twist - death of souls
She doesn't pass the trial of will.
Things progress. The idiot brigade breaks up some, though they still have the lab - Juane and Leifos seriously pursuing Deathdealer training, Kerka mostly just hanging around and half-arsing things, but never explicitly dropping out as a potential. They pass another trial, this time normally, while Vardaman gets moved to a group of regular Guardians in training, and just sticks with that for the most part. Focuses more on magic. Takes on a more overt role as Keeper, since it's kind of out already, even if she is supposed to be a Secrets Keeper.
Sometimes there's missions with other Guardians, or even Deathdealers, and the Deathdealer potentials.
One time, it goes very wrong.
It's a large mission, two main groups. Three deathdealers, the whole pile those still in the running, of their original group of potentials, along with several priest mages. All four of the idiot brigade are involved, but not together - the guys in one group as potentials, Coraline with another group of potentials, but fulfilling the role of a Keeper they're escorting. They're investigating something. Something big. They're not even quiet about her being a real Keeper, because they actually sort of need a real Keeper.
The Death of Souls is involved. Carriers. It goes bad.
They stop the Carrier(s), but she's turned. She doesn't tell her group. They return to the main group. She goes to pray, and steps into the Grey Lobby...
The Voice calls it 'unfortunate'.
She asks if this is her end, asks what to do.
He tells her, "Probably." Doesn't just tell her to turn herself over to die, as she'd sort of expected. Does ask her what she thinks the options are.
She lays out the options as she sees them, noting that she doesn't know the details of several, and that Kyrule is unlikely to be willing to make the sacrifice required for the one true end she does know. The Voice asks what that is. She tells him it's something very dear, something that she wouldn't sacrifice either, but never answers the question. Part of her mind almost wanders off to wonder why the one thing that ends this is Eapherod, and if the whole thing was perhaps connected to her from the start, but then it... mostly doesn't. They almost certainly don't discuss this, either.
The Voice tells her to invoke the Rite. Talk to one of the Deathdealers, discretely. Invoke the Rite of Soul's Rest, and proceed. He doesn't explain what this is, but she just sort of knows now that he's said it.
(Why doesn't he tell Coraline to invoke this rite?)
She mentions not actually knowing the details of Shalias' story. She'll need to find the story. She'll need time.
Kyrule has the story, the Voice tells her. And he can provide time. Magic.
(Why doesn't he provide the story to Coraline?)
Not magic, she tells him. It's not magic that wards the Carriers who lasted longer. Souls. Soul. Shalias was a Keeper of magic and thus had magic, but it was the nature of that magic as a part of her soul that did it. The one who'd end it survived... will survive... because she was a literal god, though she didn't know it. That doesn't help us...
The Voice reminds her that she is talking to a literal god. This can be arranged.
She asks how.
Make you a Keeper of Magic like Shalias. Already a Keeper, so take on the mantle of all Keepers, and take on the mantle of Kyrule himself.
She doesn't really know what to say to this. The logic seems sound enough, sort of, in the same way the logic of making a cake while really, really drunk seems sound at the time. Or running around screaming about drunk you are, in all caps, inconsistently misspelling 'drunk'. She doesn't really know how to argue with it.
The Voice tells her to channel, so she channels. He touches her forehead. She's not channelling. The magic is just... there. It just is.
She can't stop, because she isn't.
The Voice tells her, Might is harder. She'll need to take the black, as usual. And then take it again. She'll know what to do.
She asks, isn't there a sizeable chance that'll kill her regardless? Regardless of Kyrule's say. Death of Souls, and all.
The Voice says yes, but why expect this?
She says, because you were very concerned about this with the other one. Or will be.
He says, the odds are good enough, for now. Be quick about it.
She's not sure what to make of this. Is it the odds? Weren't the odds good for Coraline, too?
Or is she not important like Coraline? Because Coraline is important. Why is Coraline special? Of course she knows, but why does Kyrule already know Coraline is special? Why doesn't he tell Coraline these things?
Something very major is missing here.
She goes. Finds a Deathdealer. Turns out to be the same one at whom she'd failed the first trial.
