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|Lilian Rook|| The immediate crisis handled, with a small contingent of Antegent(?) under Rita's sway, the van in one piece, and the sun-and-shadow threshold drawn offroad, all according to Damien's map, the last logical thing to do is to jump through (ideally while Arthur can relax and let natural sunlight do its job on the glyph-carved stone) is to follow the van's emergency exit and chase the narrow, packed dirt path. In that world beyond . . .
The dreamy yellow tinge of the desert sun permeates everything, the air shimmering with visibly fluid waves; staring straight up indeed glimpses the sun exactly as if through the surface of choppy, clear water. The ground is the sand and gravel found on the slope of a continental shelf, polished by aeons of water, in hues of brilliant white, turquoise, yellow, and black. An entire coral reef lines the path to either side, bleached to barren white bones everywhere beyond, making for a surreal and desolate horizon, but retaining its colour within just this one lane, and in fact crawling with sea creatures despite the lack of any water. Save for the mirror-silver shine of a lake up ahead, that is.
Keeping the van intact was certainly a useful play, as the road here is only just wide enough for it, and very long. Pace has to be measured manually, without satellite positioning to check against the map, but either way, it's still a matter of crossing a considerable portion of Nevada. The Antegent-claimed world outside is visible as a misty mirage on the horizon, as if it is constantly just a few kilometers away, half-veiled by the saffron atmosphere (which is, indeed, breathable). In addition, six impossibly tall mountain peaks can be glimpsed equidistant in all directions, strangely forming a sort of compass to navigate by. Those unusually large sea creatures that don't navigate the coral physically simply swim through the air, some strangely translucent, as if colourful ghosts.
You're also not the first people to be here. Tire tracks gouge the road down the center, having formed deep and dull depressions. Outside of the very occasional cigarette butt or water bottle littering the path in irreverent style, shortly before coming to what seems to be water up ahead, the corpse of what appears to be a large military van, surrounded by the broken pieces of quadrupedal robots, and the husked cadaver of a giant bipedal machine, are found on the side of the road, far enough to not obstruct your way, half grown over with coral.
|Staren|| Staren's hovermech folds its legs under its body and floats above and to one side of the van (the opposite of whichever side Lilian is sitting on,) easily keeping pace. Staren continues to feel like she's flown through a rift, and well, she kind of has,, has,'t she?
RIFTS Earth doesn't have GPS sattelites anymore, so Staren's gear is all equipped with inertial navigation systems, which her tactical mapping software is already programmed to interface with. Although, <"Who can say if distances are even the same in here? ...How are those fish swimming, I wonder?"> She does NOT decide to poke them.
|I4||There wasn't much to say here, I4 was back in the car and leans against the window with his forehead looking out over the terrain as they travel. It was all so surreal, not just this but what just happened. He finally pulled himself from the window to rub his nose and try and cope with just about everything happening at once.
Just about the time, they ran across robots. Well pieces of robots, really. This had to be somewhat of an old battle sight. I4 doesn't take time to look towards his POD and deploy its sensors to try and get an overview of what he can. Seeing if anything could be gleamed from the battle site. Scanning the robots, remote hacking if he could to see if he could pull anything interesting off.
If nothing else, he could go back to double-checking their coordinates but that was mostly automated through POD at this point with anyone else helping, which the player assumes is Arthur. Staren asks a question and I4 speaks up, "They're swimming in...fake water? This whole place is extremely fucked, to use a scientific and technical term."
|James Bond|| At the wheel of the van, Bond keeps his eyes on the roar, such as it is. At the sight of the tire tracks, the cigarettes, the here-and-there detritus serving as signs that other humans have been here, his hands near-imperceptibly squeeze the wheel.
Perhaps it's anxiety, or perhaps it's anticipation. Light and shadows dance across the dashboard, his hands, his face, all caused by the passing of coral and of sea creatures through the air, some of the latter in various states of translucence.
Look at that war machine--hollowed out and thrown away like an apple.
"It's unnatural," Bond says in response to I4. "So much so that human things feel out of place here. Don't forget that. Don't forget that the people we're after would do this to the Caelton settlement before they'd let it succeed."
|Arthur Lowell||>Arthur: So, wait, is this a human thing or an antegent thing?
It might just be a space thing? From this side, having crossed over, Arthur isn't sure. But he watches the way the antegent-claimed world behind seems to seep away, and it makes him think. "Other side of the mirage, maybe?" He asks, to nobody in particular. Maybe he can figure out what happened by examining the events in his mage-brain? Or perhaps simply asking the Noble Horrorterrors, "Where am I?" Would be enough?
>Arthur: Are those more of those spurs?
Maybe not, considering those were police and these look like military. But it's possible. As the group pass by, Arthur looks them over. How long have they been here? The world has passed through state after brutal state of need and loss, is it possible that nobody thought to salvage these things in spite of their proximity to an important place? He's a little confused, trying to read the pattern of the coral's growth, to see if they've at least been looted in some way that indicates a proximate location for the facility they're there to take out.
>Arthur: 1d20+9+2, TRACK THE SCENE. Remember Mordecai's specimens.
