CLOSED SIGNUPS e s o t e r i c a || DRY SEASON

Ritual Lobotomy

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THOMAS "TOM" O'REILLY|| NAVIGATOR

Between aiding with heavier things being brought back to their place and returning to his ruined tent for the knick-knacks he had left behind, Thomas had forgotten all about his stomach rumbling desperately. Despite the latest event, the appetite wasn’t lost on him. And while the camp further discussed it, the Irish, save for the deep-set frown on his face that at that point may have passed as his default expression, had nothing to say on it. Unless Greene and his family were all suffering from a serious delusion, the appearance of the airship simply served to further verify the item they were searching for. Whatever it may be, it is a good reason to haul men and resources so deep into the jungle for both parties.

He didn’t hurry to grab the first serving, but he was right on time to get his share before it disappeared. The Americans kept themselves occupied with a piece of carving, and he threw glances their way every once in a while as he hastily went through his meal, without any particular thought to go with it. Brief banter between Andrew and their financier, however, caught his attention with the sheer absurdity of Andrew’s complaint about Greene’s suggestion. It was an amusing exchange that drew out a smirk from the Irish as he kept his eyes focused on the bowl. After all, it was of no benefit for anyone to misinterpret his amusement at that moment.

"Stories that persist like that, usually have some truth behind them. And you are chasing after legends yourself." It came confidently from the guide, and it made the navigator pause and nod to himself. Las had a valid point. "We better get a move on and leave this site. We can't stay here cause we run the risk of being spotted by ground teams." She concluded. After conquering a large bite of food, Thomas cleared his throat and spoke up.

“Goes without sayin’ that we can’t remain where we are. We clearly have no hope in fightin’ off a potential attack; not out in the open. That bloody airship was the only realistic threat we’ve encountered so far, so I am basin’ my vote on it. The temple is our best option, not knowing what we’re dealin’ with. We have the insides mapped and ready, and if an attack was about to happen, we surely have the upper hand with one entrance to defend. And if everyone ‘round here is as superstitious, then they surely would think twice before venturin’ in, searchin’ for us”, he smirked, referring to the mention of supernatural.

“If there are any boogeymen in there well, we will adjust accordingly. Perhaps they just need a good drink, that’s all”, he jested. “Besides, I don’t know ‘bout you, but I’d rather share the temple room with a few dead men than lay on the jungle floor as one.”

@Doctor Jax
@DayDreamer
 

Applo

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“Hear! Hear!”

Using the hand that held his spoon, Bertrum rapped his knuckles against the outside of his bowl at Thomas’ words.

“I know Mr Locke has his reservations, but I’m sure with sensible caution that those old stones will make perfectly suitable accommodations.”

The doctor’s eyes slid in their sockets until they found where Taumai had been set down once again by his compatriots.

“Yes, we had a nasty go about it this morning, but we all lived and hopefully learned.“

Just for a moment, a ghost of the wild panic of a short while earlier rose in the doctor's stomach. It had been sheer madness. All of them scrambling to ruin the camp while saving anything that would be useful. It was a wonder people hadn't been injured. Moving themselves somewhere more covered was the only sensible suggestion. Medically, he had quite enough to deal with already.

Scraping the last few morsels from his plate, Bertrum turned his gaze back to the expeditions esteemed leaders.

“Naturally Mr Locke, I bow to your experience when it comes to expeditions such as this, but as a doctor, I must say that our injured auxiliary will be a damn sight better off somewhere where he isn’t going to be shaken around like a dog’s stick at the drop of a hat. We are all rational men here… ladies too I’m quite sure. We shouldn’t let silly talk of ghosts stop us from doing what is sensible. If nothing else, being so close to our site of works should speed things up a little, should it not.”​

 
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Doctor Jax

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The four other members listened to the general consensus from the others, Greene crossing his arms and thinking, Henry nodding his sagely head, Andrew's expression growing more and more worried as he looked between the three putting in their suggestions.

"Alex is right. Won't be long for a ground team to show up, try and find where we are. We end up in that temple, we got one way in, one way out," Andrew stated softly, musing. "Sure, we've got it mapped, but I just don't know that we've got other exits. I don't believe that we do."

"Most o' da's 'he ve'hetation blocking 'he way, 'ough. We jus' hack it away," Henry stated in deep thought. "No' 'o menshion 'he ease of studying 'he edifice."

"He's got a point. It should conceal us from view, as well," Angie said with a sigh, flopping down to the ground with the piece of wood, looking it over. This carving was exquisite, the details so fine it had to have been done by a pin. Seamlessly, it was all one piece, as if grown that way. There was the intricacy of the vegetative motifs, the way that part of the tree turned into the frame. It was such a shame so much of it had been burnt, as it was a lovely piece of work. But... it was strange, the way the person was bent and contorted. The leaves sprouting from the priest's body almost seemed to be like flames, consumptive.

"They speak sense," Greene stated with a shrug of his shoulders, looking back towards the temple. "The Good Doctor thinks it's best for the patients, our historians think it would be best for their study, and our navigator has the thing mapped out."

"We still need to take votes from Peter, Ana, Mawvan--"

"And we will," Greene assured, "but at the moment, it does seem that we are largely in the camp to make camp in those ruins."

Andrew sighed softly as he put his hands on his hips, hanging his head. He nodded, walking away from the group, Angie looking after him.

"Is it just me, or is he acting odd?"

"I's all 'hese ghos' s'ories, heh!" Henry scoffed, shaking his head. " 'Pooked, as i' were. Ah - poor men."


***

Andrew wasn't spooked. At least - that was what he was trying to say to himself as he walked over to Ana and Peter. He would ask them first for their votes, see if maybe they couldn't see a bit of sense. What they needed to do was to move to some other location - preferably away from the burnt out village. That needed explanation, all its own, but... it seemed they were always busy with something else, keeping them on their toes.

"Ah, you two. We are taking a vote on whether or not we're stayin' in this spot, or if we're movin' on somewhere else. Alternative is, inhabiting the temple back there and working out of it, hiding from view. What say you two?" Andrew asked, coming to squat beside the two in the tent, beside the cot. He frowned a bit as he glanced between the two.

"You seen the bottom of the bottle I gave you, I see?"


***
Angelica was only half-listening to the conversation going around her as she stared at the carving that was only about as wide as her palm, perhaps at best seven inches in length. She turned the carving to its side, looking it over from other angles. There was something about the body turning to leaves, that had her attention. Something she recalled from the Tala-patra, that from the tree came fruit-- though the word for fruit also meant men, often in the allegorical sense. But also that from the fruit came the tree, as well. From men. Cultivation, perhaps?

And above the tree, there was something else, a star, itself vegetative in form, sprouting flower-like petals over it. And near the body, turning into a tree, there were hands carrying what looked to be hammers. But why? Would they not carry sickles, then, for harvest?

And the priest... she hadn't noticed, but it was far too small to be a man, compared to the hands protruding, the bodies to which they were attached burnt away.

"I see you're engrosse' in some'hing, Angie," Henry stated, breaking her reverie.

"Hm? Oh! Sorry, just... this is a very strange little carving. It doesn't make much sense, does it?"

"Well, they were heathen pagans, of course they didn't make sense -- my apologies, Miss Alex, I mean no offense, merely stating a fact," Greene stated, putting out a hand towards the woman.

"Now, that's not entirely fair, Uncle Chuck, they created a whole civilization!" Angie huffed. "From their own writings, they had a celestial kingdom, untouched by war, famine, or subjugation - a paradise, given to them through the soma plant. It gave them tremendous ability to trade, and for whatever reason, they say their city could not be found unless they bid it to be found. That is hardly the type of people who 'make no sense.' Look at this work of art - done purely by human hands!"

"I 'hink you s'ruck a chord, Chuck," Henry chuckled, patting Angie's shoulder as Charles shrugged his shoulders, putting his hands up. "Now - what 'id you no'ice?"

"Well - the hands here, they're too big, compared to the man here. So this was meant to be smaller than the men around him, symbolizing perhaps inferiority? Though that doesn't make sense - he's the center of focus. And you have these hands here, they're holding hammers... I feel like we're missing part of the puzzle. This does appear to be a copy of a relief - that was popular - so perhaps we might find it again somewhere else in the temple," Angelica said hopefully. "I feel as if this was something in the Book of Palms, as well, but I can't for the life of me remember. Something about the history of Nakhon Rachasawan."

@DayDreamer @Red Thunder @Kuno @Ritual Lobotomy @Applo
 
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Kuno

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PETER O'KEEFE || RIFLEMAN
Location: Campsite
It wasn’t much. Home for the duration of their stay was perfect in its simplicity: a mean two-party tent, large enough for two able bodied men, their cots, and any few belongings they’d decided to lug with them. With Ana’s aid, Peter settled onto the bedding on his side of the tent, and he immediately stretched out his injured leg, scrunching up his face a bit.

