and-glass medieval-style cave scanning devices. "Focused. It would be a bad idea for us to explore without some recent layouts. If there's been one collapse, who knows how many more?" She looks to Ciaran. "Hopeful. Do you know the way to our main objective here, through these halls?"
Tomoe Tomoe takes note of Staren being here but a bit different than she recalls she'll talk to her later about that, now isn't the time to catch up with her friend. She'll make a note to for it later. For now, the towering Salamander is backing up Kukuru as given what they could possibly run into down here. She'd knot know what but she know if they ran into hostiles they would be very dangerous.

Tomoe would pitch in and using her raw strength to help Kukuru with throwing dirt and other things to try and smother the crazy cursed fire.

"If this doesn't work Kukuru we'll think of something else."

She keeps up hucking dirt and anything else she can which might help smother the freaky cursed fire and aid Kukuru in her efforts.
Priscilla     Flowing granite pouring through the irregular gaps in the collapsed arch has the effect of stabilizing it into so many smaller, much less dangerous collapses. Careful toil from Flint's men can now easily remove a section large enough for people to squeeze through, and then the Flotilla captains widen it from the other side to make it passable without difficulty. Eryl's efforts leave him behind for a while, and once again with Priscilla's extensive records on the divine language left to him, he can decipher at least a minimal amount of what is message rather than ward.

    --Though we owe the dead interred here our very Sun, may their names never be remembered. Their deeds should never be understood. Their homelands should never be found. Their followers should never be known. Their tales should never be told. They have gone to their graves, knowingly taking their secrets with them. All for the sake of man.--

    It seems the flames have no need of oxygen to burn. This much should be obvious immediately, as all the air down here has long been used up. The halls become a suffocating quasi-vacuum, lethal to those who cannot deal with it. Throwing the earth as a carpet over those eternally burning floors, whether by shovels of dirt or flowing granite, does nothing to extinguish them, but having a foot of dirt and rock between the heat has the desire effect all the same, allowing entries to walk freely over (very hot) ground. It will eventually become molten lava, no doubt, but not until long after they've left. The ice magic is necessary just to keep the temperature down to a tolerable level. Enough to kill a man from heat stroke in minutes, otherwise, though convection will steadily carry it out into the caverns.

    Seft's scanners pick up myriad places where parts of the tomb have collapsed. However the pattern is incredibly irregular, happening in architectural seams and joins rather than far away from supports and in places of structural weakness. They're semi-regularly striated, in random ripple patterns around a center, making straightforward walks into something more like a circular maze, inappropriately like one would find on a kids menu, though this would be far from the first or the last time inconvenient decay has turned a short walk into an entire dungeon.

    Zero's vines are an adequate way to navigate, but only if they are arched well over the heat and used as bridges, otherwise the metallic nature of the plants will simply turn into a frying grill.

    However, it seems the still-working defenses here are *not* meant to test the truly worthy, nor meant to deter unwanted comers while allowing navigation by the creators. This place was, clearly, never meant to be entered ever again. The people who built it must have simply worked their way out from the middle, and laid their last works at the door.

    As Zero enters, myriad half-functional hexes laid over the walls and pillars sputter with the last dregs of their attempted activations. With three of the Lords dead, and the new one having no part in replacing them, only a handful of them are actually deadly, though, still, seething, animate lava spews from carven faces, bolt of serpentine golden lightning coil down pillars like snakes and leap to the nearest Elite to fry them, deadly cursed crystals erupt from inscrutable patterns on the floor and ceiling to bar passage, skewer the unwary, and explode when struck, and parts of floor simply drop away into howling black nothingness, and even try to pull people in with a powerful, vertical kind of gravity well. It is hardly only Zero, but every Elite attempting to find the path. Even with only about one in four working, there's a save to be made every two move actions.
Priscilla     The request to have Ciaran INFORM on the location is a wise one, or else there is a solid chance of Elites simply wandering around in circles until they all roll natural ones eventually and die. Even regenerating teleporters may eventually be buried under solid rubble and sucked into the abyss which then fills with lava, if unlucky enough. Lingering near the back, she perches atop Zero's vines in the cooled regions, like a Dark Knight, and produces just an actual telescoping eyeglass from ssssomewhere.

    "Those I can make sense of are those that depict the ancient allies of Gwyn. The stoic Havel. The forgemaster Sen. The weeping Caitha. Armies of the old Knights, and gruesome men I do not recognize. However young I am, I recognize many of these events. These embellishments, I believe, mark the mausoleums of those who died at those battles, or at least at those times. We seek those who died not first, but at the end. And thus, those buried deepest, where these catacombs were extended to their furthest lengths. Downwards, and inwards."

    "However, be careful. These collapses are not normal decay. They can only be the result of the changing of the very world, at the waning days at the Age of Fire. It is said that all the lands drifted back to whence they came. That the world contracted in upon itself, and nearly collapsed, driven closer to the light by the encroaching dark. Each fault line may be set off by anything. Even its own defending lines."
Staren     Staren smiles as Yuuki appreciates the ice like AC on a hot summer day. "Isn't it?!" She ties her scarf into her hair to stop it blowing in her face. The micro-wormholes follow her, points of space dumping Cold into the air. The lack of oxygen isn't an issue for her, magic constantly refreshing the air around her head.

    SPEWING LAVA gets her to recoil with a yelp of surprise and from there Staren makes sure she's NOT the one to go first, not that she was before. After seeing someone almost get pulled into a pit she makes sure Fly As The Eagle is on and her grapple tag is ready. Just in case. She plans to walk only where others have stepped (her HUD tracks that.)

    As Ciaran says the collapses aren't natural, she considers: "Does that mean this place was *engineered* to break down in a certain way as the world changed?"
Kukuru Noticing that the fires don't stop burning but just become more tolerable, Kukuru raises a 'thumb' (or whatever qualifies as that on a giant honking claw) towards Staren and Tomoe in approval. "Godo work. Try not to get too close to it, though. We never know if it'll flare up again."

Just in case, Kukuru still opts to teleport over those walkways. She really doesn't like fire, and she's not about to roll the dice now. With some clarification on which way she should be going from Ciaran, though, she slows down enough to listen and weigh those words carefully.

"So if we're looking for the really deep ones, would it be...? No, digging arund more might just expose us to more fire and lava. And if this place is already unstable from the Age of Fire... Thing that happened, that definitely wouldn't help. Hmm... Tricky. Very tricky."

Kukuru takes some time think while redirecting her physical efforts towards healing and grabbing people out of harm's way when a trap is triggered. She doesn't linger in the back forever, though, eventually advancing again and keeping her ear closer to the ground to see if she can't hear where the ground might be hollower and hiding another path downwards or terrible danger lava. If it sounds hollow and lacking in flowing lava, she'll dig through with a claw carefully to see if she can actually open it up wide enough to check for potential shortcuts deeper that won't just get everyone killed in a cave in.
Eryl Fairfax     With the arc's message reassembled, Eryl nods to himself and begins fast-walking to catch up to the others. No riddles this time, simply a message as to the nature of this place, one he repeats over the radio.

<J-IC-Scene> Eryl Fairfax says, "Though we owe the dead interred here our very Sun, may their names never be remembered. Their deeds should never be understood. Their homelands should never be found. Their followers should never be known. Their tales should never be told. They have gone to their graves, knowingly taking their secrets with them. All for the sake of man."

    He walks fast to catch up with the others, using Zero's vines as a guide. Not running, not in this place, least he puts his foot through the world and disappear into it. The heat doesn't seem to bother him, as built for the elements as he is. Once he's caught up, he begins scanning for the anchors of the hexes. Engravings on the wall, structures made to hold them, that kind of thing. Upon spotting them, he attempts to shoot them from a distance, so as to pre-emptively disable them.
Starbound Flotilla     Albert wanders in, and begins to have some troubles. The absence of oxygen is a huge issue here, and immediately provokes activating some of his equipment. Ping! Oxygen time, at least personally. The other Flotilla members follow suit, and Albert says, "Seft, get me the nanoskins." After a quick handoff, he's going to start passing out personal capsules of 24-hour oxygen. Break 'em on your skin or armor, and the Starbound Flotilla guarantees the complete obliteration of the local atmosphere will trouble you much less!

    Seft herself transcribes the scans, and tries to supplement them with the data that Captain Flint's men are all getting. Ideally, the combination of the two should mean that the Flotilla can get the expedition through the areas being cleared out, or at least endure them by armoring up in their durasteel gear and navigating the environmentally-focused hazards in the usual Flotilla way: Ruthlessly counteracting and commanding their environment through dedicated terrain manipulation. Sprays of dirt, sucking up lava, plasteel prefab bridges over abysses, and things like that. There's little they can do about gravity wells besides exploit their own grappling hooks, though, and heavy energized shots or skewerings demand a lot of caution and armor durability.
Zero Kiryu Zero does keep his vines above the heat; problem is, they do still conduct the heat from below eventually. It's tolerable enough for him compared to simply being exposed to the fire directly. Whether it suits everyone long-term is another matter entirely. He addresses the oncoming hazards in accordance with what seems the most reasonable for him to deal with, leaving the others for others to address:

The lightning in particular he grows trees that act as lightning rods, drawing the divine lightning away and splintering apart on being struck. A more generalized defense of flailing vines is presented in response to more material enemies, while vines directed to the ceiling are used to bypass the gravity well in the floor, creating a sort of crude suspension bridge in that area.

The lava is more-or-less answered only with sheer toughness however. Somebody else is going to have to provide a solution to that.

"We really... need an invulnerable clothing line," Zero complains to Yuuki, picking at his tattered jacket, which he is patching with small interwoven vines in places. It gives it an intermittently checkered, cloth-and-metallic mix look that is just odd.

He does accept a capsule from Albert through a vine, partially out of straightforward interest in the Flotilla's gear and how it feels and works.
Tomoe Tomoe will chalk up things becoming more tolerable as a win at this point. It makes things a bit less horrific. Then they get some support as well from Ciaran who she's very thankful for the help. As who knows how long it would have taken to get out of here or they might have tied down there in the end. She heeds what is said and the good news is Tomoe is an expert at parkour and she puts it to use today following after Kukuuru keeping with her feeler Aqurance not quite friend yet but as things are going it likely going to end up that way.

"Tell me about it's it quite the thing but nothing's simple or easy here.

She'll attempt to brace things for Kukuru as she digs trying to find the way down.

If it also comes to going bad she'll grab Kururu out of harm's way.

"At least this place isn't Blight Town."

She shudders a bit at the memory.
Captain Flint      It goes without saying that Flint and his men take up Albert on his offer of an oxygen nanoskin.

     "Taken with Mr. Fairfax's translation," says Flint to Staren, "I believe Ciaran's assessment means that it was engineered to prevent anyone from ever discovering the truth concealed here. Certain knowledge changes one's existence, in a figurative sense. But I believe that here, in this place, it may well be literal--"

     An exploding crystal flings deadly curses at Billy. Flint tackles him to the ground, narrowly avoiding being struck himself. The two are prone on the very hot floor, hurrying to their feet. Joshua, helping them up, is grazed by a bolt of lightning.

     "Mr. Silver," says Flint, procuring a walkie-talkie from his coat. The pirate's eyes narrow as he searches for any further traps in his immediate vicinity. It's usually him that's the trap-littering asshole. "Ciaran reports that our objective likely lies further down and inwards from our current position--we'll be looking for the last of the dead, not the first."

     "Understood," comes Silver's voice from the device. "The place is lousy with traps."

     Silver will already have advised his squad--so Flint takes his finger off the transmitter and gives another order. "We shall meet Mr. Silver, Mr. Carver and Joji there--step lightly, and do not commit your weight until you're certain the floor beneath is undisturbed."

     "Why don't we get rocks or something, and throw them down the hallway?" asks Billy.

     "Too risky," says Flint, shaking his head. "Ciaran warned that even the traps themselves may cause a collapse. We'll make use of the time Albert and Kukuru have bought us to advance with caution. Keep your arms close, move slowly, stay low and don't touch anything."

     Joshua huffs. "Too fucking hot for that," he complains.

     "If it's the heat or getting crushed to death," says Billy flatly, "I'll take the heat."