He winces for a moment, clutching one side of his head in pain, muttering, "Fuck!" And sucking air through his teeth. Something about this pseudo-underwater space is putting him off, and exacerbating something he already suffers. "Ugh. We gonna get there soon? Lemme check..." He pulls up his information he retrieved from the settlement, and tries to examine what to do next, how much further he has to go...
|Rita Ma|| Rita's Antegent swarm is fortunately quite capable of keeping pace with the van, whether via bipedal gait or quadrupedal. They were built to run this distance on foot, after all, if not by this path. The narrow road through the coral restricts them, so they move in a column only three or four abreast and easily a hundred long; a thin dark ribbon that trails behind the group's vehicles.
Usually, Rita wants as much companionship as possible. Right now isn't 'usually'. Rather than riding in the van or Staren's hovercar, she's sitting on the shoulders of the foremost Antegent in the swarm, just far back enough to not get dust kicked up in her face. She looks human again, having been reminded by Lilian to 'put her face back on', but the uneasy way she holds herself and avoids looking at the rest of the group indicates she doesn't think she'll be received that way.
The ghostly water and ghostly fish can, at least, lift her spirits a tiny bit. Staren thinks better of touching them, but Rita doesn't; from her lofty perch, she reaches out and tries to graze a particularly-colorful specimen with her fingertips. Her smile is faraway and bittersweet.
After everything that's happened, I should hate the ocean, shouldn't I? But somehow I don't. I don't like how much the water feels like home. ... Right now, though, I'll take any home I can get.
The van, and the trashed robots, snap her attention back to the 'real world'. Rita's eyes widen; she inhales sharply in surprise. Her noble steed lets her step into its spindly-fingered palm and lowers her to the ground.
'The monsters don't come here," Rita says. "They're not meant to find their way in. Did other humans do this? ... No. Wait. This is a research facility. So-"
The inside of the wrecked van. She has to know: were they attacked from the outside? Or were they transporting something inside that escaped? The interior would contain clues. She'll pry her way in with superhuman strength if that's what it takes.
|Lilian Rook|| Lilian, who currently exists on the same day, replies to Arthur "I'm fairly sure this is an Otherworld path. You know what that is, right? Human mythology is peppered with a hundred versions of different yet adjacent worlds within our own. And like the blind men and the elephant, the variations are simply regional." She pauses in deliberation. "But this is unnatural even for that. Look just off the path. Everything is bleached and dead. There's ghosts --or memories, I suppose-- in the air. Even the Otherworld doesn't always completely escape random chance."
The Noble Horrorterrors tell him something suitably cryptic: "The Third of Four Worlds. First Man and First Woman once passed through, far from here. The waters rose, but now there is only a memory of them."
The robots on the side of the road match up with something that's been expounded upon before; they're a similar model to the SPUR unit, but half again as large, painted matte black, and considerably more heavily armed and sensor laden. Judging by the map, these people were definitely headed to the same destination, as there are no detours. There's not much further to go, but drawing closer to the silvery distortion, it appears not to be a lake, but a broad, deep, and terribly fast-flowing river.
Rita's wild hunch appears to be on the money. The inside of the giant van contains all kinds of metal and plastic scrap from what must have been destroyed transport crates, though everything that could have been salvaged has since been removed. Faded blood is splattered all around the drivers' compartment, and there is no way for the cab to move into the cargo bay, but there are no bodies. Cobalt blue --it must also be blood, probably-- speckles the interior and trails off into the coral. The bipedal machine's chest has been torn open, exposing a bloodied cavity and a torn seat where someone would sit.
|I4||There isn't much more to the robots than what he figured. Larger SPUR units, which means they're def local. Confirming that there isn't anything worth detouring for...this place isn't completely safe from incursion. Though the light point being more a river is pointed out on the map. Maybe it's going to be useful, or neat...maybe neither!
I4 sits back, as the conversation goes on. He looks over at Bond and nods. "You're right.." he says with a sigh. There really isn't anything more here so he waits in the car to go forward again.
Better to get ready.
|Rita Ma|| Rita's fingers trace along the cobalt blue stains inside the ruined van. Her eyes dart to the decidedly more human blood in the cabin, prompting a wince.
She emerges from the van with a slightly downcast, but resolute, expression. "They're experimenting on monsters at the lab. Depending on what kind they have, I might be able to take control of the captive monsters too. But it just makes me want to tear it down more."
She steps back into the palm of her noble steed, elegantly lifted up onto its shoulders with such coordination that they briefly seem to be a single body. "There's never a good reason to study them alive. Monsters that hurt people need to be killed." If she sees any irony in that, it doesn't show.
Once they reach the silvery river, Rita dismounts again and hazards poking it with a finger. If it doesn't do something horrible to her, she dives beneath the surface, easily swims across despite the vicious current, and emerges on the other side in much less time than it logically ought to take.
People have already seen her with her 'face' off, so showing herself again feels less terrifying and more like a dull nauseating ache. Here she seems to think it's worth it.