Ana’s stroke of foresight was a godsend. He was exhausted, and the gin - a positively wonderful sleeping aid - had done nothing but temporarily mask the damage wrought to him. He could feel the dulled prongs of pain radiating from his calf - a reminder of what was to come. It would only get worse from there on out.

Saints be. Where had he put the rest of that gin?

Andrew came upon the two shortly afterward. Peter made the effort to appear alert and sound, but as the captain's intent stare fell upon them and his question hung in the air, the Irishman gave up. A soft, tired sigh escaped him.

"Aye, a fair bit on my end. Not her," Peter asserted, nodding his head along. "I'm - "

Not drunk was what he almost said, but after realizing that was precisely the sort of lie a drunken sod often told, he let his words drift off into nothing. What sounded like a short laugh at his own expense ended in a grimace. Then a pronounced frown as - delayed though it was - his brain finally mulled over what had been asked of him and Ana.

Something was terribly wrong with this proposition. The prospect of staying within that horrid, cramped, ungodly mess of stone was an idea only the likes of their financier and his crew could have conjured, and had Peter both a more solid mind and footing and he would have taken them to task best he could. That was his function, was it not? To protect the expedition's crew, even if from themselves?

One bad decision after another. That's how it always started.

"I've the mind our thoughts regarding this aren't worth sh- much," Peter muttered darkly, narrowly omitting his curse after a quick glance at Ana. "Taking votes from hired hands...now they fancy themselves a democracy.

"But since you asked, fine. No. I don't think we ought to be camping in that looming death trap. It's a - It's a bloody rabbit hole, so it is. Nevermind the place is...steeped in fu- bleeding demons and such. I warn ya we'd be trapped in there should that flying monstrosity and its, ehm, peoples decide to land and take a gander about…"

He looked askance, frowning deeply.

"That's what I think. For what it's worth."
 

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Alex had been listening to people discussing their plans on where to make camp. The majority seemed convinced that the ruins were a good idea to hide at and under any other circumstances Alex would have liked the idea of a roof over her head. However, she frowned at the thought when she considered the special circumstances. "Mr. Locke doesn't strike me as someone who gets spooked with no valid reason. But I agree with him for different reasons." Alex commented as she watched the man dejectedly leave to collect the votes of the rest of the crew members. A frown had settled on her face as she thought of alternative courses of action, while the financiers of their little expedition seemed to be blissfully disregarding the issue of camping locations in favor of the carving she had brought back. "Like children with a new toy....." She mumbled to herself as Greene addressed her with an apology when the mention of heathen pagans was uttered. Snapping out of her thoughts she smirked. "None taken. You are, after all, searching for this heathen nonsense yourself. I imagine religion makes no difference there."

Having finished her meal, Alex placed the ball next to her feet. "Nakhon Rachasawan, huh? That's not a city I've heard of before. Sounds similar to Nakhon Ratchasima, but I am pretty sure if this soma you are looking for was there, it would have been discovered and used already." She had risen to her feet to loom over Angelica and the relief she was holding. While Alex would usually not go out of her way to closely study carvings and ancient reliefs, when people held an interest in them, her curiosity would tingle at the back of her head.
 

Red Thunder

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Tatyana Volkov
Should I Stay or Should I Go Now


"I am of the same thinking."

The effort had been tedious and not a little exhausting, half-carrying the Irishman nearly twice her size to his tent. What little of her clothing had thus far managed to avoid the humidity-generated sweat was now soaking from the effort, and her skin was flushed even still. Peter's vague, and likely half-conscious, attempts at seeking more alcohol had been quickly met with violence, the small pop of a hand slap probably meeting Andrew's ears even as he drew close to Peter's tent.

"There is trouble in that place," Ana said, her breathing slowing back to normal. She sat nearby to the cot on a folding stool in a very unladylike manner, knees spread wide as she leaned forward against them. But as much as Peter seemed to care that this lady was in the room, she apparently did not. "Or there was. I know you think me crazy, Mr. Andrew, but I know what I saw, what I heard. There are- oh, Blyad'. A thing. Illusion? Projection? Curse your English lan- prizrak. A ghost. Maybe more."

The child. He- It, had warned her, though. Or it had tried to. Was it a warning? Or was it the cause of the rockslide that had injured so many? Her brow knit in unconscious concern, she gave Peter's leg a glance.

Then there was the chanting. That god-awful chanting. That did seem malicious. Never mind the intention of the ghost-child; the chanting alone was enough to cause her to never return to the damned place again. Though she had. And that was when she saw the child. Was-?

"No," she proclaimed, perhaps with a bit more fervor than she'd intended. "I will not go into that place again."

@Kuno @Doctor Jax
 
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Doctor Jax

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Andrew Locke was no fool, and he could see that both Peter and Ana were just as on edge about the idea of ending up in the temple as he was. Never mind the fact it was unstable, old as the hills, a place with unknown structural integrity -- the supernatural effects, real or imagined, had to be considered as well. The crew would not hold together if so many of them were alight with superstitious fervor. And... if he was honest...

He was not convinced this was just superstition.

"Ghosts...."

He glanced at Peter, his mind clearly weighing some things.

"So... you've seen 'em as well, I take it," Andrew stated with as much nonchalance as he could manage. "Last night, I figured I was just spooked. Seein' things in the dark, you know how it is when you're on edge. But... well, I saw it, clear as daylight. A woman, with a spear through her head, bottom jaw ripped off..."

Andrew drew from his pocket a cigarette case. Carefully he placed it in his mouth, eyes downcast, as he likewise took a match and struck it against the bottom of his shoe. A plume filtered from his mouth in a white, nebulous curl.

"What did you see, then?" Andrew asked, his eyes locking onto Ana.

She was a journalist. As far as he could tell, she was a woman of reason. Of objectivity. Not like the rest of these men here, steeped in the supernatural world and its irrational fears-- no, if she was worried about ghosts...

@Red Thunder @Kuno


***
"Well, it's no wonder. Nakhon Ratchasima is quite old itself, but Nakhon Rachasawan is another thing entirely," Angie stated.

"Oh, bother, you've got her started, Miss Smith..." Greene groaned, sighing as he shook his head. "I'm going to take my leave of this lecture, if you don't mind."

Angie playfully smacked his arm as he walked by, expression lightly peeved. Greene himself barely dodged with a slight smirk himself, heading back towards his tent, though not before putting a hand on Henry's shoulder to indicate he follow. Angela took the empty seat offered quickly, and with an excited glint in her eye, she began.

"Nakhon Rachasawan was the center of an ancient civilization that was once in the Chao Praya basin, a long, long time ago. It's since been lost to time, with little, if any, record of its existence, save for accounts from other sources speaking of the fearsome Dai Lanna people who populated it. It was reportedly a city of vast proportion, heavily protected by magic, able to withstand any siege, world-renowned for bringing back even the dead," Angie began to those bothering to listen. "It was a city on a lake, reportedly, well -- what is translated as a lake. It is said to be a city upon the 'unending water.' There is, of course, a mythic account of how the city was founded there, where a single banyan tree was found in this unending water, discovered by black magicians who worshiped its wisdom and its medicine. Of course, it's quite the exaggeration, but... well, ever legend has a grain of truth, doesn't it?"

Angie turned the relief in her hands, with its person-turned-plant.

"What we are hoping to find is the highway there. It is said to be a place guarded by many ghosts, probably scary stories to try and ward off those who want to find the place and loot it. They were extremely jealous of the location of their city, claiming that somehow only those they allowed to find the highway could manage to reach it. Some religious ceremony is necessary, though I'm not entirely sure if they were being literal or not. More than likely, they had to pay a toll to the priests, and the priests would guide them to the location of the highway, and the ghosts are just local flavor," she explained, dismissing the possibility. She picked up a cloth and began to wrap the relief in it to protect it from further damage by either sun or dust.

She flopped her hands into her lap and sighed.

"What we do not know is how they managed to keep the location of such a large city a secret, nor how they managed to sustain it upon a lake. Likewise, we know nothing of its location other than the Book of Palms telling us how to reach the temple that begins the highway. We also don't know how such a large and prosperous nation abruptly collapsed in on itself, well before the Tai peoples settled here in the 13th century. We don't even know the true name of the panacea they used, only that the Hindoo nations around them called it soma after the drink of the gods. Yet, this whole empire, it just... disappeared. It's as if they completely and totally vanished as a civilization. They were so feared, there are few records left even mentioning Nakhon Rachasawan, and each one is... confusing."

