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

Kuno

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PETER O'KEEFE || RIFLEMAN
Location: Far reaches of the temple
This was the poisoned chalice from which he had chosen to drink.

Remarkably, in his heart of hearts he was accepting what was happening. Maybe it was shock that kept him still; Peter watched the behemoth’s coils shift closer and closer, understanding but not really reacting to the threat that loomed over him. There was nothing he could do, right? It was over. He stared ahead into the shimmering void, his mind emptying.

Then, from behind him: the incessant link to the present. Thomas.

“Ya lose yer gun, and it’s over, O’Keefe!”

His gun?

His gun.

His gun.

The entirety of his role on the expedition lay limp in his hands. That needed to change -- quickly. The fog lifted, and he started, the beast abruptly closer than ever before. He managed only to hold his rifle upright before the monstrosity pressed around him tightly in a visor-like grip. Not tight enough to crush him, no. But the threat was there.

It spoke, the cold of death emanating from its being.

“Is it a prize worth sweat?”

Icy words spoken in chilled breath. Chilled like Delia’s fingers around his own. Was it worth sweat, Satan asked?

There was an empty pit inside him hardly noticed before when the scales gradually eased away from his body. He felt numb all over, numb enough to not notice his bad leg was barely taking the bit of weight he put on it.

As if from afar, he heard the fiery rebuttal of his companion, and the rifleman regarded him blearily. Ordinarily, Peter might have rebuked him but...a close look at death tended to sober a man.

“That’s enough,” Peter said, his voice hollow even to his own ears. He didn’t recognize himself. “We ought to be headed back now.”

But Thomas went on still. On and on and on, like a man trying in vain to catch the wind. On and on and on…

Slow, uneven steps scraped and dragged from behind Thomas. His cold hand grabbed the man’s shoulder heavily, and Peter used it as an anchor -- for both him and Thomas.

He didn’t say anything for a while. He just stood there, staring off after the snake before finally settling his piercing green eyes onto the navigator.

“A ligean ar dul.”

 

Doctor Jax

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Chapter 2: A World Apart
“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

The Story, In Full
Angelica bit her fingernails as she waited for Ana to emerge from her tent with her writing supplies, looking to her father. The older man's color and countenance had grown considerably in his short recuperation, and he seemed the bright, vivacious person she had left at that dock in Somerset, England. In her heart of hearts, she knew she should feel an ecstasy at the realization he was yet here and alive, yet it seemed in spite of it she felt a slight unease.

"Father, are you sure? Miss Ana seems quite unwell, at the moment," she murmured to him, leaning her head towards her father, and he looked up, then over to Andrew, holding the lantern.

"Oh, well, Mr. Locke, wha' 'o you 'hink? Shall she 'o her 'uty?" he asked.

Andrew looked at the tent himself with some trepidation, and Angie did not miss his expression of concern. However, his visage gave the impression of a man torn between duty and mercy.

Before the decision could be made, Ana was with them again, ashen-faced but with her things bundled in her arms. Henry clapped his hands and began to lead her to his tent, Andrew and Angie following behind at a more sedate pace.

"Angie, 'ear, you may nee' 'o recoun' 'his in detail, speaking so much, i' 'ires me so, with my--" Henry said, gesturing to his mouth and mangled tongue, grimacing as he held open the flap to his tent. Angie nodded, looking back to Andrew. He did not meet her eye as the three entered the canvas, ensconced away from the vegetative columns. Inside was a simple camp cot, a single stool, a traveling desk, and a single spare trunk. A lamp lit the interior in intimate gold, Henry gesturing to the stool as he took the bed.

"The issue at hand is that we, er, don't exactly have a coherent account of the Tala-patra's account of what it is we're looking for. While Mr. and Miss Warren have been an invaluable resource, I realize if either of you end up out of commission, we'll have a time deciphering the veritable piles of notes you've left," Andrew explained, choosing to stand in the corner. He looked to Angie, patiently waiting for Ana to set up her things upon the camp desk. The Tala-patra sat upon it, a book of palm fronds, their alien writing scrawled in deep brown. Eyes seemed to linger upon it, almost lusting, a strange compulsion - keep me safe, keep me with you.