Her human disguise unravels into tentacles, which split and elongate to weave themselves into a sturdy bridge as wide as the path was. She detaches herself from the fleshy construction, and it rapidly calcifies into a hard and 'braided' whitish material. A moment later, her disguise re-weaves itself from the remaining tentacles.
She looks anxious, downcast, and vaguely queasy as the rest of the party (hopefully!) rejoins her, but she'll recover.
|Staren|| Oh look ruined vehicles and a cockpit torn open by a monstrous horror and left bloodstained.
Now it *really* feels like home, now. How many hours was Staren sitting right in this seat, her hovermech parked atop the party's Mountaineer transport ready to deploy at a moment's notice as they drove past miles and miles of wasteland battlefield? In her mind she can picture a fallen Enforcer or SAMAS in the same position. Well, without the coral.
She busies herself with talking to the others, explaining her understanding of Expiration... but the talk grows cold as she's compared to /Lilian/. Ugh.
There's a river. "Where does it come from? Where does it go? Is there a river here on Earth...?"
The hovermech is flying, but survived-a-decade-and-a-half-in-the-Multiverse instincts make Staren stop before crossing it. Before she can try to figure out what she's subconsciously picking up on, though, Rita handles it. Staren has the hovermech land and walk across the bridge.
Once Rita has pulled herself together, Staren rolls down a window and looks out at her in concern. "Do you, uh... do you need a hug, Rita?"
|James Bond|| At first, it looks like he's going to have to ditch the car. Rita's bridge relieves him of that notion. If Bond feels some type of way about her powers, no one in the car with him can tell. He simply keeps griving.
On the other side of the river, Bond reaches over and begins fiddling with the radio. Then his watch. If this subdivision has gone through so much trouble to stay hidden, then that much more preparation is necessary to infiltrate them.
Using a gadget packed into the ever-handy MI-6 00-issue wristwatch, Bond is scanning for encrypted frequencies in search of any useful information from the installation ahead of time. Chatter from checkpoints, sitreps, anything.
|Arthur Lowell||>Arthur: What is the Otherworld?
"Yeah, I get'cha. Seen a couple things like that. Seen... a few things like this..." He looks out the window. His mind casts back to an old time, to an adventure underwater... He makes a bit of a mournful noise. "Guh. Well. It looks like it's one part of, fuck, four? We're almost at the end." He shakes his head clear of memories, horrorterrors, and mysterious otherworldly dice.
"Hope there's less ghost fish on the other side."
Maybe these ghosts are the ghosts of what was here when there was nothing but ocean. Maybe these ghosts come from some great flood. Maybe people just think about fish a lot. Arthur isn't really here for that. Arthur is here to navigate, and for what it's worth, navigation is done.
>Arthur: Cross the Rovel Du
"Stop!" Arthur clutches his head again, before clarifying, "--I mean, no, don't stop. Keep going, we need to cross that. And we need to cross it like... *crossing* it, crossing it. Don't let the water touch you unless we got no other options." He regards Rita's solution with some wide eyes... whistling softly, fairly impressed by it! "Nice work, Squiddle." He says, before they get onto it. Carefully assessing the local space with his magic, he tries to make sure this will take them to world four, so to speak. But for the most part, in this segment, he's just along for the ride.
|Lilian Rook||<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "I wonder if this is what people were thinking of all the time, back in the masquerade days."
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "Social interests, I suppose. No . . . different visions of the future, maybe?"
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "Consequentialism against consequentialism."
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "Multiple sides who think they know best, and what they're doing will lead to the most good, and then they cross up and people die instead."
<J-IC-Scene> Lilian Rook says, "'Us vs Us' instead of 'Us vs Them'."
There's a lot of time to talk about *goals* instead of merely *objectives* on the way. Enough to give even Lilian time to cave in and join the discourse for a while. Poking the ghost fish briefly turns Rita's own fingers translucent and colourful, and even partly intangible, but it wears off after only a short while, as if she'd merely gotten them wet.
Rita's dive into the river goes well enough. Despite the extraordinarily strange feeling of being *double underwater*, there seems to be nothing tremendously noteworthy about the river save for its tremendous speed and strangely high pressure; neither of which are fatal hazards to her.
Well, except the fact she should be pretty sure she glimpsed a house down there.
However, when she emerges from the other side, an enormous shadow passes under her bridge during the near-end of its construction. Just before it reaches the opposite bank, the silvery double-water rises over a colossal bulge on the surface, breaks, and crashes away, revealing what appears to be the half-submerged head of a creature of boggling scale. Most of what can be seen is a small island of curly 'hair', partly like a loch monster's mane, partly like a human head, and partly like a great tangle of seaweed, from which protrudes an enormous black horn on one side and an equally enormous yellow horn from the other; matching and opposite asymmetrical yellow-gold and green-black eyes glow from under the shadow of its hillock-sized head.