She goes along with it. Tells him she needs to talk to him, in private. He's a bit suspicious, says he doesn't want to talk about this, that the matter is closed. She just says, it's not that. Just something that requires some discretion. I need to get some water.
He goes along with it. (They go to?) the inn. She gets a cup of water, they find a reasonable corner. He asks what the matter is.
"Soul's Rest," she says.
He stops, realisation dawning. "Oh," he says, but with meaning.
Maybe they discuss it a bit. Maybe not. At some point maybe she tells him to cast a soul binding on her. He does, and she thanks him.
She doesn't explain what she's doing next. She knows he'll recognise it. It doesn't matter.
She says the words. The oath as done, word for word, only thinking the corrections. Soul already given. Only the name is certain. She stirs the water with a finger, looks at it, hesitates.
He asks her something, or just makes a comment. She maybe replies. Maybe doesn't. But it's terse, if so.
The moment lingers. She's afraid. Actually afraid. She hadn't even realised it until now, or maybe she has, but it hasn't yet been quite so immediate until this moment, this... cup. Not quite water.
She doesn't want this all to be over.
She doesn't realise what she's doing until she's doing it. And that's it. It's simple. Over. She's not dead, or is she? This moment doesn't linger. It stretches. It... stops?
There's a darkness to the emptiness. There's an emptiness to the space, the room, the instant. A feeling. A loss, a fullness. Voices? Noise. The white is blinding, against the black. It's not hunger, it's...
It's the voice, resonating in her head, that ends the moment. You are witnessed, Ense Vardaman. The name has hold to it that it hadn't before. Power. It's Real.
She looks around. Nothing's changed. The inn's the same. She's holding the mug, almost to her lips, in both hands like a pauper's soup. She lowers it. The Deathdealer raises an eyebrow.
"Er," she says. "That actually worked."
The Deathdealer - the other Deathdealer, now - says something. Something trite, probably. He's not amused, or perhaps he is?
She's definitely not amused. She's also not done. Deathdealer was step one, but the point here is Keeper, not Deathdealer. This ritual she knows less well, for some reason. But she also knows it implicitly, just the same, for some reason.
The other Deathdealer probably offers to take the mug off her, or moves to do so, but she doesn't let him. She's still holding it. It still has water. The water. The water she needs to keep right on going...
She says more words. Words suspiciously like the first ritual, but also different. This time she starts by drinking, says more words, channels (how?), drinks, words, dumps rest on head. The room spins. It's all different. It's all the same.
The cat pops his head out of her shirt and belches horrifyingly.
"What have we done?" she whispers. It's more than a whisper. It's...
"Vardaman," the Deathdealer says.
"Yes," she says. No. She's not Vardaman. But she is. All the focus, all the purpose, the specificity. The wandering mind, the dreams, the exactitude of the fine edge of the story itself. Nothing's changed. There's just... more behind it, now. More... to her.
She focuses. It's as easy as dreaming.
They go back, ahead of everyone else. That mission doesn't concern them now.
Vardaman reads through the story. It's in the Library.
(Why isn't it in the Library when Coraline looks?)
They go to the undead beneath the temple. Need something from them. Artefact? Item? Pieces of something broken? It's not Eapherod. It was never Eapherod. That would be too obvious. Too simple.
Memories. Carriers that came before. Incidents. Spacial recall of outbreaks, of...
The one below, with the undead, it's Peledeska. It's a Hole. It's thinnies, covered up for millennia. It's something that hasn't happened yet. It's the reason the undead are even down there at all. It's something they were guarding. Something they avoid. Fear in the walls. In dust. A small gem, a broken spear, a shimmer of soul. A piece of the ritual. A tie to the planes of the living, as they were before the Death of Souls.
They bring witnesses. Kyrule and Vardaman agree: the idiot brigade is perfect. Just get the whole brigade back together. Done. Outsiders too complicated, despite Vardaman's preference for clean controls. Other keepers too close to the god, despite Kyrule's preference for keeping it all entirely in-house. These are not close, but can be trusted, because they have been keeping such secrets properly already.
They collect the... thing.
