10/23/11 – The Circle, onboard Celestine Arrow, departed Chiaroscuro shortly before dawn. It was a short journey to the Tomb of Jamal, The Imminent Thunder. The Circle told Celestine Arrow to secure itself in one of the cliffside alcoves – they would arrange for it to be summoned, either using the Bracers from Grandmother Bright, or the Messenger Bottle attached to the Daiklaive. After a relatively short climb, the Circle managed to find the tomb. Shortly before it was a sign, warning people against the danger of Anathema traps in the name of the Shogunate, as well as a set of alcoves along the paths, containing the remnants of smashed figurines of what appeared to be soldiers. The Tomb itself was carved into the rock of the cliff, set behind a brick wall and a wall of Chiaroscuro glass. The brick wall was long since fractured, but the glass was immaculate.
The Circle approached the tomb, and after eating some of their rations, began to open the door. V’neef Kafun detected that there was a flow of Essence within the place itself, and as he and Sundered Cliff opened the door, a new warning, written in Old Realm appeared, warning intruders that nothing remained inside for them.
Disregarding that warning, the Circle entered, and found themselves in a large chamber, dark, with light shining through more Chiaroscuro glass skylights, and with pillars with writing on it. Also here was a statue, sitting meditatively, with an enormous daiklaive, in one of the shafts of light, some 50 feet into the room.
It rose from its position as the Circle announced itself. It was vaguely human in form, carved of beautiful porcelain, and threaded with other materials. It spoke to the Circle, and urged them to turn back. It called itself Jamal, and its voice resonated with regret and resolution. It also claimed that it guarded the Citadel Inevitable (its name for the Tomb) from intruders from outside and from… things… inside. As it continued to talk, it said that it was OF Jamal, that being formed in this shape had caused the spirit that animated it to take on more of Jamal’s aspects and personality, rather than its own. The Circle sought to find a way to leave the Guardian intact, but that was not to be.
Sundered Cliff stepped forward, drawing forth Slaughterwake from Elsewhere. He held the weapon in a guard stance, and bowed to the statue, seeking single combat. In a flash, the statue moved, streaking through the hallway to strike at Obsidian Skye and V’neef Kafun with the flat of his blade before using his momentum to slam his blade’s edge past Sundered Cliff’s defenses.
The strike drew blood, but Sundered Cliff felt no pain from it – rather, a sense of a drunken euphoria descended onto him. V’neef Kafun moved up to guard Sundered Cliff, while striking at the statue to turn aside its blade, even as Obsidian Skye left her defensive stance and moved to strike. The statue continued its strikes, evading Obsidian Skye‘s blows, managing to make its blade seem to float around its wrists following an Essence-fueled strike by Sundered Cliff, and sought to overmaster V’neef Kafun through with an impressive slam with the flat of its blade. Kafun managed to evade by becoming a sort of greenish mist, flowing through the strike and behind the statue.
Sundered Cliff took the opportunity to strike, his anger fueled by both his drunken state as well as the statue’s attacks against Obsidian Skye and Kafun, as he viewed this tactic as dishonorable. Channeling power into him, and bellowing like an enraged bull, he lashed out with Slaughterwake at the porcelain blade. The Guardian managed what would have been a perfect block, had it truly embodied the one whose shape it wore – but it was not truly an Exalt. Its hands shattered at the wrist, and the blade was sent ringing into the floor.
The statue seemed to dim, and a dust that caught the light flowed out of it.
The door at the far end of the hall opened, and a new statue of Jamal entered. This one carried, instead of a blade, a silver platter and a cup. It spoke politely to the Circle, and offered Sundered Cliff the cup. Sundered Cliff thanked the Cupbearer, offered a small bit of the sparkling purple liquid to his pouch of gods, and then drank. His euphoria vanished, some of his wounds slowly drew together, and Essence flowed back into him. He then offered the cup to the others.