"Erm, well... perhaps I should start from the beginning then," Angie stated, breaking the spell. "There is quite a bit we just do not know, with myth intertwined with legend wrapped about a kernel of the truth, a propagandizing effect to legitimize them perhaps, but... They were once refugees, that much we know for sure, fleeing to found a new kingdom. Somehow, their magician-monks received a dream of where to go, dreaming of the star Bootes, the Noon star, and beneath it, they journeyed to 'a separate realm', a world apart, this almost heavenly location they called Anistha. It is said that in that realm, they found an endless lake in which grew a single ficus tree, and it was there that they became nearly invincible."

"All of this was made able by the soma they procured from the tree. Remember, myth and truth, it intertwines, but they say that it would bring back the dead, allow for commune with the very Tree of Life itself, that their magician-monks could enslave ghosts to their bidding, a horrifying fact to their enemies that they would not reincarnate but instead be trapped in this world as a spirit. They could even command Nagk, great serpents associated with treasure and lakes. The Tala-Patra is as much travel guide as it is a history, an account of pilgrimage. Somehow, from this temple, they pay some form of toll to cross a bridge over a river, past doors shut fast by the hands of Kali, the Goddess of Destruction, and from there travel a path called the Highway of Spirits. It is at the end of this highway, they reach Nakhon Rachasawan. Advanced in ways we cannot comprehend, with their magic, they were able to -- in their words -- 'command the dead' to do their work, to build edifices of such grandeur by literally carving mountains into cities of lace, send messages across great distances, grow fields and fields of farms to support -- by their account -- millions of people in and out of the realm of Anistha, bending the knee of the surrounding kingdoms who begged for soma to keep their kings living hundreds of years."

"And they never wrote down where the hell this place was?" Andrew huffed incredulously.

Angie raised her hands defensively.

"None of the other kingdoms knew where Anistha was. They had to make it to a temple, which roughly translates to the World Axle, and from the temple they were lead to Anistha and Nakhon Rachasawan. Our thought was that it was an island in the middle of a vast lake somewhere, or in a difficult to traverse swamp, and so, impassable, but they only speak of temples along what we now call the Chao Praya, which obviously they did know of. It was one of their greatest strengths, to hide their realm from other kingdoms. How do you fight a nation you cannot find?"

"So... what happened?" Andrew asked, glancing at Ana.

Angie bit her fingernail, looking to the Tala-patra.

"We've only the twelve pages, and so much of it is... unintelligible without some form of reference material, of which there is none for this dialect. Things about the Bodhi of Shivit -- a shaman essentially of the tree who communes with it-- and fruit that dangle from the tree and that there is payment, but not the currency of that payment, to receive soma, to receive 'communion.' The book cuts out right before the pilgrim makes it to what they call the Heart of Anistha, at the end of the Highway of Spirits. That's all we know," Angie finished.

She paused, sighing long.

"That's all we know."

@Red Thunder


The World Axis
The financier looked up as he heard voices coming from the side hall, the madness that had seemingly overtaken him finally whisking away from his mind like cobwebs before a broom. His bleeding hand throbbed with his heartbeat, and it seemed as if in that moment, the entirety of the temple thrummed with it. There was an uneasy feeling, a tethering of the umbilicus to his surrounds, as he backed away from the pristine, white stone that rose before him. There was not a single bloodstain upon the stone, pure as driven snow. It was as if it had drank his very blood, and it throbbed with it, as his own heart beat in his ears and his broken thumb.

It was only as the two men walked through the side hall that he realized the pillar of light that should have shown through the hole in the top of the atrium had died away. He looked up, seeing instead the night sky in darkening purple. A single star seemed to dangle inside the aperture over his head, twinkling brightly ever brighter, as bright as a planet, and he felt for a moment a gripping and terrible fear, though of what he had no clue. It was a feeling that he had stumbled upon the rudder of some great and terrible ship, that a single nudge could send them careening off course into waters unknown.

"Boys... I believe I am in need of assistance," Charles said, his face wan and sweating with agony, his hair stuck to his forehead. His hand luridly dripped before him upon the stones, and the blood rolled towards the stone like pebbles, into its dark recesses.

A last golden ray of sun outlined the lip of the aperture, a single gasp of daylight, before disappearing altogether.