@DayDreamer


***​
"Is 'ere some'hing the madder, Chuck?" Henry asked as the gaunt man followed Charles' re-made tent. It was serving as a base of operations at the moment, papers scattered every which way. The financier had taken a seat, and he was pouring himself and his longtime friend a finger of whiskey for them each. Just in the few moments it took to step into the tent, the mood had changed.

"What happened, when I had dengue, Henry?" Charlie asked, eyebrows meeting as he swirled his drink. He didn't hand the other to Henry. The archaeologist walked over to take it, forced to stand closer to the financier. A set of brown eyes stared up at Henry from beneath a beetled brow.

"What are you talking about?" Henry asked softly. "Please -- elaborate."

"Something went very wrong here."

Charles continued to stare at Henry, the air thick with unspoken words, pregnant as rain clouds waiting to drop their weight.

"I'm starting to remember things--"

"You were very sick.... Chuck," Henry stated softly, finally coming down to squat in front of him. "I do mean 'at... and I wasn' sure if you had survived 'he trip back to Ayutthaya. You were so dewirious, and... and yes, we had had disag'eements, prior to 'hat. Disag'eements what to do about 'he village near here. Disag'eements with Ingrid, with Marcher. And perhaps we should not have argued practically at your bedside, but you were holding our pursesdrings."

He laughed a bit, darkly. His eyes were downcast, far away, in his wan face. Charles waited patiently for him to continue.

"We burned the place down. We did. Negotiations went south. We had no choice, they were going to push us from this landing spot, and we were-- defending ourselves. You were long gone by then."

Why are you lying?

Charles stared at Henry, searching his face.

"I guess I didn't remember that. I could swear I... I remembered so much of what happened--"

"Dengue does sdrange 'hings to 'he mind, and you were wracked wi'h fever, friend. But... I promise, we will not let their sacrifices be in vain," Henry said with a kind expression, patting Charles' knee. He summoned a smile and a nod.

But were they sacrifices? And were they the ones to actually make them?
 

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Alex shrugged. She didn't mind campfire stories. This is what this 'lecture' Greene seemed so keen to avoid was to her. However, the fact he retired to his tent with the newly found survivor of the massacre at the village did not escape her eyes. She chose to say nothing and her noticing was very brief.

"... but... well, ever legend has a grain of truth, doesn't it?" Angie asked briefly and Alex smirked knowingly as the woman parroted her own words from not that long ago. Making herself comfortable again, Alex pulled her flask and took a nice long sip of the rum held inside.

One thing that most people did not expect of Alex was to be a good listener. But that's what she was and you could see the gears in her brain working as she listened to all the information about what it was they were looking for. An ancient city with unspeakable treasure. She had heard that one before. It usually ended up as complete bullocks. However people with connections to the military didn't seem to think this one was a hoax. So she decided to bite.

"Ruins on a lake are hard to miss. Perhaps you should have struck a deal with your rivals. If they have the means to use a Royal Navy airship and you have that much knowledge on the subject, you would have made progress that much faster." Alex commented once Angie was done speaking. She took another sip of rum. "But empires rise and fall all the time. So what if they were rich and feared? What if they had all the magic in the world? There's always something to bring you to your knees and building a reputation does not always mean you can back it up forever if you catch my drift."

Closing her flask and putting it back to her belt, Alex stretch with a sigh of relief. "You did good today by the way. For a moment there I thought you would blow it. Seems like you got some survival instincts in your book filled brain after all." She teased, though it really was a praise.
 

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A GHOST OF A MEMORY
@Red Thunder | @Doctor Jax
Andrew's question was unanswered for a moment, until the journalist drew a deep breath, as if attempting to steady herself.

"I saw- um." Her mind didn't want to go back. Not again. Not so soon. Ana struggled, forcing her memory to activate. "A child. Small. A, mm, a boy? I do not know. There was the… stack? of stones and rocks. That the men were clearing. It- he was atop it. Shouting, I do not know what, and pointing. He seemed, eh, distraught. Then the rocks fell. I think, maybe, he tried to warn us. Or maybe, to warn me to warn you. It is unclear, even still.

"It was- not friendly, but maybe- helpful? Not like the first ti-"

Her voice broke. Clearing her throat, she fell silent.

The captain of the team silently listened, eyes searching the young woman as she recounted what she saw. So— that was what had caught her attention, when the rock slide happened.

“First time? This isn’t the first time this… child appeared t’ you, then,” he said softly. His eyes cut to Peter.

“What about the first time you all came here? A year ago. Anything strange happen on that trip?”

Besides the sudden suicide, of course.

"Plenty. Plenty strange, all of it. Plenty."

Peter's goal may not have been to rub his hands away into bare nubs, but he was making an enthusiastic attempt of it. Unease rolled off of him in waves; nervously, his hands wrapped about one another, squeezing together until the skin paled.

"Ghosts plagued us before. On the ship a, ehm- boy child -" He hesitated, eyes darting between the two. "An apparition of sorts visited us before. Didn't want to mention him to the men...well."

His brows knitted together.

"Tis bad luck to speak of ghosts."

Andrew was beginning to see a pattern. The ghost of a boy… ghosts of dead women, murdered and vengeful… This place was teeming with the dead.

“I think our luck’s bad enough as is, mate. It sounds like we all have been seein’ things. Now, the question is— why? And are we the only ones?” Andrew muttered to himself, gesturing for the bottle from Peter.

“Anything else strange besides? With the crew?”

Ana finally spoke back up. She'd raised her head when Peter mentioned luck, her mouth cracking a moment as if she were about to interject or validate his conclusion. But hesitation grabbed her tongue, and she closed her lips. Yet, a moment later-

"Chanting." Yes. It felt good to speak of it. Her chest, formerly taut against the desperate expansion of her lungs, loosed, and relief followed. "Some chanting or other, having followed the sound of running feet. I guess the last to be the- child's. I cannot guess what the chanting was."

She did not mention how it was mesmerizing, how she had almost- fallen into its rhythm, how even her own mouth had began to form the words, the foreign words, that they spoke. Nor did she mention the Khuman Tong, as yet. Her hand nearly raised to her blouse. Ah, but she'd left it to guard the pictures.

"Petrov may know more about the crew; I do not."

"I don't know," came the rifleman's quiet reply. Reflecting on the year past had sobered him - in more ways than one. Cursed, repressed images came to mind, and he glanced aside at Ana.

"Can't for certain speak for all of us, but me and some of us from before had...entertained some frightful dreams. Nightmares, more like it. All on the same night."

Loneliness. A deep and crushingly brutal loneliness. That was all he'd remembered. Like the Devil had stuck a daggered claw deep within his soul and dragged out his greatest fear.

Peter said nothing for a moment, staring at the crew gathered round the fire ahead.

"Dunno how it affected them. Most of us...ehm. Pushed- forged ahead, so it were. Pridefully." He glanced down at his hands, frowning. "Foolishly...Most of us."

"Peter."

As it always did, the name felt strange on her Russian tongue. But the usual moniker felt inappropriate. How close was he to Roland, that first trip? They were both marksmen; that much she knew. But more than that- She shifted off the stool on which she had perched, moving to sit beside her friend on the bed. Scandalous, maybe, even in enlightened Russia. Grief, shared trauma, creates a bond that supercedes cultural stigmas, and Ana couldn't remain separated. She managed to touch his opposite shoulder in hug from his side, her comparably short arm barely doing the job required of it.

"He was not- this shit job was maybe bad from the start. You were not resp- erm, it was not your job to save him from himself."

Ana was too close. A scant few had ever hugged Peter apart from his wife, and the stiffening of his shoulders came, an unconscious reflex. He should have moved away. He should have. Instead the Irishman remained still. And quiet. Alone in the guilt settling once more upon him.

Andrew remained, digesting what he’d heard. Ghosts… dreams… He was not a superstitious man, no. Not in the least. But he was open to the idea that there were simply things in this world you could not explain.

“I think we should consider we bring this to Chuck’s attention. I know he’s a blowhard— a real tough nut— but I think putting that on his plate, he’d be willing to reconsider the temple. Sounds like, regardless our otherworldly visitors, it’s just not a good place to be,” he admitted. He took a last swig off the bottle of booze in hand, and he gave it back to Peter.

“I’m going to take a gander at the others, see how they’re faring, then talk with Chuck. You all can sit tight, and I’ll let you know what happens.”

"Nyet. I must return to the photographs; they might be finished by now." And I cannot leave the Khuman Tong alone for much longer. "Petrov, let me know if you need aught else."

With one more squeeze of Peter's shoulders and a thank you to Andrew, Ana disappeared through the tent flaps.
 