     The Walrus crew probably won't get their first--but they're moving with such care, caution and subtlety that the goal is to approach the deadly descent with as much wiggle room as possible.
Hiromi     After placing the supports, Hiromi digs in with Flint's men, throwing the stones back out of the way. She reaches up as if to grab at the granite, then 'pulls' it down, giving her a track and continual source of the stone that can, apparently extend as long as she wants it to keep going. It's not as fast as sprinting, but this doesn't appear to be a sprinting-type challenge.

    While she works, Hiromi asks the question about why they're actually here. Oh, she knew there was a cipher, and maybe a map that would lead somewhere else, but that just means it's the middle of a journey. That doesn't explain where the journey leads. So, to the little bit of bronze jewelry she wears that's actually a custom-fitted Concord radio, she says, "'Cipher,' searched-for thing. Tell me of this. What is known in buried homes?"

    Priscilla gives an answer, and Hiromi nods along, though the one speaking to her won't be able to see it. These are perfectly understandable motives to her. "These are tests, I see. Tests to find missing ones, tests to lead the pack. Both these?" It does seem 'both,' which strikes her as slightly odd, but there must be some circumstance that links 'finding the missing member' to 'becoming the leader.' If the one missing was waiting for a proper leader, that would explain it, though she can keep an open mind on that topic.

    Stone will eventually melt, in this heat, but for now, it serves as an extra layer of protection, where she grows it either alongside or on top of the dirt the Flotilla captains and Kukuru spread. There are still issues of heat, and lack of oxygen, and darkness, but these are all things that appear, of themselves, to have no effect on Hiromi at all. On the other hand, having some light would, perhaps, make it easier to see the traps ahead.

    "For a reason they hid," Hiromi says to Eryl, after the inscriptions are translated. "'For the sake of man.'" Her intonation is a near-copy of his, when she repeats it, slightly and unintentionally distorted, producing a different but similarly 'off' feeling to her usual speech. "What new fate will appear?" Ominous, but not actually slowing her down.

    A hole appears in the floor beneath Hiromi, and the end of her granite-road falls into it. She braces at the edges, then covers it up with more stone, jumping back into place. Lightning coils down and strikes her, exploding the half-a-skeleton still clinging to slash stuck on her tail, leaving bright red arcing burns up her body and frizzing out her hair. Cursed crystals pop up in front of her, and she reflexively strikes with her foot, hitting so hard that the shockwave of the blow pushes the explosion of the crystals back away from her.

    "Would digging beneath the floor not be faster? Only need is finding place it will not break." She has some ability in that regard, but she's a masterful digger, not an architect, and this is all man-made walls and defenses. Still...
Starbound Flotilla     George speaks up to answer Hiromi. "Good plan. *Normally*, yeah, just dig a hole, right? Not like the cipher's goin' somewhere. But, this place got what we in the biz call 'big cronch'. It got *compressed* when the world got all fucky, I think. That means the seams kinda shifted and probably *caught*. The more seismic stuff goes on, or terrain you remove, the more chance that something that caught is gonna un-catch and then billions of tons of rocks gonna try to give you a squeeze. That's why we run the gauntlet, I guess."

    "I mean, I'm all for that plan myself, these knees don't wanna do this. But I'm ~outvoted~, I guess."
Eryl Fairfax     "For the sake of man," Eryl concurs with Hiromi. "Much was done in those ancient days for that reason. Indeed, this whole endeavour is to undo one such thing. Lord Gwyn was ever undermining any threat to Anor Londo, to the gods, to Fire. But in this new Age of..."

    He pauses, considering it for a long moment. What would you call this new era? "... well, it's Priscilla's place to name it, not mine. But in this new Age, such secrets must be brought to the fore. Least they fester and rot."
Yuuki Kuran ABYSS.

Once more, the mad designer of this temple reveals their overwrought hand. 'I'm going to delete their souls from existance and their bodies from this reality plane -- and then I'M GOING TO FLOOD THE CHAMBER WITH LAVA'.

It is the same general design that naturally occurs in extremely poorly made block-games. That it is intentional -- all, completely, intentional, is the odd part. The part that baffles Yuuki Kuran deeply, and frustrates her attempts to move through it. Cooled by Staren's path, she's still roasted and buried, spending more time having one self drag her other self out of cave-ins and in clouds of frustrated butterflies. The rocky crunch or overage of fiery attrition causes soft squishing sounds to occur that leave one (eventually, both) Yuukis missing bits of themselves whose negative space is filled in with the odd effect of wispy butterfly wings filling the 'wound'.

"If we had invincible clothing, I wouldn't have as good an excuse to change outfits!" long-hair Yuuki complains, as short-hair lingers near Hiromi and George. "There's plenty of lava around though, right? With Staren's ice powers, Zero's vines, Hiromi's strength, and George's architectural skill, we could cool the lava into stone, and move it into a solid path over all of this!"

Short-hair Yuuki smiles brightly, before being crushed again by a falling stone.

Long-hair Yuuki winces and sighs. "If I find whoever made this place, I'm going to have them do the security systems for our vaults just so I can have the keys to skip it."
Hiromi     Hiromi lifts and tosses aside the crusher block that fell on short-hair Yuuki, at least partly to see if she's actually under it.

    "Making new path, filling in its supports, hardening sides, a single shaft to our goal. This we could do. Dangerous? Maybe." She gives that to George, but it being 'dangerous' just doesn't feel as big of a deal to her as to his fellow captains. "I can use lava, but better cooled. Flows too easily, else."
Kukuru "If we dig down, that would be a lot faster, yeah." Kukuru nods slowly at Hiromi's plan, already clacking her claw tips together briefly as she prepares to just start digging down in defiance of all safety advice. "...But there might be lava or something that'll suck for anyone that can't get out fast. If you can take it, though, then why not?"

And then short-hair Yuuki gets rocks fall'd. She winces uncomfortably, then sighs softly. "M.. Maybe we don't need a security system this... This bad? It'd be a pain to clean, if the maintenance workers can't even get to it safely."
Priscilla     Oxygen nanoskins are exactly what should be ordered by anyone sane. They don't help with the oppressive heat that feels like it's sucking the air right out of the lungs, but they leave breathable air to replace it with. The way going forward is hell, but not also a deep sea dive on land at the same time. Bridges, via vines and matter manipulators, soon become the only way across the immense, zigzagging gaps in the floor, as flying and jumping over them are begging to just get yanked down into the instant death blackness, whereas one can simply trudge along heavily with solid ground over it. It seems as if, were this working correctly, *all* of the floor would be doing this.

    Ciaran answers, hopping adeptly from perch to perch, wisely using the bridges, and yet seemingly untroubled by lightning, which seems to arc around her of its own accord, "I know not. I cannot claim to fathom the wisdom nor motives of the Old Gods. I believe this place was constructed long before anyone knew that the First Flame was even capable of waning. And yet, the Great Lord Gwyn knew so many things, planned for so many eventualities, saw so many possible futures, that I can scarcely imagine them. Perhaps it may very well have been so."

    Eryl's greatest efforts at attention to where new unnatural traps may spring from proves difficult bordering on fruitless, though not quite. He gathers that these were certainly placed in cooperation with all four of the original Lords, and are essentially tailored to each. They're practically indistinguishable from any decoration, but at least he can *presume* a decoration of the Izalith style may shoot living lava, and direct people to maneuver accordingly.

    The 'cronch' this mausoleum has since suffered makes the prospect of digging unavoidably dicey. It may still be better than continuing to go the hard way, but despite everyone's best efforts, what they achieve amounts to 'down'. The hard and thick floor that demarcates the one below it can only be realistically breached in a timely fashion where it has already crunched together and then split apart again, exposing natural granite in the seams. Tunneling through it makes solid progress, until it becomes too thinly compromised to stay supported between the two halves of worked stone. A collapse is inevitable, dropping all of those in the area down a dangerous, bone-breaking fall, into a heap of jagged rubble just as bad as a pit of purposefully designed spikes.

    Beneath, thankfully, is solid ground, albeit it is not flat, level or meant to be easily traversed. It it is a nearly Escher-esque hell of narrow, crisscrossing staircases, that would demand endless up and downs for anyone on their feet to get fifty feet of horizontal progress, probably lethally exhausting. Bridges crisscross over every level, more arches and stairs on their own.
Priscilla     There is only one mercy here, and that is about half the number of traps (though, where the abyssal pits lead when there is another storey directly beneath is a valid question). What makes it worse is that this floor is occupied. Though this seems to be only one chamber of many, given the open gates at each of its orthagonal directions, this one alone is filled with what may well be a hundred figures. Each nine or ten feet tall, resembling someone clad in a full suit of brass plate armour polished until it looks gold, in whatever light Elites can bring to bear, their proportions too long and too thick in alternating places, with fully enclosed helmets with no place to see from.

    At the noise, they rouse themselves for the first time in millennia. Possibly the first time ever. Each one is armed with some variety of enormous, fifteen foot polearm that crackles with searing lightning, or a collosal bronze bow that fires spiral-metal arrows at tremendous speeds, streaking moonlight-blue light that pierces through far too much and discharges deadly magic through the other side.

    Each of them are also built to ignore the stair hell, easily leaping hundreds of feet, up and down, forward and backwards, to surround Elites in overlapping inescapable gang-beatings, with asynchronous overlapping attacks that can't all be i-framed through and all their collision boxes collectively preventing movement. They're even willing to fire right through each other, if that's what it takes, and it's too sound a strategy to hit people from their blind spots to be useful to try to thin their ranks that way.

    Of course, many of the same traps are still active here, because surely it'd be too easy otherwise. Naturally, the animate armours know exactly how to avoid them, giving away their locations to a certain, minor extent. To get any further, the entire party has to make it all the way to a gate at the other end, which then only leads into an even bigger chamber, surrounded on all sides by identical copies of the place they'd landed. Such an alarm evnetually draws an army of reinforcements from other sides, now including massive, ornate, fifty ton golems, like brass versions of a certain familiar model, which have to stoop to get through the gates, and even begin causing dangerous deluges of rubble from the ceiling with their careless, overwhelmingly powerful strikes.
Zero Kiryu "Since when have you needed an excuse?" Zero asks Yuuki, dully. When Hiromi moves to lift the crusher block off of the one that got squashed, he asides, "She's fine."

It's not until their path takes them down -- a rough descent that he slows using multiple moored vines to simply 'creep' his way down towards the location below -- into the Escher Fortress that Zero just stops in place and surveys the Problems that are in front of them. The strangely-proportioned golems, and their obnoxious team tactics.

"Ciaran, can you disable these? Hiromi can have her fill, if desired, but I don't want to have to deal with these if we ever return to this place," he says, dully.

In the meantime he's exerting some telepathic control to route the golems towards Hiromi, who is enthusiastic enough he wouldn't want to deny her the opportunity.
Starbound Flotilla     "A terracotta army of your own, huh?" Mutters Pavo, examining one of the armors. "Hah. Suppose that's the only kind of soldier to keep a secret. Too bad it can't--" Then it moves. She darts back, hand at her saber, before another at her flank slams a polearm into her body, bouncing her back and leaving badly dented, sparking armor marking her.

    Ten-foot-tall super-powered armor squads assault the intruders and it's the worst thing possible. Exhausted from the heat and traps, the Flotilla are already not in a super great place, but this is just gonna be a million times worse. Albert runs the tactics here for the Flotilla, immediately getting them in line. Biteblade's healing can't be activated by a total lack of flesh! So she's relegated to counter-archery, as is Albert (with low-yield fragmentation grenades from his grenade launcher). George's heavy combat shotgun has to manage the midrange lightning, and Moonfin and Pavo have to take cover behind Seft's tower shield to keep things back at short range.

    All six of them are battered by the sudden ambush tactics, and have to do a lot of switch-offs and fast heals to deal with the accumulating damage these living armors are causing! Especially since they need to press further down and inwards. At least Seft is left mostly with the less focus-demanding task; she can keep coordinating the navigation. CLANG-CLANG-CRASH! "*Buzz* Pained. I would so much rather not have a sustained battle with every ounce of titanite this infinite-budget project was able to purchase. We need to find the passage down!" What insight can her scanners give? All these identical passageways... does one of them press further down? Are there hidden passageways? Even the Flotilla, with their architectural expertise and equipment, can't reinforce the structure that the massive golems are disrupting. It'll come down around them!!
Kukuru "That's what it's like with ancient... Stuff, yeah. Things sure would be different if we could talk to people in the past, though." Kukuru comments after Ciaran answers, humming softly after a moment. "I bet Priscilla would have a lot of questions to ask them if we had something like that, too."