The brigade sticks together, too, now plus one. They go other places. Do other things. Play out the Shalias story, building up to the finale. Vardaman learns the full ritual, even more so than Shalias ever did, and far more about necromancy and the unclean handling of souls than anyone with her is at all comfortable with. But they go along with it anyway. Such is the nature of the Rite of Soul's Rest.
They end in the City of Death. Go through the World's Gate via Arah. Vardaman is a witch, and sticks to being a witch, despite holding all the power of Kyrule. The power of a witch is understatement. They use normal means even when they needn't.
Kyrule welcomes them, welcomes her. It's bittersweet, but dear. Mourning.
There's no particular ado. They get to it, do the ritual, or start it, or start to start it. They realise they screwed up, entirely. It doesn't work. It can't work. Vardaman is Kyrule. To bind the Death of Souls to her is to bind it to Kyrule, and that just is not possible. There is no mortal soul to anchor the whole thing, not even a facsimile of one. Or perhaps the problem is only that it's Kyrule. What Kyrule is. Will be? Was?
And they just don't have what they need to do the other one. To actually end the Death of Souls.
There's no argument, nothing. Just the realisation, the horrible sinking feeling of 'oh fuck', and Kyrule ends the play right there. Twists the ritual as Shalias did, removes the Death of Souls from this Keeper, too, this Avatar, and boots the entire idiot brigade, plus one, all back to Abearanoth. No comment.
They're all very confused. Everyone else because what the fuck, did it work? That didn't feel like it working. Vardaman because this didn't even answer anything. What had Shalias' realisation been? Not this, certainly.
Why wasn't it in her book?
What else wasn't in her book?
She goes back later, just looking at everything in passing, around the edges. Looking just at what's right in front of her, not even trying to find meaning. Shalias' book is full of holes.
Why go into the deep?
Why is the sword so important?
They gave up their swords. A symbol, an irony. A parallel to a story untold.
A black rose, the swirl and the furl, open and close. Beginning. End. A symbol. Why do they know it so? Why do they care so much as to try to steal it back?
Vardaman doesn't. It's just a sword, she says. Just a prop. No reason to go against practice.
They insist. They go. She finally caves only to try to keep them from doing an even worse job of it.
It's Leifos, Kerka explains. If Leifos says it's important, it's important.
Leifos doesn't have an explanation. It just is. A feeling?
Recovering the sword. Another parallel?
Her recommendation is simply to walk right in. Put on hats like they belong, and then go in when nobody's looking. When they baulk initially, she offers to do it herself.
No, no, no, Juane says. It's like the stories. Gotta do it like the stories.
She's reasonably sure this is not how the stories go. Also stories tend to have unnecessary conflict. Better to just avoid that.
We need another way, Juane insists. Secret passageways.
Why, she asks, would they even have such secret passageways?
"Duh," Juane says, and immediately trips over something and falls into one.
"Found one!" he adds, from below a some sort of trapdoor in the floor.
The others go down too, but with considerably more care.
These corridors aren't much different from the ones above. They go down them much as they would have above. They get reasonably lost in the process.
They talk about the passages, and how secret they are. They're very empty.
She points out that she's reasonably sure these are not secret passages. More like a basement. Not really sure why it's not in active use, given its apparent structural integrity. Maybe it's full of mould? Or asbestos. It could be asbestos. We could be drastically shortening our expected lifespans by being down here.
The others generally what? at this.
She totally fails to explain some half-arsed thing about safety codes and civil engineering practices, because she doesn't really know any of them either.
They go on. Someone decides at some point that they're probably nearish to where they're trying to go. Vardaman is reasonably sure at this point that as long as nobody mentions what they are trying to do, all they'll need do is point out that whatever they do wind up doing/wherever they do wind up is not where they were trying to go and they should be pretty safe.
They go up some stairs. Look around. They have no idea where they are. There's folk about, but nobody pays them any particular heed.
They decide this is as good a reason as any to go back down and explore the secret passageways.
Basement, Vardaman corrects.
It's vaguely interesting. They go down several subbasements just to see if they're any different, which... kind of, but not by much. They find a lot of random crap, including various things only of particular interest to any given one of them. They hear some sounds. Vardaman points out that yes, there almost certainly are critters living down here, but as long as we keep together and have lights on they're very unlikely to give trouble unless seriously agitated. Look out for nests, don't trash those?