And abruptly, Charles was aware that the temple no longer held any of the dim light of sunset. That instead, it was pitch dark save for his and Thomas' lantern, and above him, the sky was tar, with only that single star overhead.
@Ritual Lobotomy @Kuno
Sailing, Away
The creature in the doorway took the orange with greedy desperation, snatching it away from her, and from her vantage point she could only see the crouch of a great leg, the line of a distended belly through the tattered European rags the thing wore. It dripped the juice into the pinhole of its mouth, sounds undignified and moaning echoing in the temple as it managed at last to get some form of succor in that little nectar given by her hand. It again took the other halved orange, draining it similarly.

Yet, its appearance did not change. The creature sat beside the doorway, squeezing the last of the orange, humming its approval. The mouth stretched, head bowing to Alex's level, blue eyes searching her face. The creature returned its hand into the passage for the other half of the orange she still held, unsatisfied even with what little it had received. A greedy creature in life, a greedy creature in death.

And then, at last, with that final bit of juice, its mouth began to widen, ever so slightly. Her words completed the ritual, and the orange disappeared in the little more mouth that appeared, just barely, peel and all.

"Cover... ears... cover... do not... hear..." the creature croaked. "Do not hear. The name."

And then, with that, the world outside went abruptly and totally black.

@DayDreamer
 

Kuno

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PETER O'KEEFE || RIFLEMAN
Location: Far reaches of the temple
Predictably, conversation lulled in the aftermath of...that thing. The enveloping silence of that cursed edifice had grown to be yet another companion of theirs, a dark passenger for the unforeseeable duration of their journey. There was the steady tap of Peter’s crutch, the careful steps of his foot, and Thomas’ own unhurried pace, harsh against the aged stone. A few words here and there between the men, too, but nothing of consequence, merely filler words to stave away the swarm of thoughts that crowded in when the mind grew idle.

Then nothingness. They returned to the void.

They stood at the precipice of a malevolence yet indiscernible to Peter’s mind. The probable answer, of course, was simple; he just didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to think about any of it, really. He didn’t know what drove a fellow mad first: the knowing, or the not knowing of the cause of such tribulations. That’s what frightened him the most; the madness, the sudden, violent madness that could overcome a man such as himself over the course of a night. The madness that could render a native village in the jungle to drive stakes through the hearts and minds of babes. How could one possibly see the rot growing in themselves and drive it out before it overcame them? Those early explorers in the village, the natives strewn about them, and Mr. Warren...

Had voices called to them from the dark as well?

Something loosened in Peter’s body upon seeing the uncomfortably familiar entryway to the main atrium. Guided by their torches, they stepped carefully around the monks forever bowed in prayer, though Peter slowed down as he spotted another lantern.

Charles turned towards them in the light. The Irishman’s eyes swept over him in a glance, and he surged forward, concern knitting his brows together.

“Y’alright there, sir?” He asked, inwardly cringing at the redundancy of the question. The man didn’t look anything close to alright; he’d grown pallid and ill in appearance, and their financier cradled his hand gingerly. In the shallow light that fell upon them, Peter could see red dripping from between his fingers. He glanced up at Charles, panic suddenly flashing across his face.

“You haven’t been bit by a snake, have you?!”
 

Ritual Lobotomy

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THOMAS "TOM" O'REILLY|| NAVIGATOR

Thomas O'Reilly (Esoterica RP).jpg Subtle but persistent, the calculating perplexion lingered on Tom's face as the ungodly creature retreated back into the darkness as it were never there. It wasn't much of the survival instinct that kept him engaged with the now empty mouth of the black abyss, but the ridiculousness of how quickly the stakes have risen. He observed and waited for - if nothing more - the feeling of extended anger towards the creature, the situation, or perhaps Greene himself. He could not decide whether it was there before a hand reached out to him.

Remaining tense, muscles in his shoulder hardened briefly under the rifleman's heavy grasp. Still, Thomas had barely flinched otherwise, aware of the man's presence with all of the difficulty he had moving across the stone.

For a split of a moment, the anger was back. It wasn't the reassurance he needed but the safety of finality that came with pushing forth until he either proved his point or died trying. The darkness mocked him with offering the insecurity instead. Yet, Tom was aware that, this once, he would have to turn his back and walk away.

"Right then" came out somewhat out of place, immediately followed by a determined exhale. He briefly held Peter's glare. Enough time to adjust the interaction.

"Shite timin' for bondin' you have, O'Keefe," a luke-warm jest echoed through the room as Thomas retreated his blade. "That's a'right. I don't kiss n tell, lad."