Its gaze alone suddenly shorts out the van's engine, paralyzing it with what *seems* to be a dead battery --and subjecting the hovermech to a similar effect. Turning around, it fixes Rita with a menacing, expectant glower, silent and yet full of inscrutable meaning. It hasn't overtly attacked anyone yet, but it seems greatly displeased by the attempt to cross over, and even just the top third of its head is large enough to climb for fun and have a picnic on top of.
|Lilian Rook||Bond's radio monitoring finds that the van has crapped out just at the edge of signal range from . . . something, at least. Probably where they're going. He hears a mention of 'anomalous vector movement', 'tracked vector group 49 falling off the map', and something about a 'Cycle of Tears'. The rest sounds like a troop dispatch. The coordinates they were last at are received piecemeal using an old code he knows.|
|Staren|| Rita handles it. A bridge! Good. Staren has the hovermech land and--
The micro-fission engine just *shuts off* and won't restart. Staren mentally considers weapons... and then wonders what high-tech weapons can possibly be relied upon against something that makes *fission* not work.
Righteous anger rises in her mind. We're here to stop bad guys! If you stop us, you're helping them!
However, given a moment to stew in the car, and unable to immediately think of a sure plan of attack, other ideas surface in her mind.
Like, she has a way to understand things now, even those that can't be communicated with.
Staren takes a deep breath. Focuses on the ocean of stars in her mind. And turns her attention to the river guardian. What is it thinking? What is it feeling? And
Why are you in are way?
|I4||The vehicles go dead right as a bridge is set up. This isn't exactly what he expected to be here...and why is it shutting down their stuff..? He gets out. The thing is /massive/ and all I4 can think to do right now is two things. First attempt to get what this creature was. Was it a horror terror set on to eat them?
Was it maybe a creature summoned and bound here and LESS raveningly mad? It DID just shut down the cars and nothing else...shooting it with a gun right out the rip seems unfair. Especially true because it's enormous and can easily eat them.
"Uh...hello?" he says, trying to communicate with it, assuming it can even do that.
|Arthur Lowell||>Arthur: Oh shit!!
"Jegus, that thing is fuckin' *huge*." Arthur calls out as he clambers out of the van, running up to the edge and getting a better look at it. And he approaches this problem the way he approaches almost any problem: He takes it on headfirst, in one of the most absurd ways he's can.
"HEY! HEY, LOCH NESS MONSTER!" He calls out to the monster. If it has even an ounce of ability to process human language, it'll recognize him as someone who knows how to speak to giant alien beings that belong in rivers. "HEY!! BED-HEAD ON THE RIVERBED, I'M TALKIN' TO *YOU*!" He waves down the creature, attempting to get its attention. "You workin' for the LETTER AGENCY? You on that PAYROLL, homeslice?"
He points a dramatic finger at the creature. "I don't know why a GIANT STREAMSPIRIT gonna go ahead and support MAN IN THE MOON MASSACRES, but if you gonna DOUBLE DOWN, why don'tcha come TAKE A FUCKIN' SWING AT ME, INNSMOUTH?" He slams his fists against his chest in two paired challenges. "LET'S GO, MOON-BACKER, gimmie your BEST SHOT! Let's RUMBLE IN THE RIVER! I'll THROW HANDS with ANY WET MOTHERFUCKER thinks that the MAN IN THE MOON is HOT SHIT!"
|Lilian Rook|| A mother and her two daughters had not seen the raft. Noticing that the others had crossed, they began to swam across to join them, but Tééhooltsódii took the two daughters and dragged them to her home, where they stayed for three days and nights. On the fourth day, the people called the Talking God and Water Sprinkler, and they appeared with a bowl made of white shell and a bowl made of blue shell, and by spinning them at the water's edge, they made and opening to her house. First Man and First Woman traveled down with Coyote and found her asleep, and took the two daughters back to their mother.
However, the next morning, the animals of the Third World ran past the village in a stampede. A great wave as tall as a mountain was coming from the east. The people ran to the top of the mountain Sisnaajiní to escape, where First Man summoned the Holy People. Turquoise Boy came and planted a great reed that grew to the sky, and Woodpecker hollowed out a passage, allowing the people to climb high above the water. But Tééhooltsódii raised the water even higher to chase them, and lightning flashed from her horns. Coyote came forward, and opening his skin coat, withdrew two babies, and said "Maybe it is because of this."
I4's scans reveal next to jack shit; however he can be very certain that this creature is definitively *magical*, to an incredibly intense degree, to the point of seemingly being more magic than flesh, like a spiritual presence so intense it might as well be physical. That rules out being an Antegent, or some science mutant.
As far as Staren is able to tell, it --she-- is unhappy about human intruders in the water, especially so close to something functionally precious. Rita already roused it, so now it won't allow anyone else to cross. It is mainly a mix of suspicion and feeling 'wronged' in the way of strange and inscrutable spirits.
|James Bond|| Bond frowns when the van stops. The reason for the breakdown is made immediately apparent.
He has no idea what this is--but he knows enough to know that his particular skillset, applied to this particular problem, would just create more problems.
He steps out of the car, vintage spirit and on-the-rocks glass in hand. They're set upon the hood, and he glances towards this newest obstruction. "I was listening to that," says Bond to the river guardian with mild annoyance, jerking a thumb towards the now-useless radio.
He knocks back two fingers like an old friend. Arthur's shouting and demanding a challenge draws a quirked brow from Bond, looking over his shoulder.