Juane asks what exactly such critters might be.
Vardaman points out that she's not actually from this planet and has no idea.
Juane notes that this is not exactly reassuring.
Kerka points out that this was kind of Juane's idea in the first place.
Juane blames Leifos.
Leifos is just sort of staring at a horrible hovering darkness that has filled up the entire corridor/room/doorway ahead/off to the side/behind them. It seems to have depths to it. Weight. And tendrils.
They all point their lights at it. Its darkness just stands out even more as a result. The tendrils look almost sharp. Glinting.
Everybody panics, including the darkness. It's unclear who panics first. There's yelling, running, and a horrible screwup involving localised gravitational pulls. The darkness pulls everything around it toward itself, apparently thinks better of this almost immediately, and instead pulls itself very, very forcefully down, punching its way through the floor and taking a bunch of floor with it.
Much closer now due to having been initially pulled toward the thing, the entire group winds up falling down a bit with chunks of floor. Kerka and Leifos wind up a floor down for reasons that make sense for them, possibly goat-related. Vardaman falls a couple more floors, but mostly slidingly, and manages to stop herself before tumbling further.
Juane tumbles considerably further, and possibly screams, or makes other unfortunate noises.
Kerka and Leifos immediately run to the edge and call for the other two.
Vardaman responds with something uncertain, probably fine, and takes stock of her situation slightly more carefully before pulling herself to more structurally intact areas to actually check herself properly.
The other two continue calling for Juane. Some more things crash down, but then they hear some moaning or something. A light is lowered down on a rope.
Room Vardaman is in is some sort of austere stone rectangle with something in the middle that was very destroyed by the whole everything collapsing thing, and then Vardaman crashing into it as well. She concludes herself to be mostly fine, definitely very bruised at least, but at worst sprains and fractures, notices a small black fluffy matted thing on the floor, picks it up, and also some sort of necklace next to it. Doesn't really take stock of the room itself.
Leifos shows up in the hole outside the room, dangling from a rope.
Vardaman tells him Hi. Leifos says hi back.
Vardaman asks if they have any more lights. They do. Do they have any more rope? They do. Do they know anything about scaling already compromised structures without further disturbing them?
Vardaman: Whatever. Find Juane, see if he can be moved, what's his condition? And not bring down even more of this on top of him. Also do we have any healing stuff?
Leifos: What sort of healing stuff?
Vardaman: I dunno, stuff for stabilising someone with various injuries? What DO we have? What can we expect after transport?
Kerka: Got some potions! They're kind of toxic, though...
I still have this elixir from my... Leifos starts to say, but then can't quite seem to specify what his thing even is.
So... magic? Vardaman asks.
Vardaman: And the temple has proper magic?
Leifos: Ya think?
Kerka lowers Leifos down further, and he points his light around.
The damage is a lot. The structure is also very... structural. Some of it seems hewn from solid rock, other bits are plain stonework, and other bits look... grown? Also some decaying wood bits. They're still not sure where Juane is.
Leifos swings/spins around a bit, trying to find Juane. Vardaman yells for Juane to make noise if her can hear them.
A tapping happens. Leifos tries to follow it home, with Kerka lowering him, raising him a bit because he went too far, and then lowering him a bit. Leifos spots something, swings over to the floor in general, and then actually finds Juane.
Juane is in some sort of not good shape, and Leifos relays this information to the others. Vardaman asks what that means, and some random confusing specifics and then just asks if Leifos is a medic? Is anyone here a medic?
No, we usually just use potions in real emergencies, Leifos says. Kerka has the potions, and he can't just send them down, they're too unstable, we need Kerka/help/House/priests/Sonje.
Vardaman asks if Kerka can get her and Kerka down there as well.
Kerka sends Vardaman a rope to lower her down like Leifos, they do this, and then establish that they still don't know how to actually get Kerka down.
Just to make things more fun, structural instability makes structural instability noises. Also some general shifting as stuff... breaks?
Leifos starts freaking out about Juane not responding. Vardaman shoos him away to help Kerka figure something out, and then runs after him after all and relieves him of his elixir, which he'd already forgotten.