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THOMAS "TOM" O'REILLY|| NAVIGATOR

"Hm," Tom agreed hastily with Bertrum, rushing through his bites. He slowed down to wash down the stubborn lump of food somewhere in his chest, listening to Andrew's reasoning. "The goal of it," he responded once the pipes were clean, "is not to attract the attention that would require an exit other than the one we already have. They would also have only one way in, unlike the middle o' nothing, where we're at now." With the financier and the rest quick to back up the decision, Andrew seemed to be quickly throwing in his gauntlet and leaving. It's hard to say whether the man's reaction truly surprised Tom, but it certainly sparked the curiosity. All the stories the veterans of the group must have told him...

"Is it just me, or is he acting odd?" Angelica pointed out what none of them seemed to be willing to discuss.

"I's all 'hese ghos' s'ories, heh! 'Pooked, as i' were. Ah - poor men," Henry was quick to respond to his daughter, and it was the seemingly dismissive scoff that had the Irish slide his gaze from the distancing Andrew to the man nearby. Everyone that was involved in the entire ordeal before had at least one reason to defy a now generally-agreed-on suggestion, whatever it may have been in their heads, but not Henry. Henry existed there as if he always was there. As if the massacre, the burning, the disappearance never happened.

Granted, Thomas had seen stranger ways. People dealt with their trauma in ways not always clear to others, which was the human mind's beauty. But he was yet to know of any other case where the entire experience would be brushed aside. As it seemed, at least.

"He'll be alright," Thomas spoke neutrally, focusing back on finishing his meal with a frown evident as if the bowl of food insulted his entire bloodline, even though it was more inquisitorial in nature than anything. "I can name plenty o' other, weirder behaviors," he insinuated, although it sounded like a generalization.

For the rest of the conversation, Thomas drifted in and out of attention to the topic. In the meantime, he disposed of his bowl and returned to his notes. He studied over the ruins' mapped area. The voices of Alex and Angelica flew in and out of his mind.

"Ruins on a lake are hard to miss. Perhaps you should have struck a deal with your rivals," came as a suggestion from Alex, making the Irish shoot her a brief glare. "If they have the means to use a Royal Navy airship and you have that much knowledge on the subject, you would have made progress that much faster." He scoffed and smirked cynically. "But empires rise and fall all the time. So what if they were rich and feared? What if they had all the magic in the world? There's always something to bring you to your knees, and building a reputation does not always mean you can back it up forever if you catch my drift."

Bang on! If only they had thought of it before! Granted, the man was unfairly critical, but he was also so unfairly used to bullshit that he did not differ. Biting back unnecessarily harsh words that quickly came to his mind and rushed to be spoken, Thomas closed his notebook and cleared his throat. "If the world were an ideal place, we'd be all sittin' on our big worldly draft and share our pile of bananas equally, singing Kum ba yah. But it ain't," he chuckled bitterly, rising.

"If they're able to observe from the above, then there's a bloody good reason why they ain't a step ahead yet. Not yet having an evident shortcut is the only thing that makes this seem worth it if ya ask me." Questionable. He still had absolutely no clue what hid behind the folklore and legends that seemed to be the main focus of that entire expedition. But at least it was not a losing battle just yet. Regardless of the end prize, the process was what matter to the war veteran the most; Thomas hated losing.

"So if the dead want the pilgrimage to Soma, then we'll give them the damn pilgrimage!" Thomas announced with a mix of annoyance and determination. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be making sure there are no unwanted boogies in the ruin, so we move this crap in there without all this puss all over ya. Good? Good." He answered his own question and nodded with an exaggerated optimist, making his way back to his tent for a quick grab of necessities before he would make his way into the dark.

@Doctor Jax
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For any potential mentions/interaction: you can choose whether he is still preparing to venture in before my next post, or he is already in. He will be in by the next Thomas post.
 
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Look at these Photographs
a collab between @Doctor Jax and @Red Thunder

It weighed heavily on her mind, did the Khuman Tong. The idea of it- well, it thrummed, she supposed, droning on and on. Persistently. Occupying her attention in the most difficult way, making concentration a feat unto itself. Miracle it was, that she had gotten through that conversation with the two men.

Two men, Ana considered with no small bemusement. The grass crunched underfoot, her pace quickened with the growing panic she desperately ignored. What would papa have thought? She daren't think. He was so traditional, was Mikael Volkov, save that he distrusted the tsar and his goons.

He also distrusted old relics. Her brow furrowed, sapphire eyes examining the group of fellow explorers with no suspicion. Had they approached her small tent of photographs in her absence? They murmured voices sounded conspiratorial in her ears, and the fire cast leering shadows across them.

The small development tent lay before her, still and dead. Falling to her knees, nearly crawling, Ana slithered into the enclosure.

“What do you have there?”

The voice was accented heavily with the twist of a Dutch accent. Andrej stood over her, seeing her practically sticking out of the tiny, makeshift dark room she had set up. He scratched his blonde head, wrinkled forehead growing wrinklier with a raise of his brow.

“You aren’t suffering heat stroke, are you? The heavens know, I am,” he complained, pulling at his soaked shirt. His skin was already pinked by the constant sun, especially his cheeks.

"Eh?" came the muffled response. Muttering under her breath, Ana wriggled backwards, trying to get her head clear of the tent.

"Andrej? Mm, da, perhaps a touch. But just now I am developing the pictures."

Her heart raced. Though she had managed to confirm that the Khuman Tong was in fact still in the tent, she hadn't had time to place it back around her neck, her visitor had appeared so suddenly. Neither had she had time to examine the pictures. She didn't much feel like small talk anyway. Not after that discussion with Peter and Andrew.

"Is there anything you need?" she asked, doing her level best to not sound as impatient as she felt.

“Ah, just to check on you,” he stated. “So you got pictures of these flying contraptions? First I have seen since leaving Holland. I would be curious to see them. Are they done just yet?”

He was an agreeable fellow, that was for sure, but he could be somewhat obtuse as well. He seemed unable to recognize that this was an endeavor Ana wanted to fulfill alone.

"I do not know, yet," she said, glancing back at the tent. "You came here just after I did."

Oddly curious, he was. Or perhaps not oddly: if everyone was scrambling for cover as instructed, it was likely no one would have gotten a solid look at the airships. The question, then: should she show him now? Or wait to show- No, Ana considered, grimacing a bit on one side of her mouth. She didn't trust Greene, and Henry's arrival still seemed remarkably- convenient for an expedition into parts unknown. To whom, then, should she show them?

"Anyway," she continued, her brief introspection concluded, "I will show them to Andrew first. Then he may show others as he will.

"I thank you for your concern, but I must ensure the photographs are not ruined. Proshchal'nyy privet."

And as before, she scuttled under her tent without further adieu.

Andrej, confused, maybe a bit taken aback by her steadfastness to be so secretive, did indeed leave her to it. Inside of the tent, it was of course dark besides the carmine light of a filtered bulb meant to limit the disturbance to the photographs therein. As they developed, however, there seemed a strangeness in them.

Yes— indeed, there was an airship in many of the photos she had managed to capture, but there was also something else in these films.

A massive figure, like a man, but emaciated everywhere but the stomach. It was a familiar sight, the distension of the starved, who hungered despite their apparent obesity. Lank hair fell to the shoulders, eye sockets long dried out, the mouth nothing more than a pinhole of dry skin. His complexion was taut, as if he had been roasted over a fire, the skin yellowish-brown, mummified. Yet a strange headdress of light surrounded its head, compounded by a darkness that only served to heighten it. This massive figure - a giant some fifty feet tall, easily looking at the balloon vessel - seemed to examine the contraption in some photos.

And in another, the lank figure stared right at Ana, noticing her for what seemed the first time.

At the sight of it, Ana nearly dropped the final photo right back into the development fluid. As it was, a wave of nausea swept over her, and she slammed the photo face down onto the ground to avoid looking at it further. It knew. It had seen her. And before long, it would surely take her.

She grasped the Khuman Tong tightly in her free hand. It was fortunate that she had put it back on; she now forgot about it completely, and the action was an involuntary one. It offered some- comfort wasn't the right word. Perhaps it offered stability. With it, at least, she knew vaguely what to expect. With this- invisible giant, who could say what it would do?

Best to seek shelter. Best- yes. Manically, Ana began gathering the supplies and putting them away. The airship could be avoided; this monster most certainly could not. She stowed the photographs away into a worn leather binder, finished breaking down the small tent, and scurried off to find Andrew once more. Her vote had changed, and he had to know why.
 