"If it is on their payroll, it was nice knowing you, Lowell."
He steps around the car, to speak directly to the guardian. "I don't suppose there's a toll to cross this river?" He glances back at the bottle of spirits on the hood. Then again, towards the monster. "Something to get us all across quietly and without any complaints from you?"
His eyes flick in Arthur's direction, but his body, his face, is still turned towards Tééhooltsódii. "The loud fellow over there's not entirely wrong. We've a fight to make, and it isn't with you."
|Rita Ma|| A house...? No, there's no time to swim down and check that out. It wouldn't have anything to do with the lab.
Rita is, sadly, only mostly right.
She watches in slack-jawed horror as the massive shape erupts from the silvery water. "A sea monster?! But I thought-" Her sentence is cut off halfway through when it fixes her with that stare. It is terrifying in its glowering expeectation, sending an obvious shiver down her spine, but the fact that it contains recognizable feeling at all proves her wrong.
It's not a monster- at least, not like the Antegent and Leviathans are monsters. The way it looks at me, it sees me as a person, not just a target. That means... maybe I can reason with it.
She walks towards the undersea giant, stepping onto her calcified bridge, and takes a deep apologetic bow. Will it even understand me? I just have to hope.
"I apologize for intruding on your home, great spirit," Rita says, adopting a tone at least two full gears more formal than her usual. "If we had realized that this was the place of your dwelling, we would never have wronged you so. What offering could be appropriate to make you whole?"
If given the chance to speak a little longer, she makes a gesture towards the well-worn tire tracks on the far bank. "Great spirit, do the men who make their home down this road trouble you? We followed their tracks here, and have come to destroy them. Despite our grievous fault, does this course agree with you?"
Her voice quails just slightly, and she makes no attempt to conceal the fear in her body language, but nor does it compromise her almost archaic formality. Her arms are folded behind her back in a passive gesture; she resists the urge to glance over at her allies for reassurance.
|Staren|| Staren doesn't know shit about indigenous myth. Although the shape such a mythological story, that this is a being with such a nature, is clear. Fortunately, its current thoughts are even clearer.
And then Staren's focus returns to the physical world, and she realizes what Arthur and Bond are doing. She frantically tries to open the door -- it's stuck, of course -- and then hits the backup mechanical release, practically falling out of the car and stumbling in her hurry. "Stoooop!" She waves her hands at the two. "It's -- She's not on their payroll, she's just... something precious to her is nearby, and she's protecting it, and she's wary of us. Something of *hers*, not some secret military base or whatever."
They're all talking to her, but it isn't clear it's getting across... clearly. She's not sure what else to do but add her own words to the mix and hope Tééhooltsódii can put it together. She looks to the 'monster'. "We're not here for your--" She hesitates, and considers wording that bit more carefully lest the language barrier(?) cause problems, "we're not here to take anything from you. There are other intruders upon this land... who took something from us, the lives of many of our people and the potential safety of many more. We are here to remove the other intruders, and plan not to return thereafter. We have no wish for you to be disturbed ever again."
|I4||I4's analysis is getting...
Nothing? Other than it's a large magical creature that is only physical because of intense spiritual weight. "You know, I wonder what cheap ass sensors I got installed in me and POD sometimes.." He rubs his head, partially out of frustration because it's still a huge question mark, and he has no real way to find out more without aggressive action.
Staren seems to have something, so...that's good.
|Lilian Rook|| Arthur talks a whole lot of shit. The river monster doesn't seem to actually grasp the particulars of it (then again, who does?) but it responds to his aggression. A noise so loud that it seems to vibrate off the surface of the whole river shakes the coral by the shore, no doubt ear-bleedingly intense under the water. Yellow lightning crackles between the creature's massive horns, and then blasts out as great bolt of thunder turned sideways, straight into Arthur, liable to both hurl him down the road and paralyze him for a while since his full grist bar is still a solid buffer from total carbonization.
Staren waving and yelling 'in the car' seems to be taken as a functionally irrelevant threat, though her advice is certainly useful to the others. However, it does have the most interest in Rita, who does not appear to be a threat. It quickly becomes apparent that it lacks the ability to actually speak to her, and so Lilian, recognizing the name at least, puts herself metaphorically between the two, interpreting via faerie heart-reading and then also her very good English.
"No toll, as far as I can tell." she says to Bond. "But we did make her angry, so a gift is probably in order." To Rita, Lilian scrunches her features slightly and relays "The Agency people have some method of crossing the river without disturbing it. But they don't fly over it; we probably shouldn't either, considering how this all works. She doesn't like them at all, but isn't usually able to sense them, I think. However, she believes it's their fault --the bleaching is, the mass death of the coral outside her territory. That they brought some kind of . . . disease? But she doesn't want a bridge. No building near her home."
|I4||All I4 could do is wince sympathetically when he notices Arthur get blasted and potentially blown down the road. Staren probably has that? I4 isn't a doctor. I4 also decides to hang back, because he does not want to get blasted by the ancient creature who can shoot lightning at people when it's annoyed.