Another brief gaze into the gaping darkness that advanced into the temple's halls - as if he was making sure the bloody Satan himself didn't happen to change his mind - and Thomas finally succumbed to the reason of his fellow Irish with a nod.

"Sea," he had agreed. "A ligean ar dul."

------------


Thomas had appreciated the silence. It left him thinking his own thoughts that, unbeknownst to him, led to a completely different world of insanity than those that plagued the rifleman. With eyes fixated on the road ahead of him, he wordlessly studied and assessed the situation and the newest event. There indeed was a clarification to all of it. And he'd make some sense of it all. Even if his brain was to leak out of his ears, it be damned. But it was clear enough that it was fruitless. Instead, his still relaxing physique loudly demanded compensation for its effort, and Thomas knew just a thing. Somewhere back in the camp, there was a bottle with his name on it.

Progressing further, Thomas started consciously forcing his quickened pace to match Peter's. He was impatient but understanding. Instead of focusing on how long they had to go - a perfectly accurate distance in his mind - Tom thought of a warmth of heavy booze hitting his insides. With his curiousness quenched by a recently gathered knowledge, he had paid even less attention to the grotesque exhibition of corpses, following a goal that had strictly established itself.

"Come on, then. Yer gonna rest plenty later," Thomas mumbled, slightly annoyed when Peter fell behind, and when he did not bother to respond, Thomas stopped and groaned, turning back.

"What now, fer fuck's sake?!" At first glance, the sight of Henry Greene didn't alert him. If anything, it brought forth the previous annoyance. Between the weak request for help and Peter rushing to Greene's aid, Tom did not have much choice but to patiently obey the sidetrack.

Taking his time to follow after Peter, he took no part in interesting over the state of the American, preferring to hold on to his grudge as long as possible. But it wasn't too long before he was distracted from all the ways he would like to curse the financier by kicking a heavy metal object forward.

"Ah. Grand!" he hissed at the object, feeling some of the impact even though the thick boot.

It made a row of clanks and a long scrape against the stone. Then, it hit the large slab and stopped. Relatively small in size, the chisel would have somewhat succeeded to disguise itself against the grey of stones if it hadn't been generously adorned in royal crimson. Thomas assessed the object briefly before lifting it up. The blood on it had been sprayed upwards, almost at the right angle, leaving tiny droplets of fresh blood to find their way back down to the point. It barely left any room to debate over what bloodied it and how.

"Or, the poor bastard is out o' his bloody mind," Thomas suggested an alternative to Peter's question. Damn Yankee was a nut. That would have explained him coming here in the first place. Following a lunatic to that god-forsaken country. What did that say about the rest of them? To make his case, Thomas approached men, lifting up the chisel to be visible, while he eyed Henry's crushed thumb. Two and two.

But regardless of growing disapproval, the man's health stood out as a priority for the sake of the entire mission. Exhaling, Thomas pointed the bloodied chisel towards the way back to the camp. Or rather, the direction in which it was supposed to be. Perplexed, he looked around with attentiveness for the first time since they'd entered. He couldn't believe that the day had slipped away from them as fast. It was only a couple of minutes since they had arrived, and he could have sworn that there were light sources other than their personal ones that made the room look less like the bottomless pit that it had become.

"Let's assume this was a work accident, Mister Greene," the Irish spoke up, cynism dripping in between his words spoken slowly, avoiding the accent for clearance. "Because I really, really do not wish to consider the alternative right about now."

Plenty of theories lined up but gave place to the realization: the position they were in wasn't the one to be desired. With the thought of creatures lurking in the deep shadows came the urgency to move, albeit spoken as a flat order.

"The sooner ya move, the sooner we'll get ya patched up. There are about 60 to 70 steps from here to the exit," Thomas recalled as he searched for the compass under the strictly limited lantern light. "Not a doctor, but yer probably gonna live."

@Kuno @Doctor Jax
 
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Kuno

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WE'RE IN A TEMPLE, CHARLIE

Charles looked up to the two men who walked through the darkness and into the wan circle of his lantern. He had forgotten that they were napping the rest of the temple, and in doing so they were witness to whatever madness had befallen him. There was no hiding his broken thumb, or the bloody chisel— and indeed Thomas immediately pointed it out.

His stomach roiled. In the distinct and velveteen darkness, he felt as if the eyes of the monks at the end of the room behind the stele were watching him. The darkness was complete, an ink that only the lantern could erase. He felt nausea well in his gut, a sense of unease, not unlike a man who has found himself stranded in the open ocean without so much as a life preserver, out of his element and treading water.