The Cupbearer brought them into the next room, a lavishly appointed place filled with cushions and comforts, and took a seat in a high-backed wooden chair at the end of a table, adopting the pose of a man granting an audience. It spoke at length to the Circle, answering questions as it could, and posing some in return. Sundered Cliff seemed to think of the Citadel as a goad or a scourge, with the statues and the reminders of what Jamal had been as something to purge himself of the regrets of his failures. Eventually, the Circle appeared to reach something within the Cupbearer, for it told them to take the Sword of the Guardian and the Cup, that these would be helpful when dealing with the dangers below.
The Circle then proceeded to the next chamber, finding a large, square shaft ringed by staircases, and small remembrance alcoves carved along the levels. Kafun and Obsidian Skye examined each, honoring the memory of those who were remembered within, while Sundered Cliff stood outside. The Citadel disturbed him – a massive monument to failure and doubt, a mausoleum determined only to remember the worst of a person – though he could not place WHY it disturbed him into words, not having Black Fly’s gift of oration.
As he gazed outward from one of the alcoves, something… skittered by, using the shaft as a passage. He got a glimpse of something that his mind called a giant centipede. He called, gently, to the others, warning them of what he had seen. Obsidian Skye and Kafun saw nothing when they came out, and they proceeded carefully to the next level.
There, they happened upon… something. It looked vaguely like a centipede, but its shape seemed to flow and shift. Sundered Cliff suggested that Kafun examine the thing via Essence Sight, to see if this was a Guardian of the Citadel. He did, and saw a disturbing flow within its Essence, odd skeins twisting and the pattern void in places. Obsidian Skye, meanwhile, called out a, “Hello?” to the creature.
It lifted its head(?) and opened its mouth(?). Eyes, sometimes two, then 4, then three, then 6, glowed as it gazed at them, and wicked teeth, each seeming to move of its own volition, appeared as it opened its mouth and hissed, before lunging toward them.
The Circle managed to evade its blows, and Kafun managed a solid hit, opening the creature’s belly with his spear after the Guardian’s sword failed to strike the creature. The thing shrieked in pain, greenish ichor melting the surface of the stone level, and then leapt down the shaft.
As the Circle began to move toward the next level, a third Jamal statue came forth, this one holding a staff ringed with different colors of precious metal. The Standard Bearer told them a bit more about the thing they had just faced, calling it the embodiment of murder and hate, a Nightmare beast made flesh. The Standard Bearer said that the Circle had been able to strike it once, but that each time it returned, it would grow in danger, and that the Aspects of Jamal had to keep it as what it was. It told them a bit more about The Citadel and Jamal as well as they walked.
As they did so, the Beast reared its head up, extending its form along a wall of the shaft, a wall of the level the Circle was on, and the ceiling that it was on, splitting the Circle, with Kafun and Obsidian Skye on one side of it, while Sundered Cliff and the Standard Bearer remained on the other. The Standard Bearer continued walking, asking a question as it proceeded, which it seemed that the Circle had to answer while engaged in melee. Kafun again struck at the creature, but this time his blow was deflected. Sundered Cliff, meanwhile, adopted a guard stance, Slaughterwake whirling in defense as he gave a quick, terse answer to the Standard Bearer. Obsidian Skye, seemingly reflexively, said, “I love you” to the Beast, which shocked it. Many of its limbs retracted as a ripple flowed along its length, and it retreated out of sight.
The Standard Bearer looked shocked, and when it was able to speak, told the Circle that it could not be certain what the consequences of Obsidian Skye’s actions were. The Beast would not escape the Citadel, so long as its Heart was secured – but, as Obsidian Skye soon realized, by binding it to a shape, so too had its actions been bound. With her words, the Beast had new actions, a new form, and perhaps a broader arsenal.
A fourth Jamal statue came up from below, this one bearing a glowing ring upon its hand, and urged the Circle forward. Sundered Cliff asked for a moment, and asked the Standard Bearer if, like the Guardian and the Cupbearer, he had something he could pass to the Circle that they would need, and if he would pass such. The Standard Bearer and the Ring Bearer urged the Circle to come with them, and continued their conversation as they took them forward to meet the Heart Keeper…