After a long, grueling travel session and redirecting almost all of her efforts on healing people (mostly Hiromi and Yuuki with all that digging and trap triggering, but also Flint's crew due to being the most visibly human), Kukuru can finally stretch her legs for real! She starts wandering through the weirdo staircases, teleporting herself around every now and then when a step down turns out to actually be a sideways staircase that could send her plummeting into who knows where.

Even after navigating through all that crap, she lingers there for a while just in case anyone else needs a save before progressing further with the whole group. Eventually, they reach the chamber of so many giant figures, and she looks mildly enthused when it's clear that those figures want to kill all of them.

"Ah, this is more my speed... If you're worried about getting hurt, you might wanna keep your head down and find us a way out." She warns Staren with brief click of her claws. "But don't worry. We'll take care of it."

And then, with Zero requesting Ciaran's assistance, Kukuru gets to work! She blinks in and out of position haphazardly, rapidly teleporting to get herself behind the more irritating bow-users so as to strike at their backs like some kind of lag-switch using fiend. She doesn't ignore what appears to be Hiromi's desire for battle, though, sometimes pausing to bathe the archwolf in healing nanites just so she can indulge in the battle more and more.
Staren     Almost every hazard can be bridged over but the crushing stone, which has to be gone around. But as long as you go slow and steady, it's safe-ISH... occasionally Staren still trips a trap, but is never more than a bit beat up from a single one, thanks to protective magic... although getting healing from Kukuru and refreshing magic means slow going. It is unpleasantly grueling.
    At least her flight magic means that when the dig collapses, she's left floating there to land safely. "...Oh no it's an escher painting." She starts trying to have drones map out the area and make a map that's less hellish to look at...

    And then monsters appear.


    Staren focuses on dodging, but it's impossible to keep up... until something finally hits her and acts like it hit a suit of plate mail. Which is far from impassible, but... better than before. Realizing she has a fighting chance, she brings her arsenal to bear. Lasers, missiles, beams... it's impressive but there are so many things this is still a losing battle, and she has to refresh her forcefield more and more often as she grows more tired. Communicating through the wormhole, she tasks the AI back at the lab with finding a pattern or something they can exploit to end or escape this fight...
Eryl Fairfax     Precise identification is not possible, but at the very least, the iconography of the Four Lords is enough to call out an idea of what to expect. "Sun over there. Gwyn. Expect lightning." "Bones and death. Nito. Incoming hexes." "Fire. Izalith. Lava." "Crystals are Seath. Expect potent sorceries."

    It's almost a relief when ancient guardians rouse to protect the grave. Lordran, as ever, is predictable. One's mettle is always in doubt, always tested. "Keep moving," he calls up the line. "This place is too unstable to dally." He watches the armored figures jump around, ducking low so that one of those spiralling greatarrows whooshes overhead and leaping in-between two synchronously swung blades. But the mere 10 feet tall golems are of little concern, compared to the 50ft ones currently threatening to bring the whole place down.

    The whole place down...

    "Get away from the giant ones!" Eryl calls out, voice packed with commanding authority. He breaks into a run, leaping into the air and stepping on the face of one of the armed golems to boost himself higher. He curls into a ball, bringing his knees up and flipping so they face down, towards the ground underfoot of the giants.

    And then two massive slugs erupt from those knees, striking the ground with incredible force, before exploding.

    The massive, concussive force is far beyond what the ground here would need to collapse. That, plus their weight, should hopefully equal a massive pit for them to fall into. As long as it doesn't also bring down the roof. But the Flotilla is on that, he trusts them.
Priscilla     "Very well. If that is what you desire, Sir Kiryu." says Ciaran. Barely a moment later, she vanishes from his shadow, invisible in the dark.

    Even Ciaran does not have the ability to murder every enemy here. However, her job description should suggest ample ability to keep Zero, the guy who'd asked, safe from harm, by ELIMINATING the threat to his person. What's mostly visible is when she draws those two curious swords, glowing bright silver and bright gold when the light catches them right, which is somehow only ever at the moment of attack. Ribbons of gold strike arrows out of the air, and streaks of silver cripple, maim, and instantly kill the close combatants that charge and leap to his position, the Lordsblade's shadow darting and dashing between them, finding gaps in the armour as if it were no more difficult than striking them right in the chest, and tearing free ghostly gasps of animating essence when she slashes with the curved blade or rips the serrated blade free.

    It essentially guarantees Zero's success. There are a lot of advantages to the strange manner of animating constructs Lordran favours, but stuffing enough soul-stuff into a semisentient 'power core' does have the one downside of being relatively accepting of mental influence. Soon, a *score* of the giant things are closing in all around Hiromi, stressing the floor to a shuddering, crackling breaking point, turning the area around her into a chasmic wasteland where nowhere is safe to step and the combined shockwaves could pinball her around easily. Those that can't get close, for the mob, slash through the air and unleash waves of projectile lightning. Due to the blessed brass, when they hit one another anyways, the lightning flows around their surface, then concentrates on the other side and continues flying towards her.
Tomoe Well the nano skin is taken without complaint and she thanks the Starbounders for it, her lungs stop hating her that much is clear and he spirits to improve a little bit. Ciaran provides more support for which she's thankful.

"Making failsafe was a good idea even if you think it can't happen it's better you never need it than not have it." She notes as they keep going the traps however have her on edge she recalls the initial push to aid Priscilla which seems like a lifetime ago.

The party thankfully makes their way deeper into this place. She then sees what's waiting for them as the defence power up for the first time in ages or perhaps ever.

"Oh damn this is new."

She muses looking at the figures she readies her sword which burns with a white holy flame as she stares the massive things down.

The defend are swift they are coming after them. As the attacks come Tomoe is being pushed already. These things are no jokes and there was a time they would have just outright torn her apart. Even worse many of them leave hazards in their wark she'll fend them off with her weapon and try to counterattack them with blasts of light spells as she tries to make it harder for them to hit and fade.
Priscilla     Seft's scanning finds that *many* places lead straight down, where well-hidden stone murals in deeply recessed, dark corners can be opened with the right application of . . . some kind of secret code. As far as she can tell, the area beneath is a properly cramped and narrow labyrinth (relatively speaking, for this land of giants), and each of those locations merely leads to another dead end from which to start.

    Her scanners get weird, fuzzy readings. As if the mapping function is very inconsistent. But there's not all that much time to contemplate it. Eryl causes *one* golem to collapse through the floor, as Tomoe and Kukuru hold the smaller battle automatons back. The collapse through one of the rippling schisms in the architecture drops directly into a random corner of that maze, and who knows how to navigate from there, but it is one possible means of exit from the never ending waves of enemies, five to a 'miniboss designation'. Even then, it means creating, at most, a chokepoint, as there's nothing stopping anything from following them; though the golems would have to crouch-walk, that would just render them a moving wall hazard.

    Perhaps if Seft, or someone else, can figure out that code, one of the intended entries might be safer, more defensible, or more direct, but that's a lot to ask for under this time pressure.
Hiromi     Hiromi does her part in trying to give them a safe way down, getting through to the next level by reshaping stone into new supports, and only breaking things after someone with the right scanning ability can confirm for her that it's safe to do so. She is, at least, exceptionally good at breaking things, including those things that look more like permanent landscape features than objects.

    When they all end up falling after all, she tears out a great chunk of the black granite she'd rode down on, and throws it below her shortly before she would have landed, tossing the stone with enough force that she briefly reverses direction mid-air, allowing for a much lighter, if too forceful to be called graceful, landing on the inadvertent spike trap. Something else may have been destroyed in the process.

    Surveying what they've now found themselves in, as the brass armor comes to life, Hiromi remarks, "Ooh, a fight!" Descriptively, "Big men!" They're bigger than she is, which would be passing rare, if there were something still alive inside them.

    They leap across the hell of catwalks, smartly cooperating to be as difficult to survive as possible. "Powerful jumps!" Hiromi observes. Appreciatvely, "Strong legs." Having all of these focus on a single person would, one would reasonably assume, be just the absolute worst time. Being less than reasonable, it's only because she doesn't realize what he's doing that Hiromi doesn't thank Zero out loud.

    Hiromi runs out along the stairs, having nothing so restrictive as meaningfully limited stamina. Mid-step, she transforms into a monstrous wolf, still decorated with bronze bands and bells, near as tall at the shoulder as the polished brass armor leaping for her. She leaps, then, straight at the one that's mid-air, getting her teeth the haft of its weapon before the swing can complete, tearing it away in her jaws with such force that wrists stretch and twist and snap. Thrown off by the extra mass, the two begin to fall to wherever it is below, but Hiromi jumps again, regaining the platform with her prize still held between her teeth.

    She's attacked, of course, immediately. Returning to a form with hands, she takes the first strike against her stolen, oversized halberd, lightning against lightning proving to have no effect. The second, third, and fourth all strike, and she's too impatient to block them all, but she doesn't need to, so long as they can't break her balance. While their weapons strike with blinding discharges, Hiromi moves straight forward, halberd butt to the ground, aiming armor-crushing strikes with her feet. 'Something' flows over the weapon while it's in her hands, rendering even its inert shaft an implausibly destructive force when she swings or thrusts.

    She blocks only when it's convenient, actually reveling in the increasingly effective beating she's being given, losing blood and flesh and being burned through what remains. Broken bones mend, muscles reknit, but the skin over it can wait, because that's enough to deliver one crushing blow after another. She hooks one weapon over another, pulls and pushes her claws through the neck of blessed brass. She steals the broken hands of one opponent to wear over her own and grab its poleaxe by the blade, then twist and heft and launch it into the next. She dodges a downward swing closely enough for it to the ends of her hair, strikes the platform with her palm, and leaps up to grab its neck between her feet and twist, turning the both of them around and slamming its helmeted head into the stairs.

    The place on which she is fighting may or may not survive the battle, but she can just leap away again.
Kukuru "Away from the big ones... Go-ot it!" Kukuru chimes in after Eryl issues that warning, making sure to keep moving even as she tears more and more of the defenders apart with those giant claws. Luckily for Tomoe and Seft, her healing for the former and herself should make things easier for the latter when it comes to actually having enough time to decipher all that stuff Kukuru doesn't quiet understand. So long as nobody outright dies, Kukuru's going to have her hands full spreading enough healing nanites to keep everyone on their feet for a prolonged battle!

Plus, it's easier than actually going around crushing these armored people herself. She certainly won't complain about someone else using them for the time being. Hiromi, too, gets a larger portion of the healer's focus, although she Kukuru doesn't quite chase the archwolf down whenever she pulls away.

"... Ah, she'll be okay. Make some noise if you need a hand, everyone! I can't find out if you don't.. Um. Make it easy to find you!"
Eryl Fairfax     One down. Many more to go. Eryl doesn't have time to reload between the constant onslaught of knighted golems, so no more collapses in the immediate future. He's bracing himself for a full slugfest, already crunching the best pattern to deal with the attackers, when Seft's voice drifts in over the radio.

<J-IC-Scene> Starbound Flotilla | Seft calls out, "Urgent. The murals! There's some kind of code-mechanism in them, I think, to open passageways. Are these dead ends on them, or..."

    A code. A puzzle to be solved, of course. Every possible obstacle to prevent anyone from learning this place's secrets. "Cover me! I'll figure out the code!" Eryl orders, backing up to find as much distance from the golems as possible. Within his skull, his implants fire up, Original Face bringing to mind everything on Lordran Eryl knows.

    Gwyn, the Witch, Nito, Seath. The Four Lords. The accepted history of the Age of Fire. And also the things hidden. The ancient mural at the bottom of the pit. The things he learned in the lost kingdom of Oolacile. All of it, every scrap, whirls and computes in the small yet infinite gaps between neurons and microcomputers. Eryl's brain activity starts to mirror that of someone suffering a seizure as he tries to figure it out.

                               What is the code?                                
Starbound Flotilla     Circling up and taking on enemies from every direction at once is *painful* to deal with, but it's the only option. Devoid of cover, devoid of exits, the Flotilla has to bunch up and go back-to-back.