“I can explain—,” Charles began, stopping himself, curling his uninjured fist. A sardonic smile crossed his face, shining with sweat and agony. “Actually, heh, no— I cannot. I cannot explain what happened. One moment I am in my tent. The next…”

He gestured to the stele, it’s face pristine, the stones white as snow where there should be gouts of blood.

"You...you can't remember?"

Peter's somber features had blanched some. He had said nothing to refute Thomas' statement; rather, the bloody truth had been made clear. His eyes drew to the chisel, to the white, unblemished stone. He worried his lip a bit before he spoke again.

"What were you doing?"

“About to destroy the blasted thing, I think,” Charles huffed to himself, looking up into the dark. No stars. Not even the purple of approaching dusk. He looked back down the hall, eyes sharp.

“The only thing on my mind at the time, just — demolish it. I am beginning to think the place is damned,” Charles spat.

"'Beginning to think'," Peter echoed. "You were just beginning to think...the place is damned."

The cut of his eye could have skewered stone. For a moment, his jaw worked, his brows furrowing as his face gradually grew angry.

"You know what?" He finally began quietly. "That's the problem with you damn people. That's the problem with the damned expedition. You don't stop to think- ye don't stop to think about any-ting. Half a sane sod would have caught the signs and cut 'er loose soon after coming here, but yer arrogance, aye, yer hubris blinds you. You-"

With sudden force, he jabbed a finger towards Charles' marred thumb, his eyes fiery.

"God's teeth, Charles, yer bloody thumb's bleeding from ya and you cain't figure out how ya bloody got here. Beginning to think the place is damned, ye say? And we're after sights and sounds no man's seen without the influence of bad spirits-"

“Oi!” A simple shout had cut through the room with an echo.

A few feet further, Thomas was standing with a handful of things, now turned half-way backwards, glaring towards men. His lantern’s light shook insecurely when he gestured, a notebook and a compass still laying one on top of the other, halted mid-use.

“Fuck me, will ye shut up, fer the love of Christ!” Taking church with just as much salt as he did the entire myth of this place, it still seemed like a valid way of expressing his annoyance.

“How about we sort our priorities a bit here, aye?” Thomas added with less aggression, turning his attention back to the task at hand.

“We’re gonna get back to the bloody camp, and discuss a gobshite Greene is back there,” he suggested, now more fed up with it all than furious. The amount of craziness packed up in a single day was too bothersome and distracting to stay actively angry and focused on.

“Or, if ya bloody prefer,” Tom added, rotating in place, until he had faced the direction his hand-drawn map dictated and his compass had confirmed, “ya can sit here in the dark, shouting yer mugs off and wait to see if our slithering friend changes its mind and decides to pay ya another visit. Lovely chit-chat that was. Wasn’t it, O’Keefe?” Sure, he was too exhausted for an active aggression, but the passive one did just fine.

Greene was silent during the entire exchange, his gaze hangdog and perhaps chastised, not at all what one expected of the American financier. For a moment, he seemed to want to say something, to salvage his pride, to shoot back, but he quickly thought better of it at Thomas’ interruption. However, something he said caught his ear.

“Slithering friend? Snakes in this place then?”

His eye wandered to the compass and notebook in Thomas’ hand.

The compass needle swung in circles, drunken and uncertain, clockwise, counterclockwise, clockwise, counterclockwise, as if there was no north, no true direction.

Much like the void of black above, the cloying dark draped Peter's face in sharp lines. He stared at Thomas, this fellow countryman of his, contemplating all that he was and all that he'd said, the perceived essence of his character coalescing in the rifleman's mind. His lips thinned into a flat line.

With the tap of his crutch, Peter abruptly pivoted and drew closer to Charles. His hand drew closer to his pistol, then to his pocket, fumbling within the contents before proffering a tattered handkerchief to his employer.

"Snakes everywhere amongst us."

Thomas glared at the man for some time - contemplating options for a response - even after Peter clearly no longer paid him mind, but occupied himself with Charles’ injury. But just how worth was it?

“Aye. Some shitehawks as well,” he finally mumbled with a smug smirk. By no means was he a bigger man and above low blows, but he was a calculated bastard, and he had decided that the bother was bigger than the win so he had settled with simplicity. And while it was amusing for a brief moment, an uneven buzzing sound brought his focus back down.