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Angela carefully listened to Alex's take on the situation. She nodded her head along with the reasoning that she posited, that perhaps this civilization had been crushed by rivals after so long putting on a show. That seemed quite plausible, considering the fact that other civilizations - the Romans came to mind - had also overextended themselves and depended far too long on their own reputation, the rich growing fat on excess while the military scrambled to protect far too many holdings with far too few men. It was an age old story.

"Oh, I wholeheartedly agree. We just do not have the data to say what exactly happened to them, though that is all too likely. From the historical record we have, it just seems like they vanish into thin air-- as if they never were, all at once."

Though that did bear to mind, why were there monks placed in the temple so late in comparison to the rest of the architecture? What supplication were the monks there to supply? Was that part of the decline?

The discussion turned to their rivals, and she colored high, countenance far more demure as if chastised for joining 'the wrong team.' Their competitors were indeed ruthless as much as tireless, with great resources at their disposal, the likes of which they'd not seen the end of just yet. But Angela knew they had something that they did not...

They did not have the Tala-patra, the book of leaves, nor could they read its ancient words. It was a pity that every word relating to the name of the tree in question was scratched out, because one they found the city--

"Hm? Oh! I, er, well, I did my best to think on my-my feet. I took what action I could think to do," Angie chuckled as her thought snapped back to Alex. "...but thank you anyways. Perhaps we should go with Mr. Thomas. He seems he's a bit, er, you know... preoccupied. And I would love to take a look at the ruins myself in more detail without Chuck hovering over my every step, prattling how I mustn't turn an ankle."

***​

Andrew chewed over his conversation with both Peter and Ana. It was becoming more and more apparent that others had seen supernatural things in this forest, and it made him wonder if anyone else had seen something similar. These were not the eerie ghosts of European folklore, those spectres that were luminescent and gossamer. No, these seemed as real as Andrej walking by him, as solid and as grounded as Henry walking out of his tent towards his own. There had been no doubt in his mind that the woman he'd seen the night before had been a physical presence.

Perhaps it was time to ask an expert, then, before checking on Taumai. Heading towards Lung El washing dishes, the captain hailed him with a quick smile and wave.

"Lung Andrew! Arai tam hai phom dai mai?" Lung asked, helpfully asking how he could assist. Andrew nodded his head, looking about. He wasn't sure if he should bother with speaking in English or Thai-- perhaps it didn't matter. The rest of the team was so diverse, half wouldn't understand either.

"This is going to be an odd question, but do you know anything about Thai spirits?" Andrew asked finally. Lung El's eyebrows rose in concern, and Andrew put his hands out.

"The men on this journey are themselves Thai, and I understand perhaps we can avoid some... superstitions. I heard them talk about seeing last night a, uh, a young woman who'd been accosted so severely as to seem... like she should not possess the ability to stand or walk at all," Andrew asked, surveying Lung El. Now, the retainer's expression darkened instead, his visage grave as he bowed his head and looked for other listeners.

"Was she in a place where there was... bad thing happen? Bloodshed? Do you know?"

"Er, yes. The burnt village, some were out last night around that area--"

"That, Lung Andrew, is a phi tai hong. A ghost of a person who die violently. These ghost do not know they die and want to find who kill them, for revenge," Lung El stated with gravity, his voice low. "Very bad omen, and they can be dangerous. If men see these, they are very scared."

Andrew swallowed, digesting that information. He didn't know if he wanted to know more.

"What would we need to do? To appease these ghosts?" Andrew asked. Lung El winced at that, shrugging.

"We need the service of something called phi maw. Uh... no word for this in English. Like a doctor, but for the ghosts, they know them well," Lung El stated, dumping out a large bowl of water onto the ground. "Nearest is far away, at Ayutthaya. They must find peace. Maybe make an offering to them, but a very dangerous idea."

"Lovely," Andrew muttered under his breath. Abruptly, Ana appeared at his side, and he nearly jumped out of his skin. "Oh! Ana, you 'bout scared the daylight out of me. What is it?"
 
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“If you good people are headed to the temple then I must take my leave I am afraid. It is high time that I checked in on my patients I think.”

Having taken a seat at the edge of Angela’s little group, Bertrum had sat in thoughtful silence as they had discussed the phantom that was the target of their pursuit. Frankly it all rather sounded like balderdash to him. Another El Dorado. Great cities didn’t just disappear into the mists of time. The empire might crumble but the places where people actually live carried on in some way or form.

The doctor had seen enough of the great ancient cities of Europe to know this was true. Rome, Tunis, Saint Albans even. All once dominions of powerful empires that had collapsed and yet all still very much known to the world. Power grew from where people wished to be. Those people’s descendants would still wish to be there once the power had faded for the same reasons that had drawn their ancestors. As a man of science, Bertrum knew that he really ought to share his thoughts with Angela. As an employee and a gentleman he knew that he really ought to keep his silence.

Deference and manners won.

Instead the doctor decided to offer a word of sage advice.

“There might be no one fussing over the prospect of you turning an ankle Miss, but do please try not to. The infirmary does not need more residents today thankyou. Really it does not. That goes for all of you. Caution is rarely wasted.”

With that Bertrum turned his back on the departing group, tapped his cane thrice on the uneven ground, and made for the medical tent and his patient.​

So yeah, this happened, Bertie is tricky and I didnt want to wade into the minefield of writing medical stuff. heh.
 
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Tatyana Volkov
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"Andrew!"

Her breaths came in ragged gasps, the air squeezed from unwilling lungs. Not from the exertion; the camp was not terribly large anyway, and their expedition's captain had relocated himself in the small time Ana had been busy with the photographs. No, her breathing was shallow for the same reason that her legs now gave away, throwing her to the ground even as she drew near. The blood had drained from her already pallid complexion, and her forehead dripped with a sweat that didn't come from the humidity.

"The- you- inside- every-" Ana braced herself on one arm, holding the pictures up to prevent their contamination. Knees now scuffed and torn where she'd fallen on them against the hard surface, she tipped to the side, legs together in a more traditional feminine manner of sitting. The two photos she held were of the beast itself: one of it examining the airship, and one of it examining-

"Insiiiide!"

Were it not for the struggle to breath, she would have been screaming.


@Doctor Jax
 
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THE BELLY OF THE BEAST
“Bodhi forest gloaming leads the darkness/ the Noon Star above the stele/ the path shadowed [illegible]/ the Nagk bridges the rivers/ he parts/separates [water/river/lake] with man’s [unintelligible].” -- second excerpt from the Tala-patra.

Andrew was taken aback by the sudden and violent catharsis of Ana's outburst. She seemed gripped by a terrible and fervent panic, and her plea that they move into the temple she had previously so despised -- it was an alarming change. He took hold of her shoulders, trying to keep her upright. In her hands, pressed towards him, was a photograph. Andrew grappled for her shaking hand, purloining the photo from her trembling fingers, his eyes scanning over it.

And then back to her. Flickering, back and forth.

"Come on. Help pack up, let's get everyone moved."


***
The confines of the temple were far more spacious than its initial claustrophobic impression belied. Without trouble, the entire camp easily fit inside of the main atrium of the temple, a long hall-way of verdant-looking columns. By now, it was lit by several different lamps spread around, showcasing the chaotic, nearly violent friezes of war, conquering, blessings rained down, women and men conjoining, in religious and carnal ways both. The high ceiling disappeared into blackness, a velveteen dark that cradled whatever was visible to the eyes of the men below.

The tents did not struggle for space here, least of all Charles'.

"So she's gone mad. The stress is just too much for her," Charles sighed, rubbing his forehead. In his hand, he held the photograph Andrew had kept. In it, there flew the airship... and naught else, besides. Andrew swallowed, sitting on Charles' cot as he paced the stone floor. The golden light of a lamp lit their faces in wan softness. It seemed encroached by the dark that seeped beneath the folds of the tent, the ridges of the floor.

"I don't know that, Chuck. I've got Bertrum takin' a look at her in the medical tent. Said to get his expert opinion if she's a danger to herself or others, or if she's of sound mind enough to withstand a few more days. Either way... We were going to need to move in here, anyhow, demon or no demon," Andrew stated, gesturing for the photo. Charles handed it to him, and Andrew put a finger on a very small bead of white on the airship gunwale.

"That's a lens on a rifle, probably a seeing glass. We might have been seen. This was definitely a scouter, loaned from the Siamese governance. You've got some enemies out there, mate," Andrew stated. "They're certainly looking for whatever you happen to be tryin' to find."

"We already knew that. I just didn't expect they'd have the clout they did," the American financier sighed, fingering his drooping mustache. "Whatever the case, surely this is the best place we can be, right on top of the source, right? We should be moving a lot faster after this."