"Three more at my twelve!"
"Floran kilsss! Watch left!"
"No, your right. I have the left."
"Move, move! Big swing from above!"
"Shit! Go go go! Run!"
"Stick to the Grandmaster, give him cover for those codes!"

    Normally, they'd cluster around someone like Yuuki. But Yuuki and Zero seem to be having their own okay time of things right now. It's probably for the best that they focus on covering Eryl Fairfax, and giving him his room to work, since he needs to focus. "Hey calculator, we aren't gonna have tons of time before tons of stone! Don't be slow about this one!" George calls out, blasting at incoming 10-foot armors, racking the shotgun harder each time.
Zero Kiryu "Thank you," Zero says to Ciaran. He waves a hand towards Hiromi and the fighting Pile Of Golem, spreading a spiderweb of vines in the surroundings to try to form a protective net beneath and adjacent to them so that even if the floor does give way, they'll have somewhere to go. Or at the very least, Hiromi will. He'll wither the vines immediately if the only thing on it is an enemy combatant.

It's not much, though-- it won't take a whole lot of deliberate trying-to-destroy it. It's a net, not a floor. Part of that is because Zero moves on, allowing the enthusiastic Hiromi to indulge in her giant clusterfuck of a battle while he proceeds with all of the others.

The problem in front of them -- or at least, the most practical solution to it -- isn't one that he THINKS he can solve. But Zero does decide to give it a try. He's wondering if the mechanisms that power this place APART from the golems might be some sort of crude but feeble-willed intelligence that can be probed and accessed.

So he sweeps his psychic senses around in search of coherent nodes that aren't the active combatants, looking for the correct artificial neural pathways to push to -- perhaps -- assist with the way forward.
Yuuki Kuran Eryl...

Short-hair Yuuki's eyes widen as Eryl uses (basic) DEDUCTION to manage the INTENSE (simple) PUZZLES (themes about characters).

"So I don't have any special resistances against lightning *or* fire..." She begins, but Eryl is jumping into a fight with the GIANTS.

"Hmm, how's Hiro-"

Second Yuuki, the long-haired one, just takes First Yuuki by the head and tuuuurns it over to Hiromi, where the Wolf is just going to absolute town on some giants and she shouldn't have asked, because she should have known that.

First Yuuki's bright look dies. "Oh."

Second Yuuki nods, sagely, and then they are both hit by llllightning.

"Okay!" both announce, burned and scorched and smushed and de-butterflied and with both of their outfits ruined, nothing going right, and a --

Zero, deep in the thick of things with Ciaran, is 'escorted' through the crowds of Terracotta Warriors. (In this case escorted means 'carried, like a white phantom on LORDBLADE krokodil.) And so, beleagured and at the back, bullied by traps, and feeling put upon, she raises her voice, and applies Authority.

"You serve a Lord and we are Her agents. The property of a Lord should not harm Her family!" She announces, in the strongly-felt hope that invoking shared fealty chains will discourage --

"Oh no! Eryl! Ummmmm George! Keep helping Eryl! They're not-"

Part of the Concord.
Priscilla     Eryl runs into a Problem.

    These seals were created over two thousand years before Unification. They are designed to be difficult to solve *for a local*, *who had the pertinent knowledge from two millennia ago*. This is no Sen's Fortress. Nobody is *supposed* to get through this. The first one is no good. Nor the second one. Nor the third. Each one takes considerable time to cross-reference. The Flotilla is the only cover he has, giving him spare seconds at each before bits of bronze are rolling down stairs and piling at his knees.

    The more he looks from place to place, the more he realizes that these are a sequence of backwards escapes for trapmakers so that they aren't buried with their secrets, and markers for perhaps only Gwyn himself. Using his knowledge of the cipher fragments they've found so far, what he can deduce is shaky: That the coding is individual to each mural-lock, and that most of them don't make any sense. It's impossible for him to tell if those are dead (or deadly) ends and only a couple are true paths, or whether he just can't figure it out, but it's all he has to go on at the moment. If he wants to slip the enemy and get through the (hopefully) correct path he's discovered by scanning and crunching, he will need more assistance.

    Yuuki also encounters a problem. It doesn't feel like an 'inviolable order' problem. It's the slightly gut-dropping realization that these giga golems were not ever built to recognize 'friend', never mind 'Lord'. They are purposefully blind to their masters. They have no concept of 'not harm'. Gwyn himself would have to fight his way down here in his prime to one of the passages he knows is the right one, and by all accounts, he never intended to.
Priscilla     Zero's floor net for poorly behaved children about to break the ball pit is oddly well-timed. What mostly happens is that adjacent rubble from increasingly collapsing ground fills into it in a gradually thicker layer, jumbled and jagged to make footing absolutely terrible but in equal measure better at absorbing shock. Below that, Hiromi can glimpse slivers of other corridors-- and nothing but endless, bottomless, silent, whirling darkness beneath them. The facades of walls below are fake. This entire layer is supported on nothing. The previous collapse was sheer fluke. Solid ground is a lie.

    She can keep on fighting, of course. There are still plenty of reinforcements just entering the massive chamber even now. Certainly, the longer she keeps them busy, the better for everyone. However, she now has two major concerns that, put together, might make her position untenable. First is that the ground is sagging and peeling further and further away worse and worse with each impact, the weight on Zero's net is increasing, and the drop below doesn't care about infinite durability. The second is that the metallic corpses piling up on what stable land there is are becoming viciously electrified as they tangled together. The sheer number of enemies is just going to box her in and leave her in a permanent state of being run through with increasingly lethal and paralyzing voltage without break.

    The floor below is nonsense, but in a less immediately scary way. The architecture here is far better preserved, glowing reflectively like the inner walls of Anor Londo's cathedrals when cast under light. It is, of course, a labyrinth, with identical features designed exclusively to confuse and distort the perception of time and distance, marked only with various statues at any four way intersection. There are occasionally, on large arches, names scrawled in the dead runic hand. It seems like they'd demarcate the locations of the actual graves, here, and whomst they belong to, but it's *this* again.

    Infinite corridors. *Combined* with infinitely looping turns. *Combined* with intentionally the worst map design ever. Why there are infinitely looping turns for infinite corridors that can't be crossed in the first place, who knows. Zero's sense, predictably, finds nothing usefully networked at all, or possessed of meaningful will; however, there are numerous, very distant, points of 'powerful consciousness' on this floor, somewhat close to 'comatose', but more like something he might call 'faded' or 'barely there'. They're points to navigate by and reference objective space, but don't solve any of the other problems.
    The seals... don't relate to anything from modern Lordran?

    No, that can't be right. It all leads back to Anor Londo, to the Four Lords, to Gwyn. Original Face begins crunching and deforming the seals in different ways, trying to find a way that they shift and corrupt over time to become more modern sigils. And yet...


    Ridiculous! Just for the sake of thoroughness, Eryl throws in everything he knows. This land has long since known it borders other worlds. Maybe something from the outside crept in?...


    "The one time it doesn't all lead back to Gwyn!" Eryl shouts, audibly frustrated. He kicks a wrecked piece of brass in frustration, and shouts for Ciaran to ASSIST him. "Those seals! Tell me anything you know about them. Even the tiniest scrap might be what I need!"
Zero Kiryu Zero isn't really surprised that he doesn't encounter any coherent forces to tug on below. As much as he can believe Gwyn was clever enough to make some sort of animating force computer network, it must have had problems. Like, for instance, being moderately inclined to gradually turn into an animate fortress that hates you and could eventually get up and walk away.

This place, clearly, wasn't meant to walk away.

As for the absolute garbage pit of a maze unfolding before Zero, he doesn't even step into the damn thing. He begins to grow vines through it, watching as they spiral into completely bullshit mobius strips in opposite directions of one another, and using the locations of the sleeping-or-faded presences as noteworthy landmarks to grow a "gateway".

He doesn't actually grow them far enough to get wherever the maze goes, though.

He turns towards Ciaran, and asks, "Do you know the way through there? And for that matter... why is this place like this? It's natural for life in this world to develop like this, but this all seems to be the degraded machinations of the builders. Was it really so critical to stop anybody or anything from returning?"

Or is it just tradition, he leaves unsaid.
Priscilla     Ciaran, in that precious, localized lull in fighting, stares downward, then shakes her head. It's emphatic, yet still somehow doesn't disturb that overly long blonde braid. "The Gods that fell in battles past have their mausoleums in Anor Londo. Grand and honoured ones. Even the Great Lord Gwyn has his own tomb, though it is an empty one, in name only. I had never considered that any others would be bereft of bones."

    "What I can say is that I do not believe this is necessary for the sake of preventing their remains from being disturbed or their grave-belongings from being stolen. Their numerous affects and items are enshrined in the City of the Gods, after all. It feels strange, as well, that the gentlest means of dissuasion would be so close to our goal, and the most desperately lethal so near the entrance. Lord Gwyn was ever guarded with his heart, but I cannot believe that all of this is a monument to sentimentality. This grave exists because it must."

    A pause. "I may read aloud those names and dates, if you wish. I know them by heart, and whence they fell. And of course, as Lordsblade, I know the tricks to the miracles of the Moon, as they were used by Lord Gwyndolin to protect her father's tomb. But that is all."
Tomoe This place was old so very old and it certainly was one hell of a death trap. Even by local standards. If anyone other than Pricilla had asked thes tasks to be done she'd have said no. Politely mind you but no. Yet it was Priscilla who had asked. So the quest carries on. There is a genius to this place, a genius that would have made Heathcliff impressed. Heck, she was at how well this was done but she was left thinking for once of how to get through this. Whatever was.

She takes heed of Eryl's situation and there is something she can do.

She can protect those who can do the more brainy thing as they work and she'll scramble to catch up to Eryle throw up a defence buff on him and start covering her former comrade from the Union. Who is still someone she is happy to work with and respects?

"Hope this helps Eryl!"

She'll move to incept deflect and take hits from what's coming hoping to give Eryl some more time to work at the price of getting beat up. It's what she does and she's okay with this.
Kukuru To say that Kukuru is ill-equipped for solving puzzles like these would be an understatement. Sure, she's messed around with ciphers and mazes before, but those were more along the lines of what someone would find in the newspaper or in puzzle books rather than something truly never meant to be solved by mortal minds or by anyone trying not to die horribly by way of ultraviolence.

And yet, she's still lingering here. She knows Zero, Eryl, and several others are already hard at work trying to figure a way through all of this, whether by feeling through the maze or unlocking those seals. It's not something she's quite confident about assisting in, but she sees that smashed hole. She knows Yuuki's trying to tackle the golems while Hiromi tackles the swarm of local beasts.

Zero checking the maze out gives Kukuru an idea! During the lull in the fighting, she swaps out one of her claws for a phone, then starts tapping through menus rapidly while standing by the hole. The light turns on, the recording light turns on, and then- "'scuse me. Just gonna try something real fast. I'll be okay."

And then, whether Zero gives her enough space to go down or she just has to teleport down there, she does! Once she's in, she starts turning around steadily while trying to record whatever her phone can catch. If there's a clear path, she heads down that way while trying to keep her phone camera steady. Once there's resistance, meanwhile...

She teleports right back up. Hopefully, that'll get the group some valuable footage of what it even looks like down there without needing more of them to go down without a convenient escape method.
Eryl Fairfax     "Names and dates of death, perfect. List them as fast as you can. I won't need to ask you to repeat anything, I assure you." Eryl's temple is twitching. The blood pounding through his body pools in his brain, proving much needed glucose, oxygen, and cooling after that workout. Time for round 2.
Zero Kiryu "Go ahead and tell Eryl what you think might be useful," Zero replies to Ciaran, nodding in understanding of what she's told him.

After a moment or two of silence, he asks, "Could it be that the presence of deceased Gods and their belongings could silence something that would otherwise be noisy or troublesome?"
Staren     So there's no good escape... just a horrible maze. Well, not constantly dodging and getting stabbed is... progress? Staren makes her way over to where Zero and Eryl are working on the maze. Maybe she can get a moment to breathe. "It seems it must have been so important... thinking of all the times we've encountered something like this in the Multiverse... things sealed away under puzzles, or under 'good enough' countermeasures easily dealt with... This? THIS is the result of people actually CARING about making sure whatever's in here is never found. They died here for this. They imagined countermeasure after countermeasure... mazes and traps upon mazes and traps. They didn't try to come up with some clever 'right way' that they were sure no one would be smart enough to figure out."