“Ah, grand, yet again!”

It was getting ridiculous. Letting out a sour chuckle, he shook the compass aggressively, clenching his jaw as if he took the action more laborious than it realistically was. As expected, it did nothing but contribute to the wild spin of the needle. It wasn’t the first nor the last time, surely. But it was the first occasion on which he had noticed it function selectively. Only hours ago, the compass was completely operational.

“Piece of shite,” Thomas grumbled, shoving the gadget back into his pocket and walking back towards men. Still a phenomenon that was easy to explain. Nevertheless, the timing of it was impeccable.

“Well, gentlemen,” he announced clearly. “I’m afraid we’re all out of luxuries for the day. We’re doing this traditionally.” With it, he had placed one of the burning lanterns at the edge of the stone monument, turned towards the exit where he pointed.

“Heading straight, we’re gonna reach the wall. Followin’ alongside to the right, we’re gonna reach the opening quite easily. Ain’t much to think about.”

The lead rifleman showed no signs of apprehension. Throwing an unreadable look at both Charles and Thomas, he moved ahead, his eyes carefully tracking the undergrowth about the ancient stone floor.

With one men quick to comply, Thomas turned back towards Charles, offering the financier to share the second remaining lantern.

“After ya, mister Greene,” he announced dramatically, gesturing in the previously specified direction where Peter had already made a decent progress moving forward.

Greene took the lantern in his uninjured hand, hammer tucked beneath an elbow. His ruined thumb was wrapped in the tattered handkerchief, already beginning to soak with blood. He swallowed hard, pain clouding his thoughts.

“Thanks. We need to find Andrew,” Greene stated. “And that bloody doctor.”
 

Red Thunder

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Tatyana Volkov
Where Myth Becomes Fact​

Tatyana's hand shook. Her shorthand was a jumbled mess, the transcription of Angelica's oration as sloppy as when the journalist was first learning to write quickly. Her nostrils widened, the body seeking, straining for the comfort of pure breath in her lungs.

She couldn't escape the … thing. The Khuman Tong was gone, vanished into the darkness, but- The shriek came from outside, where that giant had been. It had been searching for- what? Her stomach tightened again, her body apparently determined to become like that of the thing she feared through sheer desperate starvation.

The quiet struck her, and she looked up. Ah: Angelica and Andrew were staring at her, concern etched into the eyes. Blinking, Ana looked down: her transcription had become wildly illegible, neither that of shorthand nor of any language she recognized. It was language; her extensive experience had taught her to recognize the pattern of the written word, and this was certainly that. But- no. She had no idea what language it was. Hurriedly, apologizing as she did, Ana slid another page on top.

"Apologies, Angelica," she said, glancing up to her with a sheepish smile. "Could you begin again? I- taking notes in shorthand isn't good for circulation or even retention, so I must start over."

Hopefully, Ana hadn't missed too much. To her credit, Angelica complied, and her words we diligently recorded. Twice or thrice, the team chronicler had to ask her to pause in order to retrieve a new pencil or to flex her hand to prevent cramping, but she remained otherwise silent, more concerned with transcribing the words than with trying to determine their meaning. At last, even as Angelica spoke regretfully of an end to the information, Ana actually looked at the page. She'd written it in English for the sake of uniform legibility, though her brain hurt from the effort. Nevertheless, reading it gave her pause. The small seed of terror that had been planted the last time she had entered this dreadful judgle grew again as it had in the face of the giant outside. Myth, Angelica called it. And yet-

Ana's eyes shifted to the palm frond pages on the table. The script was odd, of a mode she couldn't hope to read. Just like-

"Er, Angelica? Henry? The, er- mechtat, em, the … dreaming I was doing before? Perhaps you should see."

Carefully, she pushed aside the record she'd just made and extracted the first page. Unwillingly, she glanced again at the Tele-Patra. It needed- protection? It was one of a kind, a thing of unique information.

Protect it. Bear your teeth, Gonchaya.

Tearing away her attention, Ana handed the page to Angelica.

"I wrote it. Just now, at the start. But I cannot read it."