Vardaman assesses Juane: large section of debris on top of him, up to his stomach, everything below buried. Does not appear to be breathing; checks pulse, can't find one, either due to there not being one, or just not knowing exactly how to check and not having the working brains at the moment to think it through due to slight amount of panic.
Attempts CPR. Pours elixir down throat; attempts some more.
CPR (or elixer) apparently works; ensue resulting ensuence, also some amount of shock on Vardaman's part.
Leifos comes back with Kerka, except next to Leifos Kerka's twice the size he's supposed to be for some reason.
Brief conversation establishing that Juane is obviously alive and they need to get this stuff off him and move him away from the edge and generally stabilise his... condition. Whatever it is. Probably slightly crushed. What does the elixir even do?
It's a cure spell, Leifos says. Attached to a salve.
I may have poured it in his lungs, Vardaman says.
Kerka meanwhile just lifts all the stuff off Juane and shoves it in the hole. This possibly makes Juane's condition worse and he starts writhing and screaming, and things are definitely broken. Leifos and Vardaman try to hold him down.
Brief back and forth establishing exactly what sort of potion to give Juane. Very brief. Wind up with a combination thing to knock him out and sort of put him in stasis and thing to basically just put more life in him and make all his tissues regrow much faster than usual. Or possibly as usual, in circumstances. Force him to swallow it, a lot of it just winds up on the floor/on them, and he passes out.
The others also just sort of sit there for a bit, finally catching their breath and such. Kerka is still huge.
Okay... now what? Probably Vardaman.
Get him out? Leifos.
Kerka: He'll need real healing. And detox. Someone with antidotes.
Vardaman: Great. How?
General realisation that their current position places them with a massive hole on one side, and some very dark level of subbasement on the other that is much further down than they were. Vardaman in particular would point out that going up it is probably a bad idea because unstable. But they're also not actually sure how else...
Leifos: ...there's probably staircases somewhere?
They shine their lights down the corridor. Figures scoot out of sight. Watching around the edges. Maybe. Maybe not.
Now that's somewhat unsettling, Vardaman says.
At least there's a corridor, Leifos says.
What? Kerka says.
Leifos: Vardaman was in a room with no doors.
Weird, Kerka says.
Anyone have a better plan than 'pick up Juane and look for an exit'? Vardaman asks. Besides panic.
Panic? Leifos suggests.
They don't. Large Kerka picks up Juane ridiculously easily, and they wander off in search of exit.
Kerka notes that Juane probably has a couple of hours before it all wears off, but that's about it, and then he's probably dead from the potion toxicity alone.
Things are definitely watching them.
They see some of the things. They don't see some. Some stand in doorways. Others charge at them and then vanish. Some just keep right on going as if they weren't even there, and they get out of the way and let them pass. Things include: wraiths, shades, zombies, shambles.
Someone points out that this is nothing like before, and possibly really, really scary.
Someone else points out that these appear to be undead, and isn't Kyrule supposed to be all anti-undead, so why are all these under his temple?
Someone wonders vaguely if they even are under the temple anymore. Maybe they're somewhere else.
How exactly would that happen? We fell in a hole. Down. We were already under the temple. Ergo we still are.
This goes on. It gets scarier. Maybe some bad things happen. Creepy ghost girl shade shows up and is generally just creepy, and appears and disappears seemingly at random. At some point she starts gesturing for them to follow her.
They... don't particularly want to.
They don't really have any better ideas.
They follow the creepy ghost girl.
Deathdealer shows up to rescue them. Heals Juane a bit. Tells them they're safe now and he'll get them out of there.
Vardaman asks, what about the ghost girl?
Ghost girl is just sort of staring at them.
What about her? the Deathdealer asks. There's nothing to be done. None down here would remember anything useful, or stuff.
She seems to, Vardaman says.
Why did she pick up something that looked like a dirty sock?
Because it looked like a dirty sock in some really ancient ruins?! It's interesting.
Well, we did kind of ruin them...
How is that interesting?
Because it is? Look, I didn't know what it was, and I guess I just wanted the opportunity to find out...