Andrew nodded his head, eyes down. A few more days, they'd have the doorway excavated and the highway to Nakhon Rachasawan discovered. It wouldn't be long now. From what Angie had said, that meant a short walk into the city proper and then finally to whatever plant they wanted to find.

"Is it worth it? Charles?" Andrew asked softly. "More than the pay. More than the-- the chance you're wrong, this all goes tits up?"

Charles crossed his arms and huffed hard, shaking his head at Andrew's seeming lack of faith. His gaze looked out across the lit camp.

"You've no idea. Absolutely no idea."


Towards the open doorway of the temple - well, the only open doorway, anyways, not covered in strangling fig -- the medical tent stood, the only structure lit nearly as much by daylight as by lamp. Lung El held in his hand a bowl of fragrant Thom Yum and a beer, knowing that their resident chronicler was in dire need of a pick-me-up. These Westerners leaned so heavy into their tinctures and chemicals, they forgot the most basic of medicines - food, a good conversation. It was integral to a person's wellbeing, that their food not only taste good, but look good as well, and it kept up the spirit as much as the body.

Danford was standing quite a few paces outside smoking, and he raised his eyes to the cook approaching with a smile.

"Oh, is that for me--?" the eager young doctor asked, but Lung El swung both bowl and beer out of his grasp.

"Not for you," Lung El sang, skirting the young man, whose shoulders fell at the rejection. "You eat later. I make something, but now? For Miss Ana."

"But... she isn't sick," Danford said, trailing behind him.

"Sick is not only body. Sick also means spirit," Lung El stated calmly, gesturing for Danford to open the tent flap for him. The young doctor did so, and Lung El ducked inside.

Ana sat upon a cot, Taumai laid on another. Lung El nodded to Bertrum.

"Medicine for Miss Ana," Lung El stated, winking at the other woman and holding up the cold bottle of beer. "Hope I am not interrupting?"


The temple, of course, had not been mapped out in its entirety. The sprawling complex had only been truly drawn out from the atrium and the main hall, with none of its adjoining sections properly laid out. Away from the safety of lamplight, the interior of the place was so dark as to be cloying, as thick and invasive as molasses. In a bid to speed the cartography of the edifice - as well as report back anything interesting, or of significant note - Henry had requested that Thomas be sent to map the rest with the help of an auxiliary. Danford had done the work of scrounging for Peter a crutch, and as he had made his distaste for the place plain, Peter was immediately sent with the other man to provide assistance in the form of another lamp and a pistol, while the other more able-bodied men readied their guns and equipment.

After all, there could be all manner of snakes and other creatures hiding here, this being their home.

They were beginning at the west end of the Mummy Room, as they'd taken to calling it, going out a door that led... frankly, somewhere no one knew. The walls seemed to walk with them, their faces completely covered in intricate reliefs. There seemed not a single inch left uncarved, almost a lattice of history. The flicker of the lamp gave them life, movement, as they walked.

It remained deathly silent, the only sound the syncopation of Peter's footsteps as well as Thomas' more even set.

Ahead of them, a massive hall turning to their right sprawled, doors all on the right side, the lefthand wall an immense carving.


***
@DayDreamer
“And the door fast shut/ by the hands of Kali/ she shuts it fast with a mighty something..../and cut off was Nakhon Ratchasawan/ for something something the way of ghosts.”

Angie looked up at the path before them in the Mummy Room, her eyes searching out the massive foyer and its blocked exit.

"It's bizarre, you know. I worry we don't have the right place, because this doesn't have a door held shut by Kali here, and it is one of the most prominent things about the temple we have in the Tala-patra," she sighed to Alex, shaking the sheaf of palm leaves upon which the whole of their theory leaned. She had brought the other girl with her, partly as help and partly... as company in this deathly place. The bodies on the pedestals were a constant source of anxiety, their unseeing eyes forever staring at the door.

"And there isn't anything about these men here, either. It's just odd," Angie sighed, arms crossed over her chest. Her eyes searched the doorway that had once been, the rock slide having cleared some of the rubble. "Maybe we do have the wrong place."

She worried a knuckle. If that was the case... Well, it was a lot of expense and time and men for nothing. People had died in the pursuit of this thing, she knew now. Perhaps this had been a mistake.

"I just haven't the foggiest idea. I really don't. This is right--"

She pointed to the stele in the middle of the room, the hole in the ceiling that let in a single pillar of light.

"--but we're missing something."

As y'all can tell -- I have moved us into the temple! I've given each of you somewhere to start with another player, and I encourage y'all to talk and collaborate if you want, or if that's not suiting your fancy, you can always run off into the temple and see what else you can find! I'll be happy to update you on whatever it is that's inside the temple as well.



 

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"So if the dead want the pilgrimage to Soma, then we'll give them the damn pilgrimage! Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be making sure there are no unwanted boogies in the ruin, so we move this crap in there without all this puss all over ya. Good? Good." Their navigator said in annoyance and Alex had half a mind to struck him then and there for his disrespect towards the dead. Her knuckles grew white as she gripped the canteen of rum from where it hung on her belt. However, their resident bookworm and doctor intervened in a more calm manner so she decided to drop it. For now. The man seemed to have beef with her and she would like to know where they stood. Possibly as soon as they had settled for the night.

"Don't worry doctor. I'll be keeping an eye on her and this time, I will be standing right there next to her." She had half a smirk on her face. She had been keeping an eye out for the other woman since the very beginning, but she hadn't been there all the time. Their little stunt with the airship being the most recent example. She also had an eye out for Ana, but the Russian woman seemed like she could handle herself better in a crisis. Not to mention she always seemed to be hanging out with that other Irish fellow, Peter. Poor bastard was a resilient one. He was up and running despite his injuries and Alex could respect that. She couldn't say the same for Peter's compatriot at the moment. For some reason, all the man ever did was whine and be passive-aggressive. Alex hated the latter with passion even though she did it before aggression as the main course.

As soon as they entered the temple, Alex felt oppressed and her hand found its way to her knife handle. She has had experience with oppressive environments before but this was different. The air she felt she could cut with her knife if she so chose. And they were being watched. She knew that feeling all too well. Her danger sense was tingling at the back of her mind, but she chose to ignore it in favor of paying homage to the dead monks standing guard. Standing in front of the first mummy, she pushed her palms in prayer position and bowed. She did that for all 8 monks before following Angelica off to a room towards the west if she wasn't mistaken. Her sense of direction was spot on when they were outside, but in places such as this one, it was getting increasingly harder unless you were paying close attention at your orientation compared to the entrance.

For the most part she let the woman do her thing, Alex herself being more interested in observing, leaning on the wall with her arms crossed over her chest, for now. "but we're missing something" Came the frustrated ending to the monologue. "Patience?" It was a rhetorical question as Alex stood straight once more and approached Angelica. "The way is not cleared yet. Kali could still be buried in the rubble in one form or another." She frowned slightly however when she looked back towards the dead monks' direction. "The monks seem to be trying to keep something from coming out or the world from going in. If that leaf book of yours speaks of ghost then that is your best bet for what they are doing here. Protecting whatever is on the other side from mankind... or the other way around." Now Alex wasn't overly superstitious herself, but she had seen and heard things that were otherwise very hard to explain with common sense. So she was skeptic as a first response and willing to believe if the evidence pilled up. She was still in the skeptic phase at the moment.
 
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Ritual Lobotomy

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INTO THE DARKNESS

Thomas O'Reilly Collab post w/ @Kuno - Peter O'Keefe


When the mind pressed to hinder the progress, Tom had learned to push the vessel to march forward. Over and over again for so long that the mind learned to tolerate it for the sake of coexistence. After entering and exiting the seemingly neverending tunnels several times, his head gave in and began to cooperate with the task at hand. Although heavy and too close for his liking, the carved walls surrounding them no longer felt suffocating, and perhaps being in the company of a man that hated it all a tad bit more placed things in a healthy perspective? Or, maybe, as in love with solitude as he was, Thomas adapted to appreciate a necessary company of a compatriot.

O'Reilly passed some distance going first, measuring in steps, placing markers, and making notes as he went. He crossed the first section in relative silence, quite frankly forgetting that striking a conversation would perhaps be of a benefit to them both. But there was only as much obliviousness he could have afforded. If not the light shining from Peter's flashlight over his back, then it was a movement of the carvings that it had caused that caught Thoma's attention, making him pause briefly.

The carvings and depictions once swarming in rich details gave no significance to his curious observation as the figures proceeded to hurry along the silent corridor. He understood Volkov's and Greene's obsession with the culture they so rowdily infiltrated. However, his priorities lied elsewhere, and he flagged the point mindful of the carvings in his way, throwing a single glance back at O'Keefe before proceeding to march forward. This time, the mind outsmarted the vessel as it dropped its guard, and Thomas spoke up, breaking the ancient silence that pushed his words right back at him, rejecting them with an echo.