"Alright a gift...well, I don't have anything that's a gift to a creature...unless maybe trying to resolve the disease they brought in as a potential thing. Of c-" cut off from his musing was Rita's request. Well, alright. That's actually a reasonable idea. Hopefully, he could try and figure this out.
He moves towards the closest coral he can and goes over it. The flying box with arms follows, and the two of them start taking in data. Scanning, analysis...anything to try and figure out WHY the coral was dying. Was it a curse? A disease? Something else? He can flip through several scans, anything from magical-based detection to more modern and advanced sets.
Data is stored on the POD, which helps compile the data while I4 is fed information to also help determine what they are looking out for.
|James Bond|| Bond was right about this creature's capability to do a lot of damage. He's just glad it wasn't him that was the test bed for that. Poor Arthur.
<J-IC-Scene> Staren says, "What... what kind of gift can we even give her...?"
<J-IC-Scene> James Bond says, "The kind I was hoping to save for later."
He approaches the shoreline, vintage spirit in hand, and lowers to one knee, head bowed. It seems like the right thing to do, since she doesn't truly understand what he's saying.
The bottle is offered up with both hands. "Please accept this as our apology," he says solemly.
|Rita Ma|| "A disease," Rita mutters to herself. She doesn't look away from the river titan as Lilian speaks to her, but nods in understanding. The bridge is gradually (so as not to cause alarm) but methodically sliced up by invisible tentacles, the pieces simply disappearing as they're reclaimed for biomass.
The last piece to disappear is the one she's standing on, but she doesn't drop; those same tentacles keep her suspended just above the currents, stable. When the titan fires that electric blast, Rita winces, but doesn't flee. He did sort of have it coming...
"It is your home, great spirit. As you wish, there shall be no bridge. And yet, if we are unable to cross this river, we cannot destroy these men who have poisoned your realm. Great spirit, if indeed our weal is your weal also, how shall we find our way?"
Maybe I could use my tentacles to lift things across, but with hundreds of monsters, that'd take forever. Arthur could make a portal, if he's still conscious, but would that really count as "crossing"? The same for Staren and flying across...
Unless someone else can come up with better ideas, she's hoping for I4 to uncover a way they could fix the coral- even a small fraction of it- to demonstrate goodwill.
|Staren|| Staren flinches as Arthur is blasted for his insolance.
He's probably fine.
She considers a gift but has no idea what to give. Something for its children? But are they babies now, or grown humans, or did they grow into sea monsters?
...Okay, now she's curious. Now that Rita's given the rough location of Tééhooltsódii's home, Staren focuses on the psychic plane(?) again and looks that way for any intelligences... to look at their thoughts, and their stories.
If she can't see anything, she'll help examine the coral.
|Arthur Lowell||>Arthur: Beef it
You're the boss. An entire bolt of lightning slams into Arthur bodily, and blasts him back down the road. "HUURRRRHGHDLGFG!" Replies Arthur, verbosely, as he careens down the path, tumbles, and becomes a twitching, smoking heap conducting little arcs of electricity. It takes him a couple minutes to get back onto his feet, since the absence of an emergency means that his heroic willpower is irrelevant and he's just left with his normal endurance, which *isn't that great*.
>Arthur: Maybe that'll satisfy it. Try some talking like all the cool kids
Stumbling back over to the shore after all that, he collapses onto his front with his head hanging over the water. "ALRIGHT." He declares. "FINE. We call that a DRAW." He looks to the others. Are they trying to bargain? Well, heroism moves in mysterious ways. "HEY. Hey SWAMP THING. You speak ancient? Fuckin', uhhhh... noble pre-cosmic? Maybe antecausal? C'mon dude, GIMMIE A BREAK. Old Squiddle maybe? Fuckin'... Look, we don't got beef." He tries a mix of various dialects of Noble Horrorterror Song, but the mannerism is all fucked up because he's a bit pain-addled. "In and out, one day tops, we righteusly break some jaws that aren't yours and we're gone. On Derse, I'm swearing here." He slumps right on the boundary of the river and just looks really tired.
|Lilian Rook|| I4 detects no hint of magic on the dead coral (as opposed to the living coral which definitely is magic), and nothing comes up when searching for pathogens. If anything, it seems like something he's intimately familiar with; the life being sucked out of the landscape by something else. Just like real coral bleaches and dies off when its climate is adversely affected, something damaging the flow of magic in the area has caused this wide scale blight. It'd be easy to assume it has something to do with the base they're approaching, but as far as he knows, it could also have to do with that wrecked van, and what got out of it . . .
Rita can feel Tééhooltsódii's tension wind down as she dismantles the bridge, even without Lilian telling her so. Her horns cease sparking and she sinks incrementally lower into the water with Bond's offering. "Oh good." says Lilian. "She recognizes that. Apparently the 'first humans' used to farm the other side of the river. She seems to conceive of that as extremely valuable, being glass and complicated spirits and all."
As far as Staren can tell, the underwater home is unoccupied by others. The babies from the ancient times must certainly be grown by now. However, it seems reasonably likely that they do return every so often, given some very sparse flashbacks; it is a place of deeply sentimental and familial value.