@Doctor Jax
 
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Doctor Jax

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Deciphering Madness
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At the conclusion of Angie’s small lecture, Ana’s interjection caught her attention momentarily. Swiftly, the young woman switched gears from lecturer to learner, walking over to take a look at the notes their chronicler had penned. Her eyes ran over the English until it abruptly switched - to a language she was intimately familiar with. She audibly gasped, her hands flying to her mouth and eyes growing wide.

She backed away from Ana, before looking to her father. Henry seemed perplexed at Angie’s behavior, and Andrew likewise.

“Well, what’s the matter, Angelica?” Andrew asked, but before she could answer, there was a flurry of cloth at the door.

Charles walked into the space, a hand on his thumb, and without further ado, he asked, “Where the hell is either of the doctors I paid for?”

“Chuck! Jesus Christ, man! How did you do that?” Andrew asked, before looking to the two scholars. Seeing Angie had gone white as a sheet, he quickly shuffled the American out of the tent, hoping to spare Angelica’s sensitive nature.

“Well… ‘at was… some’hing,” Henry muttered. “He always likes a dramatic en’hrance.”

“Father!”

“I was being honest. Now, wha’ is i’ ‘at Ana’s wri’’en?” Henry asked, moving to sit beside the chronicler and look over her shoulder. His eyebrows furrowed, before looking to her, and there was a moment of almost -- hope, perhaps. A nearly childlike awe.

“You commune,” he said with a soft, reverent voice.

"I- what?"

The interruption from Charles was of little import, and his swift escort from the tent had gone unobserved by Tatyana. Her eyes were wide, the furrows in her brow and tightness in her cheeks silently giving away the strange mixture of sheer curiosity at the writing and horror at yet something else supernatural thrust suddenly upon her.

The Tele-Patra. Myth and History.

Truth.


She shook her head, the action little more than a twitch.

"What does that mean, 'commune'?"

Angelica’s face colored a slight pink, rubbing her forehead, Henry rubbing his close-cropped beard.

“Father….”

“You see it yourself,” Henry said with some small amount of smugness and excitement.

Angie waved her hands in front of her face, as if to shoo away a bothersome fly.

“My father believes that certain people who are attuned spiritually are able to commune with spirits, via psychographia,” she explained, disgruntled.

“And wha’ wanguage is this—?”

“Yes, yes, it… it’s Pali,” Angelica huffed, leaning down to read. There was clear discomfort on her face the longer she tried to decipher it. She blinked rapidly, before looking to Ana, her eyes growing wide and filling with tears. Her gaze flicked frenetically between the words and her father, who, upon seeing her distress, came closer to set a hand on her back.

“Angie…?” he asked softly.

"But I do not know Pali!" Ana was visibly upset, though she held most of her frustration in check. "How can I write a language I don't understand?”

Angie had strayed now, away from her father’s touch. Whatever she had read, it had shaken her, and she walked out of the tent, as if to reject the very evidence before her eyes.

"And I am anything but 'spiritually attuned'!" Ana’s hands had raised now, gesturing about her at everything and nothing. "Eto nonsens! My sobiralis' nayti rasteniye! What has this to do with your miracle herb?!"

“Exactly wha’ makes it a miracle,” Henry said quietly. “Spirichual achunemen’ has noffing to do with spirichual pwactice, much as monks and priests would have you believe. It helps, but is no p’erequisite. No - contamination… ‘at is. But, besides the point. Those myths… they are not myths. No, soma can do exactly as the Book of Leaves says. ‘Is proves it. We deal no longer in the realm of the natural.”

"But I do not subscribe-!"

Didn't she? Hadn't Ana been haunted by the Khuman Tong for … months, since the last expedition to these godless jungles? Wasn't the memory of the giant thing, with its pinpoint, sucking mouth issuing that hideous scream still violently fresh in her mind?

Blood covered the wooden flooring, a ghastly shadow about what remained of Roland's twitching corpse.

Ana leaned forward, elbows on the table and forehead in her hands.

"What does it mean for me? For- for your expedition?"

Henry sat back down on a cot, his brow furrowed as he thought. He rubbed his mouth, his chin, deep in contemplation.

“I s’ppose it depends what you wrote,” Henry stated. “I see ‘is as a gift. Imagine - we learn more abou’ your psychographia, and you can commune wi’ a genius of some other era. Histowy will change. Our understanding of the natural world…”

However, he seemed to realize he was getting ahead of himself, and he swallowed, a roiling feeling in the pit of his stomach that, no doubt, was going likewise through Ana. Outside the tent, Angie paced, her bootheels clicking across the stones.