    Staren continues musing as she gets a few seconds to rest and NOT CONSTANTLY DODGE, "There isn't really a 'right way' to go, here, is there? They collapsed it. The maze, everything... it's like our target is just buried, except instead of being buried in dirt, it's buried in hellmaze robot hive... and even figuring out whether it's faster to attempt to dig through walls straight towards it, IF we knew where it was, would be better than trying to find our way through the maze, delays us further..."
Starbound Flotilla     "History class, huh Texas Instruments? We're really pushin' our deadline here and makin' that word *real relevant*." George rambles, a sense of urgency in his voice as weapons crash and lightning burns, accumulating painful damage over his blood-red hardsuit. One adept polearm strike rips enough of his helmet apart that he has to just take the whole thing off and start crushing the knees and helm of the assailant with the butt of his shotgun. He takes a short break between attacks only to slip a cigarette into his mouth, and light it on one of the small fires that won't go out on his arm. He's got a bit of that "OBJECTIVE: SURVIVE" energy, and he doesn't like where that *ends*. "Someone tag in!"

    "Urgent. I'll help you, George!" Seft moves rapidly, surging to protect the Paladin Grandmaster. The Flotilla line starts to waver without its main tank, but at least George is less likely to keel over dead under these circumstances. "Stressed. Do your best! We'll buy you all the time we can!" Seft buzzes under the barrage of incoming golems and their ruthless strikes.
Hiromi     Of course they're trying to leave Hiromi no room to maneuver, to bury her in their bodies, if they can. They have their own notion of pack tactics, and it would be effective, against most. Hiromi can leap between the platforms as well as they can, and continue fighting until there's nowhere left to stand, at all, but piles of electrified armor. But it won't need to come to that, either.

    She swings up a broken golem arm, smashing it down on the great axe coming her way, pinning that into the walkway long enough to jump on top of the golem's shoulders, then use it as a springboard, driving it down for the sake of going far, far up, back to the hole they'd dropped into here out of. It's caved in, but that doesn't matter. There's nowhere left for her to stand, but she doesn't need that, either.

    Finding a way out of this fight would be the smart move. One might say, she hadn't come here just to fight a bunch of golems, but with a particular goal. One might say that, if one could scarcely fathom her priorities.

    Hiromi's claws drive into the rubble above her. She brings her feet in and kicks upward, wedging herself into the blocked passage, then pulls loose the impossibly heavy rubble in enormous chunks, letting it fall down below her. She quickly digs out more and more, heedless of what happens to it. Most of it will disappear into nothing, irrelevant. Some may hit something on the way down. None of that's important. Getting at the stone is what matters, digging her claws into granite like soft earth, then dropping herself back down and away, this time in a controlled fall on a great stalactite that becomes a column, reaching and enveloping the walkway below.

    Those stairs were old and weak. That has to be why they couldn't withstand the pounding. Bringing her own stone, spreading it where she needs to go, she can get all the way down to the labyrinth beneath and never run out of places to stand. If there's no floor, she'll make her own.

    Now, of course, she won't run out of places to keep the bodies.
Captain Flint      The only way is down, and down is treacherous.

     Flint and his men end up regrouping, after an early injury from one of the treacherous traps on the first floor. Kukuru's healing is greatly appreciated--as is her tunneling. There are complaints about not being able to use explosives, when Kukuru and Hiromi are both taking the most direct route down. After Joshua suffers a terrible break from falling onto that jagged rubble on the next level down, the complaints quiet.

     The crew sticks close to Kukuru after that, aiming never to be far from her healing. In turn, things get very tense in stair hell--because John Silver has to take his time with stairs at the best of times, and this is most certainly not the best of times. It takes all of them working in tandem to handle the golems, and after Flint is nearly thrown to the darkness below by one of those deadly giant arrows, they no longer make the mistake of trying to kill the golems with their own friendly fire. The pirates make a fighting advance, further down, Flint directing them such that they only strike when a decisive blow can be made--and focus moreso on avoiding and getting downwards.

     It would be exhausting even without the constant stream of giant, leaping hostiles and their arrow-nocking friends. With those, and with their larger, clumsier reinforcements, it is near impossible.

     The only saving grace is...

     "Oil!" The crew carry clay pots full of slippery industrial oil, having learned by now that no one should come to this world expecting to fight fair. They wait until the golems have already leapt, then smash them under the anticipated landing spot. The downside is that these golems are so huge that each requires at least two pots--but using their own weight against them is a lot more efficient on ammunition than trying to blow them away with concentrated fire--especially with how many are still coming.

     "Watch their movements--step only where they do!" Billy is struck on the head by falling rubble--and Flint, surprising everyone else on the crew, catches him, preventing the unconscious boatswain from falling off the ledge. "Move, now! Get back to Kukuru!"

     When she teleports back up from that hole, the remaining pirates lay Billy down beside her, and begin stockpiling rubble that's already forming to fashion a crude barricade. It won't protect against the force the golems are able to muster, but it should at least reduce their profiles. Hopefully, she can heal Billy. Flint is already barking orders again.

     With the last of their slippery oil, the pirates are attempting to make called shots. Listening to those places where the stomping of blessed brass feet can be heard as a prelude to their leaps, and attempting to hurl (or launch via crude improvised two-man slingshots) pots towards what they estimate to be entry points.The idea is to force the golems to take a few extra steps before leaping, or else eat shit trying to leap.
Yuuki Kuran "Well, that should have them all correctly identify us as friends, so--" First Yuuki begins, fists triumphant on her hips.

"Ah-" Second Yuuki notes, pointing at the oncoming fist of a giant frames before it wipes out First Yuuki.

POW! And off a cliff again.

Clambering up the cliff's edge, First Yuuki blows on a distressed and hanging bang in frustration. "This is really fff... frustrating." First Yuuki complains, exhaling and pulling herself back up before some terracotta asshole begins trying to camp her on the cliff's edge. "Maybe..." Transitioning to a standing pose, the short-haired Yuuki tries her Influence again, but this time nonverbally: To 'power down' or just put all the guardians back to sleep.


Second Yuuki peeks over Zero's shoulder on her tip-toes, just her eyes and bangs visible. "Eryl really is the best at puzzles." She gasps quietly, watching the biggu brain boy work his magic mindmeat.
Priscilla     Oil is something entirely period appropriate, and yet, inventively, kind of bullshit. Namely, the floor here isn't supposed to give; one person couldn't really do that. The amount of oil one person could carry wouldn't be useful either. It can't be said that any of these constructs are clumsy; there are no comedic pratfalls for anything with such sufficient killing grace, all unsurprisingly said. However, crumbling architecture, and even moreso, the organically shaped natural granite that Hiromi brings down, aren't steadfastly stable and OHS compliant footing in the first place. It soon becomes nearly impossible to actually approach the Elites isolated by it. So it's just arrows. Which are still really bad, but an improvement by far. Outside of the oiled areas, Hiromi is still free to fight as she pleases, albeit the majority of melee combatants are now stranded on different sections and reduced to creating a bullet hell of giant magic arrows and slicing waves of lightning.

    With the Flotilla and Tomoe holding the line, Ciaran makes the most absurdly fantastical set of leaps all the way over to Eryl, literally jumping from falling tiles to chain hop to the other side, as if she weighed nothing. When arriving, she begins INFORMing him of which obscure or god each symbol is meant to represent and which unknown one could correspond to each date and scene of battle. Though the code all appears to be written, what she describes actually strikes him as a slightly fucked up form of 'Norse-Celtic ASCII art', drawing a picture of a battlefield in the Age of Dragons through its text as much as it tells a story. True to his suspicion, only one of them fully lines up with an actual event, thankfully late enough for the Lordsblade to recall it. Slamming every single letter in just the right sequence causes the surviving section of floor to dematerialize, slowly becoming translucent, then semi-solid, then abruptly dropping that whole group into an identical corridor as the rest, albeit this one is a dead end, and to their back, which is ideal.

Priscilla     Kukuru finds that teleporting in and out of the maze is really, really hard. It's actually fairly simple why, which makes it worse. It's impossible to tell how far she is down any given corridor or away from any given corner, so it's impossible to really aim her exit correctly, and she has to frequently teleport in freefall to some of Hiromi's granite platforming. Nothing strictly stops her from *entering* at any location, but moving from place to place within it is just not happening.

    Her most relevant photo is one of an arch with one of those carved inscriptions above it, which leads into a massive, arched vault, of course pitch black itself, with a simple stone sarcophagus in almost viking style, thrice her height and ten times that length. However, it also appears to be surrounded by a field of numerous, human-sized sarcophagi, unmarked, some some hollow circle symbol scratched into them, which glow faintly in the dark. This location corresponds exactly to one of Zero's 'nav points'.



    No time to call out that he has it, no time to even wipe that dribble of blood oozing from a burst blood vessel in his nose. Eryl moves, pushing the symbols into place just-so, recreating the description of the sole event that aligns with what Ciaran can recollect. The floor gives way, and he plunges without a noise, landing with a slump before pushing himself back to his feet. "Let's move!" he shouts with those who managed to avoid falling long enough to fall the right way. "We'll find the others later."

    He breaks into a run down the sole path. Now he finds time to wipe the blood.
Priscilla     Something weird happens with Yuuki's brave attempts. Namely, they don't work, at all, for a while. However, these things must clearly *have* a 'power down' or at least 'chill out' state, because they were like that when everyone got here. When it seems to stick is when the last of the rolling cascade of Miyazaki scripted floor-break reaches the outer walls, and it fully cuts off the stream of reinforcements from the orthagonally attached chambers. This puts them into a holding pattern, and those that aren't *already* shooting just wander back to their reset zones and de-aggro when Yuuki insists. Sadly, this leaves Hiromi with very little to keep fighting.

    It also means that anyone trying to get out of a maze where you aren't allowed to get down even one section has to climb back out and move to where Eryl, the Captains, and Tomoe are, because the *only* location that leads anywhere is that one. A narrow, winding gap through the infinite space blockade, because, obviously, otherwise the creator would end up trapped inside, because of how mazes work geometrically.
Tomoe Tomoe holds the line and will keep holding the line alongside the starbounders as Ciaran joins with vital information to help Eryl. She'll keep fighting she'll keep taking hits and she ends up having red wireframe splotches over her body but she seems in good enough spirits. They are able gets it done and shortly after Eryl gets it and Tomoe does not need to be told twice s she'll barrel right after him, with a shocking amount of grace for someone so large. She will do her best to keep with Eryl and the Captains as she goes.

"Right with you!"
Priscilla     The correct path requires carefully adhering to step by step instructions, because one turn off, or even just brushing the edges of an intersection too closely, would result in getting stuck without any real way to extract.

    What it eventually takes them to clearly used to be stairs. Or at least one of those nonsense medieval elevators. What it takes them to instead is a passage choked to the brim with what, at first, look like tangled, malformed briars, but then look sort of like a cancerous growth of curling horns, or the petrified remains of a vascular system, or a molten cast of a tremendous ant's nest, or-- any number of hideously tangled and sharp and strangely grown things, really. It's sooty black, but smooth and hard, like metal, strangely lukewarm, and very, very hard.

    Parts of it also appear to be molten, at some temperature that no earthly metal can withstand, and thus actually extremely deadly for anyone to touch. Furthermore, attempts to hack at it find that it both *bleeds* a dark, blue-black kind of splotchy blood, and then begins *growing back*. Of course, everything outside that shaft is known to be infinite blackness.

    Ciaran, her voice oozing intense dread, finally replies to Zero with a simple "Perhaps."
Kukuru When Kukuru comes back up, she's not expecting to have injured brought to her already, but there they are and there she is! She's looking considerably more frazzled than before, too, thanks to her efforts in teleportation actually being kind of dicey for once. She's clearly not used to that being messed with, but she doesn't really have much time to recover or really analyze her findings in detail at that moment.

"Okay... Uh. Someone take this!" Thus, she'll try to leave that to someone else! If someone indicates that they'll want the phone, she just lobs it right for them so they can figure out what's going on with that footage of the inscribed arch leading into the weird vault with the giant sarcophagus and multiple smaller sarcophagi. Otherwise, she'll pocket it hastily and relay her findings after finishing up her healing work.