"I wish she'd be a little more helpful." says Lilian. "I don't think she really cares what we do as long as we don't pave over here or dip into her water. But this river used to . . ." Lilian squints slightly as she tries to process. "Separate the sexes? And the humans and the Holy People. Clearly people without magic got across it just fine, but never by swimming, and they never built anything fixed to the land."
Arthur's attempts at Communication eventually bear fruit. Lilian says "Wait, wait, go back, she caught that one." to what he's calling 'noble pre-cosmic'. "At least mostly." Once he is able to actually converse, he finds the process difficult but Tééhooltsódii largely agreeable to him busting up the 'fourth humans' as she bafflingly refers to them. The main point of contention is that she absolutely will not tolerate Rita's entourge touching the water at all, viewing 'it' (she uses the singular) as a 'poisoned thing' and 'unclean'. She appears to be more or less apathetic to humans that mind their own business, and allowed the 'first women' to cross over on a raft, but at this point, given the way that the river is the only place where there is still live in the vicinity, it might as well be considered a part of her and vice versa.
|I4||I4 starts putting the information together.
<J-IC-Scene> I4 says, "Huh."
<J-IC-Scene> I4 says, "The dead coal doesn't have any magic on them. At all, the alive ones /do/. There is no pathogen, so based on what I can figure out something is disrupting magic in the area."
<J-IC-Scene> I4 says, "Reminds me of home."
<J-IC-Scene> I4 says, "Which...might be more of those wards, or...whatever was in the container."
I4 looks to the POD. "Wide-area scan. Look for dead coral patterns along the area we can scan. Also, look for magical flows and see where the magic is most interrupted. Look for any lack of magic or any anti-magic flow. Compile all data and display on holo map."
I4's eyes focus, also helping with compiling the data as POD brings it in.
|Staren|| Hmm. The kids are gone. So it's just it's Home, then.
Lilian explains some things. Staren gives a short chuckle at something, then approaches the edge of the rushing waters. "So we need a boat." She says dryly. "That won't be washed away, somehow."
|Rita Ma|| <J-IC-Scene> Arthur Lowell says, "Can't tell if that's yes or no, squiddle."
<J-IC-Scene> Rita Ma says firmly, "My name's Rita."
<J-IC-Scene> Arthur Lowell says, "Most def'. Calling people by their real names isn't the *cool know-nothing punk* way, though, so you're squiddle."
<J-IC-Scene> Rita Ma says, more firmly still: "I'm not."
Arthur is, he may notice, still within arm's reach of several hundred of Rita's good friends and associates. There is no overt motion, but several of them angle towards him as if to emphatically loom.
Given that he's a manlet, and they're about eight feet tall, this is remarkably easy.
|James Bond|| Only once she's gone does Bond stand back up. He saw what 'angry' looks like. No sense in being on the receiving end of it.
"So," he says, a wry smile on his face. "Lowell." He turns, glances towards Rita's looming new friends. "Getting clotheslined by one woman wasn't enough for you?"
"There are places you can go for that kind of thing, you know."
|Lilian Rook|| I4's scan indicates that the bleaching goes on for a very, very wide area, though not *forever*. There appears to be no such thing as 'anti-magic' present (if it even exists). The die-off follows a very broad 'trail of carnage', like a locust swarm, that goes downriver, crosses eventually, and then heads to the same way they are.
"A boat, or--" Lilian looks to Rita. "Quick answer: Can you do something about the water without getting in it or getting your minions in it?"
|Arthur Lowell||>Arthur: Defend your honor
Arthur calls up from his position lying on the edge. "Fuck you, phone tap! I don't compromise my sick flow and it isn't 'cause of weird shit like that!" The monsters loom regardless. Arthur gets a tad nervous. He says, "But, I mean, I can take suggestions. How's 'gourmet'?" He turns his head to Rita, wincing a little as he does.
|Rita Ma|| Rita can't hide the sigh of relief that escapes her, or the sudden droopiness that replaces her body's prior stiff formality as the river titan stops menacing them. "No building bridges, no flying, no getting them in the water..."
She turns to Lilian. "I could make a boat, but it'd take a lot of trips, and-" Then, suddenly, a lightbulb goes off in her head. She glances over at the roaring current with some concern, but eventually nods. "I- I think I can, Ms. Rook. Like we did with the Bullette. I'll give it a try."
In a flash, she's back over on the near bank, having rejoined the party. Then she takes a deep breath, holds out her hand towards the water, and unwinds her disguise to become the girl in the blue dress one more time. "Please, just... don't look at me, okay? I'll be alright if you don't look."
But there's no mandate not to look at her tentacles. A dozen of them reach out towards the river, six to her right and six to her left. They start to grow and split grotesquely, multiplying like the heads of a hydra in full violation of conservation-of-mass.
The tentacles on her right drain the river-water, guzzling the entirety of the flow and leaving the riverbed dry as a bone. Thousands of gallons sluice through the translucent tubes and into her upper back with a terrible continuous roar. The tentacles on her left expel the water just as quickly, returning the river to its full strength by thirty feet downstream. In between the twin rows, it's like Moses parting the Red Sea.