"So!"

So what?

So, What was it that dragged a man back into the pit so far when they had a home to fall back to?

"Was it just the coin?" Thomas decided to finish his thought out loud as per his primary instinct. "Or ye simply could not resist the excitement," he scoffed, amused with the idea. Peter O'Keefe hardly seemed like a man of risk, but one could never know with certainty.

The dark clung to every surface of that wretched space, barely abated from the two men's forms by the lamp's light. Momentarily, it darted away from the strange friezes canvassing the walls as the lamp bobbed, lowering until it was just level with Peter's face.

His stare alone was answer enough.

"Lessen' I lost soul and mind both, I'd wager it's the coin, fellow. I don't take foosterin' round places like this a pleasure," Peter replied evenly. The angry squint of his eyes glanced away back to the looming, bloated darkness before them, and he raised his lamp once more to shine ahead, unfurling the shadow's edges.

"Feckin' hell, this place is a damned god-forsaken terror."

As it was to be expected, Peter's reaction visibly amused Thomas, which he coronated with a smug smirk of "Made-you-say-it-ness."

He didn't buy it, granted. The honest coin could have been earned closer to home. There always had to be a speck of lunacy to re-enter the pit knowingly, or at least that was the impression the former expedition members gave away. Everything else was an excuse.

Resuming the task, Thomas focused towards the opening in front of them that O'Keefe referred to, lifting his light. The pitch-black blob briefly obtained some depth under the flashlights' beams. From where they stood, the room ahead was a simple abysmal opening leading. Well. Somewhere else.

A "god-forsaken terror," was it?

"We define ay god-forsaken terror very differently, me friend," Thomas chuckled. But who was he to diminish someone else's terror from where he stood? Perhaps he gave no weight for the reasoning behind it, but different skins wore different realities, and for the sake of respect towards his fellow Irish, Tom ceased what may have come off as disregard or disrespect.

"Well," he exclaimed once he had approached the entrance. "If ye so prefer, ye could be my eyes from ‘ere. I'm ay big lad. I can be on me tod." Partially a jest and partially a suggestion. Thomas left the man to decide for himself which part he would acknowledge. Shining light towards the ground and making a full circle, he studied the surrounding walls.

He may not have believed savage, vengeful ghosts were waiting behind every corner, but traps and other ancient contraptions placed within the ruin were very much a possibility. Without much hesitation, once he deemed the area safe to cross, Thomas stepped deeper into the dark maw of the room. Soon after, a prolonged whistle sounded as the beam of light danced around the area.

"They weren't messin' around, were they?"

"Pah."

The tap of boot and crutch followed at an uneven pace. The angry stare that had marred Peter's features had morphed into something less severe. Something more cautious, perhaps. And just a touch scared.

To each man was eked out their lot in life. Peter had chosen his: the life of a globetrotting rifleman. Highly profitable - but dangerous. There would always be risks. But he had survived so long as he had because he was able to keep his wits about him. To be housed in a structure to which he held a deep distrust for…and to be reliant on his compromised body in such a dark, ominous place...

Fear of the unknown. It was intrinsic to every man.

Peter raised his lantern again, casting the reach of his light across the wild wall carvings. He eyed them with unease, eventually glancing asides towards Thomas.

"Careful of your footing." He had said it before but couldn't help saying it again. "Might be snakes and other devils about."

The darkness was velveteen and seemed to breathe, each contraction and relaxation at the whim of the lantern, the jolt of the flashlight. Indeed, it was more than dark inside of the long room, which, the longer they walked, was revealed not necessarily to be a room at all— but a hall. On their right, at intervals, there were “windows,” rectangular and twice the height of a man, but they had long ago been subsumed by the encroaching roots of strangling fig trees.

On their left, girding the wall, the motif of a massive snake’s undulating body served as the bottom border of a monolithic mural. There, a city was laid out, people and animals locked in daytime labor, square buildings interspersed with trees carved from a white stone that stood out from the city’s red. The light could only show a small portion of the city, the rest sprawling ahead of them. The building could only continue forward, with no turns to speak of.

Thomas studied the wall, partially hidden by the intertwined roots. The scene depicted was interrupted by smaller sections of tree roots that latched onto any protruding stone edge they could find.

“Beautiful tree,” he grumbled as he placed his flashlight into the holster, freeing both of his hands. “But rootin’ them bastards out is brutal.” And just as if they insisted on living up to O’Reilly’s expectations, the roots held as stubbornly as they could against the pulls and tugs, ripping only one piece at a time and only where they were already somewhat dry. After a few tugs, an additional portion of the image was revealed.

Dusting off his palms, he turned around, following the river of roots that intertwined the stone all over the ground, in some places showing up thicker and healthier than others.

“Snakes, devils’n’broken neck,” Thomas referred to the hazard of the tangled rug of roots as he was assessing the right point to cut them off on, unsheathing his machete. “Crack on,” he invited Peter to join the action, and the latter man's attention snapped to him. “This ain’t gonna clean itself. Better not to worry ‘bout these damn things on the way back.”

"Right you are."

He would need both hands for this. Gingerly, Peter eased his weight off the crutch and back onto his injured leg, taking care to wait for the initial sting to ease before moving. He hung the lantern atop the crutch and stepped away towards a patch of gnarled roots opposite Thomas.

The other Irish said nothing, even though he was very well aware of his comrade's injury. Instead, he allowed him his own free will to decide what he can and can't do and, so far, it seemed to be a silent consensus between the two. Men's pride was a finicky thing.

With the swing of the machete, Thomas cut into one of the thicker lines with honest effort. Even so, the line would not give in as quickly, and it took several swings to detach it from the group, along with many other smaller sections. “We’ll leave the mural to the experts,” he jested through grunts as he tossed a portion of roots aside, away from the direct path through the hall. “I ain’t in the mood to justify damaging it to Greene. And perhaps it’ll occupy our comrade some and keep her from takin’ a hike this time,” he chuckled, although it wasn’t a laughing matter.

After a brief pause that he took to cut through the creeping foliage further, he spoke up casually, face deep into the work.

“What’s her thing anyway? Volkov. Are we to worry ‘bout her goin’ mental on us again?” It was a genuine question with no disrespect intended, although the selection of words was as unfortunate as it always was with O’Reilly.

From across the way, the sister sound of a blade's hacking stopped. Peter stared.

"Mental? I don't know what you mean…"

Oh, but the man surely had ideas. He was disquieted by the notion of another upset from Ana. He still had yet to get answers for her sudden change of mind towards moving into the temple, and he had worried that something had elapsed in the short period he'd been detained. Now it was only a matter of what.

"What's this all about then? I'm after seeing the woman, and she's fairly fine. Though I suspect the nerves are tossed about some as are wont to do." The cutting of the roots resumed, though in a slow, distracted manner. "They're not suited for these things. Women, I mean. She'll be -"

"I am[/] not 'okay'. No one here is." Ana's words rung in his head, and for a moment the Irishman paused. He sniffed a bit, shaking his head.

"Just needs time to adjust," Peter finished carefully.

It was a lie too good to be true.

“Ah! To adjust. Aye. ‘Course,” Thomas nodded readily, briefly giving up on machete to grab the intertwined veins and tug on them violently with both hands until they began to rip. He expected the vague response he had received, but it disappointed him nevertheless. Tossing pulled roots aside, he nodded again. With it, he verified the direction of the conversation.

“First time she stepped in, she ran out in panic even faster, droppin’ everythin’,” He described matter-of-factly. “And now,” he resumed the hacking, “she does not think twice to come back in. Now, I’ve seen plenty of unstable lasses, but I’ve never thought Volkov to be one of ‘em. Nor that her mind was so quick to go down the shitehole. Seemed a bit… outta place.” He paused briefly - just enough for his words to soak up into the darkness.

“But I guess ye got the point, buck. Women.”
Thomas laughed out briefly, waving it off. “Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. Who knows what’s goin’ on up in those heads of theirs.”

Tom’s curiosity was far from over. If anything, the man’s sudden hesitance gave it more weight. There was no need for verbal confirmation. For the time being, Thomas doubted less that he was hitting the nails in the head.

“But there’s time,” he added. “We better be makin’ sure those snakes don’t bite a soul.”

What souls?

Peter was surprised by how quick the bitter thought came. It was uncharacteristically cruel, and it was unfair to say such a thing to his fellow man. The expedition was wearing on him significantly, doing far more than testing his "mettle", so they said. As the negative thoughts roiled, the rifleman chose not to give air to them, opting instead to nod - even if Thomas could not see it.