Either way, though, she gets right to work with her specialty: Healing the everloving shit out of everyone. She does find some interruptions in the form of things hurling all manner of magic slicey bullshit, though, and a particularly nasty one has her yelping at getting cut straight through most of her shoulder. Instead of leaping over to handle the magic users herself, though, she focuses on just taking care of the wounds first. Billy's head is lucky number one as he's checked over gingerly for anything that might have gotten embedded while Kukuru patches that right up with an infusion of healing nanites, followed by a faster once-over of Flint and the crew, then a more thorough nanite-chase for Hiromi even as she goes ham with her makeshift fight elevator.

"You know... This is gonna be pretty tough if we're just fighting all of them without really crushing them. Do you wanna be big and stronger for a while? Just... Go nuts?" She offers to Billy, mostly by virtue of the first one to go down. If he accepts, she turns her energy towards him again, somewhat carefully increasing his size to roughly that of one of the golems and making sure he's BIG AND STRONG to be able to even withstand his new size.
Zero Kiryu "If Ciaran says Gwyn had a good reason, I believe it. Still... it's pretty obnoxious," Zero agrees with Yuuki. He pats one of them on the head in response to the other's frustration, and then turns his attention towards Eryl. As it turns out, pushing Eryl's angle was the correct call, thank god.

Once the path forward is open by Eryl -- he defers to Eryl's passage, allowing him to go first -- he takes one of the Yuuki by the hand and proceeds. It is not a coincidence that he is moving along the route that Ciaran uses as best as he can, because he's noticed that she knows her shit well enough that trusting her judgment is probably one of the best decisions he can make down here.

Fresh brambles rise from Zero's back when it looks like they have plant matter they need to clear, but the dread audible in Ciaran's voice is enough to give him pause. The plants drop away to the ground, spreading out in a nonspecific growth pattern that might just be some sort of holding state default.

"What is it and what has caused it to be this way?" He asks.
Staren     Staren just explained that there's no reason for there to be puzzles to actually solve in here.

    And then, with Ciaran explaining the context, Eryl solves the puzzle and they're dropped into Somewhere Else, which is at least away from the golems.

    Staren stares around, wide-eyed. "What? That shouldn't be... why would they include that?! I don't like it... this is a trap, right?" But with Eryl and Zero and everyone running ahead, following seems the best idea.

    Oh hey, horrible death briars. "Well, I'm not touching THAT..." It bleeds and grows back. "This is where one of those powers that just deletes stuff would be great... I wonder if the Lifehunt would have worked..." She sighs and slumps. "Sorry I'm not much help with this... I'm exactly the kind of meddler they wanted to keep out, I suspect."

    At least it remains nice and cool, relatively, as the cold-producing-spots follow her around. If no one comes up with any other idea she'll try calling the Concord again, see if the AI can work out what the team is missing with the brambles.
Hiromi     It's not just that Hiromi's now provided a place to put her feet, but that the golems who come after her must be wary of their own. There's the oil tossed by Flint's men to consider, but also the fact that the stone doesn't have to hold the first form she gives it. Ridges and walls appear as she fights, low enough to by leapt over or hacked through, but no step taken to deal with her rapidly reforming terrain goes unpunished by Hiromi's claws, digging into golems as they vault or drop. For her, the mobile earth is only an advantage, lifting her high to drop her heel, or slipping beneath her feet when she needs to drop low and sweep a leg.

    But then there's nothing left but the archers. Kukuru had been dealing with those, at some point before, so Hiromi only looks on curiously as one aims and fires on her. At such a distance, one would expect any projectile to take a moment to reach her.

    The moonlight weapon punches through her, sticking out her back, just missing her stomach. Hiromi jerks backward with the impact, not knowing how it did that, but intuiting that it will, quite reasonably, happen again. She twists, turns, drops, dodging a ceaseless volley, and tears the arrow back out again. Healing nanites are already at work on her, so it's no problem. A solid wall raises in front of her, thick enough to be more of an interposing boulder than an armor curtain. That will last awhile, unless they've brought the kind of siege weaponry that the walkways wouldn't survive.

    "Archers," she says. It's not a word she likes. They're warriors, of a kind, but a massed volley lacks that personal touch. "I can break them, but throwing contests lack long interest. Has the path been found?" Hiromi forms up a line of walls to protect herself, Flint and his men, and anyone else in the vicinity, so they can safely make it to where Eryl had been working on the door down.
Zero Kiryu "It's a funnel. They were counting on gravity to keep things below, and put the more dangerous defenses at the top, rather than in the depths," Zero clarifies for Staren, speculatively. "And if the First's Lifehunt would work, my own abilities probably would. I'm concerned about disturbing it more than we have to if it can't be killed fairly simply, and it doesn't look like it can."
Eryl Fairfax "This looks wrong. But I would not be surprised if they planted something deliberately to choke this chamber access," Eryl mutters. Everything about it defies his understanding of plants. Most don't grow chitin, after all, nor do they burn at temperatures that could melt his implants.

    "But everything is destined to end. Even this." He begins examining the brambles carefully. Surely there must be a way to safely prune it? Plants with direct, physical defences like this must have a gap or a weakness. He compares it to all the invasive weeds he knows (an extensive lists), to try and find a point of comparison.
Starbound Flotilla     "...iiiiIIIIIT!" SLAM. George lands on his back with a crack and the sound of a spacesuit landing buffer activating. The inflated protective gear disengages fast -- and takes much of his badly damaged torso armor with it. He rolls over limply, then coughs into the dirt and pulls a fresh cigarette. He speaks to Eryl. "Sure thing, Gee-Em. From here on out, though, you cover your *own* ass." He grumbles, staggering onto his feet and lighting the cigarette on some of the sparks from his old armor before he breaks into a run alongside him. Seft lands nearby -- more gracefully, blocking the ground with the reactive armor of her tower shield, which overloads and shatters -- and does much the same with her own urgent run.

    A large monkeyman slams down nearby, getting to his feet. The rest of the Flotilla descend around him. "Move, move! Director's influence is only *resetting* them, still need to get clear of their activation zones!" He hustles, a rapid march that's made a little clumsy by the shattered chunks of armor. Biteblade is the last, which is fortunate, because she seems *scared* of the elevator's malformed briars.

    "NnnnNNNNH! Isss worssse than any Greenfinger thing Floran hasss ever ssseen!" She cries out, pulling back. "Where isss *source*? Floran think, growth comesss from food, sssource, need to find circulator or storage or sssomething."

    "I'd suggest the solution for any Floran matter. A rapid, precise evasion that renders it perpetually, terminally, irrelevant. A side tunnel?" Moonfin stumbles up, sheathing his sword and examining the environment. What's a good plan here? The Flotilla's mining beams are ready for either, considering how they at least are specialized for working just fine in near-molten environments.
Yuuki Kuran First Yuuki hustles along with the captains, smiling. "You're always so serious, Arthur." She encourages. "It's admirable. I have to take breaks, because if my head is squeezed so long I get this feeling in my brow..."

With the golems stopped up, they can carry on!

First Yuuki claps her hands together and mouths a 'forgive me!' to Hiromi as the Flotilla and her pass, having deprived the Wolf of her prize.


Second Yuuki follows along, arms wide and thoughtful as she paces along in Zero's wake, before getting bored and floating along behind him while checking her phone. "Don't worry. I'm trying to cut out some of the unnecessary fighting. Still."

Second Yuuki looks again to Eryl... and then Moonfin arrives, with First Yuuki. The two link hands, turning to moonfin and, with simultineaty, smile and say: "I've been waiting for your digging prowess to come in handy. Please, dig away! I can help!"

They both roll up different sleeves, though Second Yuuki uses the roll-up to look at her phone.

This is the deep magic of multitasking.
Tomoe Tomoe is keeping with Eryl as they go deeper into this nightmare of a dungeon she'll look to him for a moment and pay close attention to what he's saying. She also heeds what Zero says as well. "Humm so it could be like a timer?"

She muses if the thing has a life span of some sort but then again? Given this world's sense of life and dead is? Who the heck knows.

"I agree Staren I ain't touching that...I have no idea what I can do at the moment but if any of you have an idea of how to apply what I can do just tell me."
Priscilla     Staren's computer confirms two things that seem oddly unimportant. One is that the way here is indeed the only way it is geometrically possible to build a maze you can't actually get around, without throwing in heaps of sacrificial ultra-powerful miracle workers, and thus likely a concession to necessity. The other is that the 'brambles' compositionally return as: Steel, of a variety suited to making weapons. And Human Flesh; undifferentiated, pegged as 87% likely to be stem cell tissue.
Captain Flint      "Get the rifle!"

     "Can't, captain--got smashed in the fall!"

     "What -do- we have?!"

     They have Kukuru. Who offers to make Billy enormous and strong. Billy glances incredulously back at Flint and Silver.

     "Well, you don't need -our- permission," Silver says incredulously, sweating buckets from all the accursed stairs as he loads another clip into his pistol. The crew is running low on ammo--as evidenced by the fact that Silver is using a pistol. Even though the golems which threaten them now are primarily the archers...

     "Captain! These barricades aren't doing shit!"

     "Hit me," says Billy, as one of those massive arrows sends the hasty fortifications flying, causing the pirates to duck for cover.

     With Kukuru's added might, Billy becomes the crew's secret weapon against those archers. He was hardly tiny before--but now, he's large enough to gather up, in one armful, most of the rubble the crew had collected. As Hiromi's wall catches an arrow intended for Flint, Billy peers over it and narrows his eyes.

     Twirling as if he were about to make a discus toss, he hurls this armful of rubble to make from it a crude bombardment aimed at the last direction he saw one of those spiraling enchanted arrows.

     "Move now!" says Billy, urging the rest of the crew. "This way," he adds for Hiromi's benefit, leading everyone on the path down as spear-sized arrows angrily dart through the air. There's a steep drop that he and the others hadn't noticed. Thankfully, as large as he now is, Billy makes a good landing pad for the other five men.

     Faced with the demon briars, it's Flint who next speaks up. "We'd gladly assist with your tunnel, Moonfin."

     "There... are also the shaped charges," Silver conspiratorially mentions to Seft.
Priscilla     Eryl sussing out the site himself, also feels two things in particular. One is that the gross, abyssal sea-coloured 'blood' reminds him of something, tickling the edge of his recollection, and that it is certainly much worse than being run through or heat-vapourized.

    The other is that the barely legible remains of inscription, now carved out of the stone by 'growth', most certainly are familiar. They're nearly identical to the ones in the Archives, Lost Izalith, and the Tomb of Giants. The thresholds that were once 'Sealed by the Power of the Lordvessel'.

    That is to say, this shaft was once rendered completely, decisively impassible. Only one with the authority of the world itself could hope to transgress it, no matter what they tried. Tunneling around the edges, the Flotilla's sensors again confirms, just isn't a thing; like every other floor, this one appears to be suspended in that howling blackness again. Breaching a wall might just be totally useless, or worse, someone might end up sucked into infinite noclip land.
Staren     Staren relays this: "According to AI analysis, the maze's structure is consistant with my hypothesis. The briars appear to be made of weapons-grade steel and... human stem cells?" That seems like a Significant Puzzle Piece that someone else might have the other pieces to.
Eryl Fairfax     To not recall something is very disconcerting for Eryl. His implants have trapped ever thought in permanent storage since they were put in his skull. So to look at something, and be reminded of something else, but not exactly what, puts a chill through him that he has to clamp down on with conscious control of automatic fear reflexes.

    The inscriptions, however... scratched and worn as they are, he recognises them. "It's like... the Tomb, and the Archives. Only the Lordsouls, or a power equivalent, could have unsealed this place. If Priscilla was here, perhaps..."
Starbound Flotilla     "It is less a tunnel, and more a thin rope bridge over the perilous void. I dare not, it seems, slice the rope in a scheme to cross this obstacle." Moonfin says to Flint, examining readouts from a panicked Seft and putting his mining beam away.

    "That strength is what we would need to transgress it, to go beyond it in some forceful way. But what of legitimate passage?"
    "No such damn thing. Don't you remember? This wasn't supposed to get pulled back from the underground, this was supposed to be where it went to die. And I don't even know if they put this here on purpose."