Rita shudders and holds an arm over her stomach like she's going to throw up. Her face contorts with shuddery displeasure. "Please hurry! It's so cold..."
Once everyone is across, her monsters included, Rita cuts the siphon, expels the remaining water, and swims across in a flash herself. On the opposite bank, she suddenly chokes, gags, and coughs up an entire fish onto the ground.
"Euuuuhhhhhhh... I'm not doing that on the way back. We're finding a different way."
|I4||I4 collects what he can, and sighs. "Alright from a wider area, it looks like a swarm of angry eat everything bees have been released...and it seems to be going in the same direction we are...once we're across the river." There is a lot more data and a lot of stuff that's probably only really interesting to /him/.
"So looks like both of our problems converge. Efficient!" I4 says with a nod before looking at Rita. This is awkward, but he just crosses the dry river the moment she has given them a passage across and stands on the other side. I4 still has the shaken condition when exposed to the true form.
Then a fish hits the ground. It'd be rude to stare, he realizes, but just stares at the fish she just coughed up. It's one of those 'shit you can't pull your eyes away from'.
|James Bond|| Bond doesn't look--but when he's asked to hurry, he does. Most people in their prime couldn't run like he does--much less a man in his early forties. He doesn't know how long Rita can kept the river part, nor how its guardian will take to her doing so. All he knows is that an opportunity has presented itself, and the car is dead anyway. The work boots he's wearing leave patterned imprints in the silt, soon to be washed away once all the water's back as it should be.
"That would explain what I heard on the radio," he replies to I4. "'Anomalous vectors.' If we're lucky, they'll do a lot of the work for us."
|Arthur Lowell||>Arthur: Don't look
Arthur gets up onto his feet, and looks to Rita's re-arrival. On request, he pulls up his long, long hood, and yanks it entirely over his head, completely blinding himself. Then he gives a quick thumbs-up! And when prompted, he fuckin' books it! He's dashing, fast as he can! Which is, surprisingly, actually pretty fucking fast. It isn't too long before he's on the opposite shore, hopping onto it and skidding as his shoes dislodge their mud.
He undoes his hood and turns back in time to see the fish cough up. "GOURMET it is." He says, giving a decisive nod.
|Rita Ma|| It's okay for I4 to stare at the fish. Rita, now re-wrapped and human-looking again, stares at it too. It flops haplessly on the ground, somehow looking even more shellshocked and disoriented than fish naturally look. She trades a glance with the support twink, clearly utterly baffled as to the proper etiquette.
I know I shouldn't. But after making the bridge and growing enough tentacles to drain the river...
Rita crouches down, picks up the fish in both hands, and simply swallows it again. The sheer casualness of it makes it difficult to believe that actually happened.
"No," she informs Arthur, as firmly as she possibly can given the incriminating circumstances.
|Staren|| Staren pointedly does not look directly at Rita, but can't help but stare a bit at where the water is being absorbed or spit out. Holy *hell*. Then she says to hurry. Staren hurries back to the drivers' seat and tries to start up the hovermech, having it walk across the riverbed. (If it doesn't work, then guess she's leaving it here for now, starting to slip in the silt and then scampering the rest of the way across in cat form.)
Once they're all across, Rita included, she smiles at the young girl. "Thank you, Rita! Seems you really got us out of a pickle there!"
Staren looks at it. "Um. Is someone going to put that back, or--" Okay, that works!
|I4||I4 just continues to stare. This situation has grown beyond his ability to properly articulate. The expression is simply a blank one, he's not sure if he should be fascinated, disgusted, surprised, or shocked.
He just turns around and looks towards the path. "I just want to walk now."
|Staren||Staren pats I4's back. "It's rude to stare. Have you never had sushi? Oh right, android. Well, if you ever get the chance to try food, you should try it. *Delicious*.|
|Lilian Rook|| "Like we did with the Bullette." Lilian affirms, nodding shallowly. She then turns on the group. "You heard little lady. Look away you perverts." She did her best to defend Rita's 'modesty' before on the road, but this is sadly unavoidable. She kicks the fish away from I4, though its fate is soon to be much worse. "I wouldn't bet on it." she says to Bond. "They're probably talking about us. They were referring to Antegent activity as 'vectors' back in Caelton, and we have a heap of that with us right now. Plus, we opened the road at the wrong time, even if only by a handful of minutes."
The shore briefly submerges as the water in the river rises up without apparent cause, then emerges again as Bond's spirits are washed away. The van and hovermech both abruptly restart, though the engine in the van coughs from the sudden resurrection. Lilian climbs behind the wheel and--
Oh fuck off; Lilian could drive the whole time. "Get in, freaks." she says once they're across, and merely waiting for Rita. "Look up ahead." She points through the (slightly damaged) windshield, but there's really no need to. The road slopes down and away from here, and at the edge of the horizon, behind the yellow atmospheric scattering of the shimmering air, the blinking lights and crisscrossed beams of a tall radio mast can be seen, and the tips of black walls beneath it. "And gear up."