"Aye," Peter echoed softly. "Yourself included."

“Oh, feck off,” Thomas slid backward, caught by surprise.

For the man saw a flash of scales by the other man's left boot. Uncovered, no doubt, by the navigator's enthusiastic effort. One strong kick sent the snake sailing through the air into the black abyss. Peter stared after it for a bit before turning and giving Thomas' shoulder a light pat.

"Sorry, Thomas. I've been coarse and sour - just me dislike for the place is all. Not on you." He didn't attempt to smile, but the look on his face was genuine enough.

The justification of his behavior wasn’t necessary to O’Reilly, but appreciating the honesty for once, he nodded with understanding.

“To be dead honest with ye, I’d say yer full of bullshite if ye weren’t,” he laughed, pushing the remaining roots out of the way, bit more attentive about the critters it may conceal. “And if anything, I know I am only improving yer mood.” Evident jest was a self-inflicted jab about his own need to make things harder for his conversational partners. “Ye don’t need to go puttin’ on a holy show. I like it no more than ye do.” It could have been for reasons slightly more different, but the sentiment was the same. He had no doubt that the place was once one of the crowned jewels of the jungle, but he sure as hell did not go out of his way to appreciate something he couldn’t see in the first place. It’s not to say that Thomas O’Reilly did not have an imagination. It was more the case of extreme selectiveness. When you felt like things would go south at any moment, the imagination had the intention to piss off right out the window.

"I'll take the path a touch further. See if we can't uncover a fair bit more 'fore returning, eh?"

“Ah, would ye look at him!” Thomas exclaimed with a wide grin, tightening the machete back against his hip. “Appetite for an adventure opened up all o’ sudden? Aye,” he chuckled, gesturing down the hall. “We should at least secure any other entrances to this area,” he concluded, resuming the mapping moving forward. “Tell ya what. We will demand one helluva drink when we get back.”
 

Red Thunder

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Tatyana Volkov
You Can't Handle The Truth​

"Mm?"

Ana's knees throbbed. It was good, yes, good that they hurt still. The pain was an anchor to reality, a crutch by which to hold herself steady against a shifting circumstance. She closed her eyes, furrowing her brow.

The transition from without to within had been rapid; she remembered nothing of it, save a manic rush back to her tent to pack what little supplies and accoutrement she had unpacked. Then, somehow, she was here, being tended to by their physician. Someone, perhaps an auxiliary, had moved her things for her. There was no telling where her bags now were. Dr. Bertram's questions had been succinct, pointed, and she had yet to hear any prognosis for her- her-

As if it suddenly tripled in weight, Ana's head fell forward to be cradled in her hands, irrespective of whatever ministrations Bertram was attempting. No one acted like they could see- it. No one. Even with photographic evidence. Was it willful disbelief? Was it some trick of the light? No; these explanations were idiotic. She was a journalist, with a history of hunting down the truth. And experience spoke clearly: the simplest explanation is usually the truth. And that meant-

"Hope I am not interrupting?"

Lung El's sudden invasion into her introspection was a welcome distraction, and it had saved her from a terrible self-diagnosis. Ana smiled, though it did not reach her eyes.

"Lung El! Oh, no, please. I welcome you here. Your presence is, mm, good." Her eyes lowered as she examined his bounty. The smell of the Thom Yum quickly filled the tent, and, in spite of her distress, Ana felt her mouth water. "This is medicine? I am not one to complain.

"May I, Doctor?"

It was a mere formality. She accepted both bowl and beer without another word and set to them with the aggression of a starving man.
@Doctor Jax
@Applo
 

Applo

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“Why of course, be my guest.”

The permission given wasn’t needed seeing as Anna had already accepted the gift borne by Lung El, but the woman had asked and so it seemed fitting to Bertrum that he reciprocate the gesture appropriately. If nothing else, Anna’s consumption of the native soup gave him time to think. He hadn’t expected to have to deal with hysteria. Broken bones and tropical fevers were what the doctor had planned for. He had journals stashed away to aid in the treatment of such maladies. With disturbances of the mind, he was at a loss.

Well, that wasn’t quite true. A shot of whiskey or hanky of ether could have been used to pacify the woman at the height of her agitation; fortunately neither had been necessary. It was what had caused such agitation and how to treat it that was troubling the doctor. Mr Locke had asked him to assess if the woman could stand any more of the expedition and if he was being honest with himself, Bertrum had no idea how to go about such a task.

Wood drummed against stone in a steady rhythm as the doctor’s mind turned.

It had been those photos that had set Ana off according to Mr Locke. Bertrum had looked at the images, but they had revealed nothing to him that one would not expect to find. From his own observations of the woman so far on the trip, she had struck him as highly strung. Maybe a slight nervous breakdown was inevitable and whatever trick of the light she had seen in those negatives had just been the straw that had broken the camel's back. They had all been under a lot of stress of late, perhaps time and a rational explanation would suffice to heal Ana’s fragile psyche.

“Ms Ana, let us start from the beginning. As I understand it, you claim that you saw a figure of a spirit in those pictures of yours, correct?”

Raising an eyebrow at the journalist, Betrum paused for a moment before carrying on.

“Now myself and several others have looked at the pictures and not seen the figure that you have described and has caused you such distress. Would you care to explain to me in your own words why it is that only you can see this… hmmmmm… apparition. Please understand that I do just want to get to the bottom of this and that anything you tell me will stay between you, myself and Doctor Danford. On our honour as gentlemen, Mr Locke and Mr Greene will only hear what is strictly necessary for the safe running of this expedition.”​

 
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Doctor Jax

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Angie listened to Alex's words, looking to the corpses with something like trepidation. The half-Thai guide seemed to have far more familiarity in comparison, with these cadavers. Angie herself had far less exposure to the dead, though... she had had the displeasure of being around the dying. Her head began to nod along with Alex's consideration.

The thought brought to mind her dreams, of her mother's voice as she walked through water nearly thigh deep. She remembered her mother had called out to her, beckoning her, and she looked to each of the dead men, one by one. Why had they chosen to be mummified and placed here? Keeping something out... or keeping something in. Her eyes counted the men, and her eyebrows drew together.

"There are only eight of them... but there are nine monks on the stele. One of the monks is missing. Some protection," she said quietly, looking back.

Keep something out. Keep something in. A fence with a slat missing -- that was an opening that would allow passage. Wasn't that right? There were no booby-traps in this temple, far as they could find. Perhaps that was what the men were supposed to be, a deterrent, with one missing, meaning someone had been here already, perhaps.

"I don't care for what that means," she admitted, looking down at the ground, expecting blood from Taumai's injuries -- and finding none.

She backed away.

"...Alex, could... could you come here?" she asked softly, gesturing. "You saw what happened to Taumai, didn't you? I could swear... I know I saw blood here. It's clean as fresh snow," Angela stated, bending down to inspect the tile floor. There was not a speck of blood anywhere. "Did someone come and clean this?"

She brushed the ground --

-- and heard low voices, chanting in Sanskrit, calling upon Kali to rain destruction upon trespassers. Her hand jerked back, eyes opening wide.

@DayDreamer

***​

The dark enveloped both Peter and Thomas, the quiet almost suffocating in its velveteen thickness. Now and again, the chitter of bats and their whispering wings would interrupt their work. And sometimes a snake, sometimes two. The hallway was long, the floor seeming to continue forever into its black confines.

And in the dark, of course, ever could there be sounds just beyond hearing. And for them, now, they did hear something which could be mistaken for an imagined noise, only for it to grow far too regular, far too insistent.

The hiss of scales to stone. The sussurration of a long, sinuous body against masonry. It was too loud to be a snake of ordinary size, and it did not come from the floor -- instead coming from the ceiling. Above, the dark is cloying, and as the eyes fight for form in that ink, there seemed a thing above them that slid.

@Kuno @Ritual Lobotomy

***​

Lung El was happy to see that the food had lifted Ana's spirits, a smile crossing his face. The soul was as important an organ as a heart, a limb, a brain. It fed all else, and it deserved to be fed as well. He respectfully stood to the side, Bertram continuing in asking his questions, evidently finding no other fault in her physically - leaving the realm of the mental.

Realizing the private nature of the conversation, he turned to leave -- until Bertram began to speak of a figure in a photo she had taken. He stopped in the flap of the tent, the words striking him. His eyes did track to her neck, the gold chain connecting the Khuman Tong to her, as well as to the good doctor.

He would not understand. In their western minds, the spirits were a superstitious creation, not a living and breathing part of their world.

What had she seen?

He lingered, waiting for what she would say, staring intent.

@Red Thunder @Applo