    "Hold it, hold it, hold it. What'd Staren say? *Human stem cells*? That's fucked up. Why would the Gods of Lordran use *human* material for this? They wouldn't, right? Is there--" Biteblade attempts to slice at it, provoking a spray of blood. "Jesus!" George takes a moment, drawing deeply from his cigarette. "How do we do this, how do we do this..." He mutters, pacing, examining it. He winces, grabbing one of his wounds and coming back with a handprint of blood. "Maybe...?"

    He presses his bloody hand against one of the lukewarm segments. "Hey there, big guy. No gods here. Just us humans." A lie, considering Ciaran's presence. "Good work on this breach. You're 'human' too, right? Does this do somethin'? You got the human essence, I got the human essence... anything? C'mon, bro, gimmie something. Us humans gotta stick together."

    Unlikely. George shakes his head. "Moonie, get with Flint's men. If we can't tunnel around, just gotta find a way of bracing the regrowth while you tunnel through. It's like a billion-times-worse space kudzu fuckfest here, you just gotta slice and brace." That's the better angle to take here, albeit incredibly difficult with those molten sections; Moonfin will try to take up Captain Flint's offer there.
Captain Flint      "I'm inclined to agree with you," says Flint to Moonfin. "Unfortunately, what building supplies we did bring were largely lost by the numerous falls between here and our point of entry."

     "Not all of them," says Large!Billy. "We still have rope." He utters it sarcastically, but Flint's gears are already turning.

     The captain strokes his goatee, seafoam eyes flicking from one end of the inscribed hall to the other. "In his current state, Billy might be sufficiently strong to use that as a kind of brace." Flint's expression is its usual calm, though Billy, having seen the spray of blood, gives him an incredulous squint. With a side-eye towards his boatswain, the captain continues. "Failing that, might Moonfin fashion a telepad which Ciaran might carry to the other end?"
Zero Kiryu Zero... falls in with George's lead, and attempts to press his psychic presence into the 'human' cluster, coaxing it towards favorability to George. He's not really certain that it's sapient as such, though if it's survived down here for any length of time, he's certain that it has some sort of animating force that can be interacted with. Even if it isn't altogether coherent or sane by the standards of any other thinking being. In the meantime, though...

"Legitimate entrance might still be possible, by the Director. What direct relatives of Gwyn still live?" He asks, plainly.
Hiromi     Hiromi grunts an acknowledgement to Flint. There isn't really a fight to be had here, anymore. (She's unaware of Yuuki's exact involvement in that matter.) So there isn't a point in keeping people up here. Archer golems are basically just traps, if you can't bring them down to the battlefield.

    Getting her walls up to where the opening is, keeping under sufficient cover along the way (and running low to the ground) means she can push the same granite construction, flowing after her like some miraculously quick-growing crystal, into the new area with them. She really only needes a big enough 'source' of it, and can just make more.

    With that in mind, she responds to George's mention of 'bracing,' and Flint's of 'building supplies.' "Plenty of stone." Though if whatever that stuff is is hot enough, it'll turn the rock to lava.
Yuuki Kuran Helping out George...

Both Yuukis tilt their heads and frown. "But we don't really have any ability to reinforce this. Unless you think..."

The two Yuuki's donk their heads together and tap their chins in synch.


"Wait, if it's human essence holding the path, then... I've got a great idea!" With a palpable pressure-shimmer about her that causes moments of visible air friction, she sends out a wave of...

Love and support? 'You're Doing A Great Job, Keep It Up' the psychic impulse?

Weaponized good vibes? Certainly, humans function best with a little praise now and then.


Second Yuuki's bright idea is to 'hmm hmm' nod at Zero. "You can do it. I'll wait here and get ready to reinforce the ba--... Why even bother? Zero, just go get the First." Second Yuuki smiles. "She deserves to lead the way. It's fine that we cleared all the boring parts. Right? She even leant us Ciaran!"
Tomoe Tomoe looks over the site for a moment she feels a bit ill and ends up looking away from it. She's thinking she's looking around for others there which might befall Eryl and anyone else. She's on high alert but knows she's not in the best place to do much for the moment it doesn't mean she can't remain alert for more issues that might befall everyone.

Shge looks over to Moonfind.

"That makese sense..."

She looks Zero for a moment and her eyes widen. If theres someone legit they can call this could solve it.

"The First? Yeah she does this is her world after all..."
Zero Kiryu "'Of this world' wouldn't be enough." Zero shrugs, withdrawing his psychic pressure on the human-plant abomination, and turns to establish a fresh set of vines and plant curtains that he steps through towards the plants he left behind at the rough area that Priscilla specified as "halfway". Since they've been there for a while they're not in the best condition still, but he does take a moment to reinforce them... and then one of the vines on the side he came from seizes Second Yuuki and drags her through surprisingly delicately.

"Even odds we need to fight a bunch of cranky stuff we stirred up last time we were through," he explains. Which is to say, he knows Yuuki exists in multiple places at once and //can// help him with dealing with all the garbage that might come up along the way. It isn't as if they took absolutely no risky actions along the way that might destabilize the path or make it dangerous in places.
Priscilla     George doing the ostensibly really stupid thing, following the pattern, makes two discoveries. However, both of these are very significant.

    One is that his hand sinks right through the threshold where it should be rejected by the total authority of this world's beating heart. The Lordvessel had been placed and the First Flame rekindled years ago. Which means its link to this place is broken and dead. It seems all of this must have grown past the open seal in that time, and irreparably damaged it. At least, if there aren't any more.

    The second is that it isn't the growth that responds to his thoughts, but his thoughts that respond to the growth. The instant he lays his blood-slicked hand on the lukewarm living metal, the impression he gets is thus.

    This is my sword. I had forgotten it until now. But it belongs to me. It belonged to us. I made this. It is like me and that is why I know it is my sword. I can't fix it like this. I have to take it back to where it was made. But I don't remember where that is.

    It feels unresponsive to either vampire's intent. That is because it is a sword. George knows this. How silly, to try to encourage a sword. He knows his sword. That would be stupid. A few seconds later, he'll notice it's starting to grow over his hand. He has no trouble pulling away, but it's pretty creepy, because rather than trying to envelop his arm, it felt like it was growing in the shape of 'holding his hand'.

    Hacking away at it is technically feasible. The superheated columns are indeed enough to gradually turn granite into molten granite and make everything worse. The work itself is fraught and perilous, if that's what the choice becomes. However, what's particularly worse than the tangle of growing steel blades and molten heat is the blue-black blood that sloshes from its severed stumps.

    Because the first person (likely, people) to get it splashed on them finds that it readily sinks into their clothes, stains their skin, and then begins growing, spreading intricately gnarled blue-black growth through their flesh. Rather, their flesh grows into *it*. Vast amounts of energy resources are coopted at a tremendous rate to speed the transformation, and replaced with a gradually builting intrusive influence in the mind. A sense of invasive, ravenous hunger and loss, for those who aren't strictly human. For those who are, a dangerously seductive and nostalgic feeling of 'coming home'. Either is an immediate, severe, life-threatening hazard, and thus progress becomes something dominated by the matter of not getting bled on.

    Except George. George found it first. It belongs to him. A sword can't harm its own wielder. That's stupid.
Hiromi     Hiromi doesn't pour lava down the tunnel, because lava and tunnels are things she knows well when to mix and when to avoid. Breaking out of the maze and going out down its side occurs to her, but there's still the danger of destroying whatever's holding them up in the void, and she's distracted by the strangeness of the human-steel.

    It has the appearance of a briar, or a nest, or a... something else, something that isn't a mass of weaponry. She finally walks up, extends the bone-claws from her hands, and slashes apart what's in her way. Blood splashes.

    That's bad. Strange growths in deep places. Curses and poisons. That blood is definitely, absolutely, a bad sign. It's not like blood should be.

    It touches her hand. Something tries to grow there, tries to grow her, into her, to grab at her mind, not to give her vision, but to enforce one, to override her own -- and it can't, because Hiromi is already grabbing her left arm with her right. She squeezes. Taut musculature flexes, once. There is a wet crunch.

    Hiromi tosses her forearm down the shaft. It hits a lot of things on the way. That doesn't matter. Her bones are already knitting, muscles weaving, skin stretching down. Don't mind the blood.

    Hiromi leaps into the shaft, the short ways into it that's actually open for one of her bulk. She grabs at the steel briars to either side, and bends them, twisting them away, paying just enough attention not to snap them. This is fine. It's not like with rock; steel will take another shape, even without someone like her to tell it it must. She just has to bend each piece out of the way, far enough to get through.

    It's as hot as wading into lava, and she can feel that on her hands, and on her bare feet. But that, too, is fine. That's a hazard of the deep places, and it's not one that can truly hurt her. She only has to tolerate it until she gets to the bottom.
Eryl Fairfax     'Don't get splattered.' It's the easiest thing in the world to internalise when faced with a hideous cancer plant. But Eryl's tired. So please, cut him some slack when some of it hits his cheek. Immediately, his KOAN core starts draining rapidly as cells and metal erupt from his skin. Blades erupt from his forearms and he gives himself the closest shave he's ever had, cutting out a chunk of skin to seperate the cancer

    "HOLD STILL," he urges anyone else hit. His blades flash, their surface glowing from friction with the surrounding air as they vibrate. Everyone who needs it gets their own close shave, carefully aimed thanks to his implants to cut out as little flesh as possible while removing the growths.
Kukuru After bolstering Billy's strength and size, Kukuru's efforts soon shift back to trying to understand the secrets of the seals! Except...

It's still not making much sense at all. Shortly afterwards, she refocuses her efforts on patching up the fighters some more to keep them going throughout this ordeal, but she's soon distracted (Again) when the sword starts trying to hold George's hand like osme kind of creepy ghost stalker or something.

To make matters worse, she can tell that the strange blood should be having a rather terrible effect on her mind. She can certainly feel something foreign poking and prodding at her mind, trying to reshape it, turn it into something far hungrier than she already is. Thanks to those implants in Kukuru's mind, however...

She can keep on going even through all of that. The growths, however, are a different story. She has to actively focus on keeping those nanomachines flowing through her to cycle that weird flesh-modifying stuff out and concentrating into smaller pockets where she can't just wait for it to go away, wincing each time she has to carve off a chunk to keep it from getting too obtrusive with her ability to follow Eryl and Hiromi further down.

Also, Kukuru's following them further down, healing them all the while. Someone has to keep Hiromi and Eryl from going too far pushing themselves, after all! Eryl's pinpoint cuts are followed up with some healing from the medic, doing what she can to soothe those wounds  afterwards so they don't get reinfected on the way down.
Tomoe Tomoe watches with concern at George's actions but then something happens he's able to get past and she wonders. Could it have something to do with how the world has been repaired, in many ways? She doesn't know for sure she does know they need to cut their way through it so that's what she's going to do. She readies her blade which blazes with holy fire as she gets to work as the warning is shouted by Eryl. It's somewhat not too late but she's already started hacking in some of the blood does get on her avatar and several things starts to happen.

The growth starts to through her form but it goes deeper. Deeper in a way Tomoe would expect. Normally she'd need to be beaten into submission generally for this to be on the table. Yet this goes for her mind her soul rather than her physical form. She shakes her head as she tar to feel odd almost like she was heading home even as her MP starts to drop as the thing is growing in he body.

"This ... almost feels like home."

She does try to heed the warning and will step back even as her MP bar drains she'll start using light spells to try and carve her way through. Yet that call is coming she's coming home and her MP bar is going to be spent before long.
Starbound Flotilla     This is my sword. But this body is nothing, only a husk. But this sword belongs to me. But belonging is a falsehood. Nothing belongs to anyone. There is only what you have your palms and fingers around, and what they don't.

    "Hold on. Wait. It's been *ages* since I've seen this thing." George mutters. And he closes his eyes. "Come on, old girl. I remember you. Remember how we used to be? Remember the way things were?" He takes a deep, deep breath. This is his sword. How had he forgotten it until now? His sword grows, sure. That's what his sword does. The sword his people use.

    Moonfin shouts, "George! God damn you, whatever zen philosophical achievement you're making, it's not worth this growing on me! Fix this!"

    "Oh! Sorry 'bout my sword." And as would be polite in any situation, George gently tries to deactivate his e-sword. He's familiar, after all, with corrosive swords that get a bit obstructive in small passageways. And it's polite, after all, to click them into their inactive state, and put them away. So, Sword, will you do that for your old friend George?
Captain Flint <J-IC-Scene> Hiromi says, "Ladder. Or rope. Or take long falls. Don't touch edges."

     The Walrus crew decide to go with rope--since they've got plenty. There's just one problem--Billy is even huger than he normally is. So once everyone else has the chance to get down there, by whatever means they choose to do, he has to go down the rope by himself.

     It's treacherous work. So much so that... "I'm hit," says Billy--and with everyone else all the way down, he has no chance at that point but to blitz it. When he's at the bottom, a concerning number of growths are forming on his back and arms. There is a curious look in his eye. A dangerous look, as...

Things were better. When he was smaller. When all the world was him, and his parents. He wants to go back to that world. Before they were taken from him. Before he learned to control that fire inside him--back when that fire was encouraged. Before there were so many people to--

     "Hold him down," says John Silver, as the other four pirates swarm around him.

     "Billy, focus on the sound of my voice," says Flint. "You are here. You are needed. You are--"

     Silver's saber hews one growth from his back. He's been learning from Flint. A flick of the wrist severs another--but between the mental influence and the pain, Billy isn't himself. He easily flings the Walrus men to the ground. Flint, fighting from ground, manages to hack off a gnarled growth on Billy's arm as he rears back to cave in the captain's chest--

     Joji is back on his feet with a shout, his legs spread, shoulders, hips and wrist in position for a quick strike. It may not be as artful as Moonfin's swordwork, but it gets the job done. Billy Bones is bloodied, but back to normal--and Kukuru's healing undoes the worst of the crew's handiwork.

     Flint gets back to his feet and dusts himself off. "Feeling better?"

     Billy steels himself. 'Better,' yes--but evidently not good. Evidently, the blood stirred some complex memories. "I'm fine."
Staren     The brambles respond to George? Staren tries saying similar things, but her heart's not in it, and it doesn't work. She tries to be careful. But she's only human. Well. Half-human. She eventually gets splashed, and her medical monitoring sensors pick up something that is very, very wrong, along with the hunger and loss. There's no hesitation when Eryl offers precise, surgical help -- she's already deploying surgical tools from her forearms when Eryl offers to do it. Flesh is cut away and she screams in pain, turning to Kukuru for aid... or perhaps there isn't time until they're full of this challenge and she just has to go as long as she can with pieces being cut out of her, at least the wounds are readily cauterized and she has pain medicine, but this really, really sucks!

    Hunger and pain, hunger and pain, what is all this even for? She just has to... keep going... this is important, for Priscilla. One foot in front of the other... She tries to lift her mood and recover energy with candy, but... it's barely anything.

    This isn't home. There is no home for her. No place she'll truly fit in. But she keenly feels the lack as if it were loss, now. It will never change...

    One foot in front of the other...

Is off-screen with Zero. She quiets down in her complaining about having to work when Eryl cuts some FUNK off First Yuuki, finding the trip back rather more preferrably 'only random encounters with respawns, magma, and lightning bolts'.


"Ah..." Yuuki smiles. "I see. Were I a hammer to speak to your shape, or a kiln to render you flexible." She murmurs, and considers the AWFULNESS BARRICADE, trying her best to follow along with Eryl in lieu of Zero -- or an idea of where she's going to simply skip the whole thing. Her path is hesitating, where she'd normally fly or carry on, and the fear is justified:

As some of the splotchy stuff touches her, she seizes up for a moment and her eyes glow with a red inner light. Then, with a practiced breath, she just carries on like nothing has happened...

Until Eryl shouts at her. Confused, and spaced out, the glowing-eyed girl considers Eryl as her carves a stable-but-fizzing patch against her collar and arm, turning her outfit into a sleeveless top statement very quickly. "Oh-I..." Yuuki looks at her 'wet' skin, shocked. "I barely noticed. Thank you, Eryl."

"For still looking after me."
Priscilla     George deactivates his sword.

    All of the molten sections go cold.

    How the *fuck* that works is up to someone else to figure out.

    It makes the push down a lot easier, at least. Bending sword-steel(-alike material) into a permanent, plastic shape is easier said than done, as a defining quality of that kind of steel is springing back into shape. That much is easily solved with granite filling and careful rope bracing. Without the insane multi-thousand degree heat, it's plausible to make a narrow, sealed tunnel down in this way, just wide enough to wiggle and slide through, though it requires many close brushes with death.

    Zero's summons for Priscilla, a short while ago, are met with her acknowledgement that she's been catching up from 'halfway across the part of the world that matters' since, and the 'vine checkpoints' allow her to get to the scene just about in time. Which is important in a minute.
Eryl Fairfax     Eryl nods to Yuuki, and anyone else who thanks him for precisely excising the tumorous growth. "It's no trouble. Thank you for patching the wounds," he says to Kukuru. "And thank you for coming to an accord with it," he adds to George. He looks tired, even though his ever-youthful face shows no lines or bags or wrinkles.

    All that's left is brute force and ignorance. Pushing the metal plant aside to clear as much of a path as possible. Yuuki spoke earlier of indestructable outfits, and Eryl fidns himself wishing for one by the end. His cloak, jacket, tie and shirt are in tatters, not to mention his pants (some of it self-inflicted.) But this is it. The gravemakers of ages past failed. Lordran hasn't killed him yet (in any way that matters.).
Tomoe It's good thing that George was able to put his sword away as it would ahve neded up being worse for Tomoe. She may have to deal with the infestion she does have later. It should not get any worse, though it may take time to sort that whole mess out for now though she's working to help hack their way though she knows Lady Priscilla has been called and they are almost there. Once they have what they need? They can got the heck home.
Staren     Staren's ears splay. George could just have *commanded* it to do that at any time?!

    Why couldn't he have figured it out sooner... No, don't be mad, he couldn't have known. At least now magic can keep her from getting scraped by the brambles as long as enough of a path is pushed through them, which others are doing, so she doesn't get hurt *worse*. It's still pretty darn miserable.

    And what the heck happened to Flint's crewmate! You are here, you are needed. He had someone to say that to him. Would anyone here say that to her? She shakes her head as if to knock the thoughts loose. That's tiredness and... whatever the vine-blood did talking. The Concord is your family! Of course they would.

    If she spots infestation on Tomoe, the cybernetic surgery tools come out. "Do you want some help with that?"
Priscilla     The bottom of the shaft is harrowingly far away. Deep enough that the sole purpose of its length should be only to isolate the end as far beneath the earth as possible. It could credibly raise the question of whether this were one last infinite corridor, before the dull glow of warm light can be seen from the end; the first in the Grave of Gods since the burning hell at the very start.

    The chamber below, vast enough to be called cavernous, yet not so outrageously sized to be its own floor, is not so well lit as that. Personal light is necessary to see the rows of square pillars that rise into the blackness, engraved with creepy grotesques more Greek than Gothic of climbing men, falling men, stretched hands, deep cliffs and grinning skulls. They radiate outwards and fork as they go, dividing up lanes upon lanes of stone sarcophagi, dusty and yet immaculately intact, down to the swirling grooves that cover them from end to end. They are slightly too large for human beings.

    Each one of them is marked identically with a sword, rammed through the stone lid and pinned through where an occupant's chest would be, giving it the space the false appearance of a graveyard. Each sword is notably long and heavy, narrow and sharply angled and thick in cross-section, made entirely of some blackened steel marked with irregular swirls and flowing, unreadable text that paints the illusion of a unique, if barely visible, portrait of grey and black ocean tide on each blade, sweeping little human figures with it. The bright red wrappings have long since faded to a dark bloody crimson. Their guards look like twisted horns, or perhaps bared fingerbones, seemingly organically grown from the middle, as if it were clutching itself. All of them glow faintly with a thin, molten ring impressed upon each of them, still smouldering as if recently stamped in some forge, which matches the embers of a burning ring laid atop each sarcophagus around the sword's entry.

    Except one. In the middle, of course. A radial wheel of slightly larger stone coffins, where the burning light on one sword has gone out, leaving only a slightly melty gouge in its steel, revealing just a black hole through the other side, twisted inward around the edges. Where it pierces its coffin, the steel has grown back out through the cracks, and climbed towards the surface like a plant seeking the sun, mutating into a cancerous sprawl that coats the floor for a ways around.
Priscilla     That seems to have most densely choked the raised pedestal between the circle of largest sarcophagi, which Priscilla ELIMINATES, carefully, with her scythe. Cutting it away causes the growths to bleed violently, turn pale as ash, crumble, and fall away like sand. The dessication runs backwards through the sprawl, killing off the growths around their parent sword, until it tilts, comes unstuck, and clangs loudly to the floor.

    The center pedestal is used to only hold a single stone sculpture. At first, it looks like a geode, polished and black and spherical, smashed open by a hammer blow on one end to peer into the glittering onyx crystal within. However, up close, one can see that the interior is not made of a regular lattice, but an unfathomably detailed, contiguous sculpture of a city, as if rendered by hundreds of the teeniest, tiniest hands.

    Or actually, several cities. Looking around, one can spot the central citadel of Anor Londo, and several of its most prominent buildings, clustered together inside a wall and a shallow mountain, in non-scaled representation. Looking near it, the wandering eye can find buildings that had been familiar as ruins on the gravesite of Oolacile. A zigzag of descending steps into the ziggurats from Lost Izalith. And a bit further, the Undead Parish atop the ramble of the Burg.

    Which shouldn't be there, because that was built thousands of years after this was.

    Sprawling from there are countless other little blips of civilization no one here has seen, no doubt from many lands all beyond Lordran's borders, representing unfamiliar empires, monuments, and the emblematic sites of foreign gods. Wrapping around the inside, there is even a rendering of the monasteries of Archdragon Peak, far from Anor Londo, which makes the number of simultaneous time periods carefully sculpted 'too many'.

    It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the cracked breach must be, in relation to everything else, the site of the civilization that Doesn't Exist.
Eryl Fairfax     Eryl takes in the ancient chamber. Swords still glowing, as if fresh from the forge, are driven through the lids of the sarcophagi. But one has gone out. "This is the source of the growth," he says, examining the coffin in question. "I wonder why. Was it of poor make, perhaps? Or was it simply inevitable, given the time passed?" He looks to Priscilla significantly. She might need to keep tabs on this place, least the others also fail. The sword he leaves on the floor. It's George's, after all.

    He pokes his head into the geode, gasping as he realizes what it is. "A globe in reverse. The craftsmanship on display... wait, the Parish? But..." The significance of this strikes him, and he begins trailing his eyes away from Anor Londo, towards the edge of the 'world.'

    "It's this," he announces, tracing a finger around the crack. "Here is where we must go. The gap in the world. And with this, we have a map to get there."
Starbound Flotilla     Pulling his hand away from his sword seems so needless, and yet, George does it. Everyone's moving on, and you know, for some reason, it seems entirely impossible to bring his sword with him. *Weird*. "Maybe it's that lordsoul barrier. Funny, considering this thing broke that before." He rubs his face a little, before he pulls his hand free. The hand that grasped back and given a short, friendly pound. He moves on, moving freely and easily through the briar-that-is-George's-Sword.

    Of the Flotilla, only Biteblade, Seft, and Moonfin have still-functioning lights on their suits, and Biteblade's keeps going out every so often, so they cluster up. The sarcophagi get a reverent look from Moonfin, who has been idly interrogating George about his experience. He looks to the blades here: Steel, a thin molten segment... "Ah, I understand. The 'sword'." He mutters, shaking his head. "Such swordsmithing as this, I have never seen in this or any other land. I wonder..."

    "I mean, I've seen it before." George says, picking up the one Priscilla and Eryl have left on the ground. *His* sword. "It's my sword, remember?"
    "What? Back when you used that horrid 'e-sword' thing, it certainly looked nothing like this."
    "Nah, s'more complex. Don't worry about it. I'll try getting back into the swing of this baby again. Been too long." He gives a few experimental swings, before stowing it in his Matter Manipulator.

    "There'sss sssource! Floran sssaid there would be sssource! Floran'sss plan worked. Oh-- Oh!" She rushes to the map. "Thisss isss it! What we were looking for, the place! Broken and messsed up!" Her eyes glitter with fascination, eager interest. "Floran wondersss: what isss relationship with exissstence, causssality, geometry, time, presssence, and civilization like that. Ssso hidden... Wouldn't even know isss there without map to show you! Can't find on orbital ssscan or masss cartography, *only* record."