“For our search, per’aps you can commune with one of ‘ese monks, or whatever you contacted here--”

He read, quickly, the note in Pali, and he abruptly stopped, face flushing.

“By God…” he chuckled, hand over his mouth. “No wonder Angie is upset. This asks… this asks if we would like to speak with one we are separated from by the… ‘great waters’.”

His eyes seemed to be faraway, his chin quivering momentarily, breaking through his composure.

“I assume this spirit means my wife.”

Ana didn't immediately answer. There was- so much to consider. So much outside her sphere of experience, or really even the sphere of human experience. Her heart sank, heavy with the dread of the paranormal, of ghosts and demons and long dead monks who still insisted on imparting their wisdom. Or maybe their warnings.

But she was an investigative journalist first and foremost. Terror be damned. Disgust be damned. She would find out just what the hell was going on.

"Perhaps it does." Ana took a half second to compose herself then gather her pencil and a fresh piece of paper. "Tell me: what is the 'Great Waters'?"
 

Doctor Jax

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Every fiber of her being screamed for her to run. Run? Run where? The temple behind her was just as dangerous, just as unforgiving as the hungry spirit that blocked her exit. Bloodthirstiness behind and Hunger that would not be satisfied, even if it consumed Hell, ahead. She was breathing painfully slowly as she watched the creature eat her offerings. Her body became a statue as huge blue eyes zeroed in on her form and yet every fiber in her was searing hot, begging her to do something. To get away from this death scenario. “Cover… ears… cover… do not… hear… Do not hear. The name.” The creature managed to say through a marginally larger seam for a mouth. It seemed that her attempt at an appeasing ritual had worked.

That was not what Alex’s mind had registered when the creature finally left. She did not even realize how it had happened, but she found herself on her knees, gasping desperately for air. Her mouth felt dry and the world was dark. Her body was shaking and she felt like she was going to be sick. She did not know for how long she stayed like this. She didn’t know how long her encounter with the ghost had lasted, surely not enough time for the sun to have gone down like it appeared to have.

A gentle sound registered. Gurgling softly, the sound of water lapping on stone. The river at the steps of the temple! Alex anchored herself on the sound, trying to get over the shock, reorganize her thoughts. She had to get back her wits. With a shaky breath, she steeled herself and got on her feet once more, using the wall of the temple for support as she stumbled out of the damned place.

The air of the jungle could not exactly be described as refreshing on any sane person’s mind, but to Alex it felt as refreshing as the cool mountain breeze. Yet, outside there was no sound of the trees rustled by wind, nor the chirp and hiss and rattle of the wildlife in the sudden night. Perhaps she had left her sanity within the walls of the temple? She took a shaky step towards the water, then another, and another, until she found herself able to walk again with every step she took away from the black maw that posed as a doorway to a holy place.

A splash of water on her face. Had the boy managed to escape? What was it doing in the temple in the first place? It was not like they had encountered any signs of any active settlements nearby.

Another splash and the rubbing of hands to get rid of the sweat that had beaded her neck. No… The boy had appeared after she had found the Khuman Tong; it had tried to order the spirit to leave. Alex patted her sash in urgency as she dug the golden amulet out of its hidden place. It was still there, its golden reflection staring her back from the tranquil waters. Her mind raced. ‘Do not hear. The name.’ The words echoed in her mind and she found herself repeating them outloud, as if to engrave them in her memory or perhaps it was to warn the unseen as well?

Drawing a deep breath, Alex set her priorities. Her mind racing with possibilities and countermeasures. She was back to her usual self. Protect the camp, take care of the boy, have a serious talk with the American fool. She got up from the banks of the river, the knees of her pants soaked with water and she confidently made her way back to camp, to find Lung-El.

Inside of the temple, in the small island of light cast by a lantern, the retainer sat next to a bowl of sand, a set of incense sticks set upright within. They let off curls of smoke, in front of it a statue of the Buddha along with various offerings — fruit and tea, largely. He seemed himself ashen, his eyes looking back out towards the doorway.

Pitch black, save for Alex’s frame coming into view, the drip of her pants echoing in the confines of the temple. His eyes took her in head to toe, his brow furrowing from his seat before the small altar he had built.

“Yes, Nong Alex? I see you were outside.”

At the sight of the altar Alex paused, drawing a deep breath. The scent of incense grounded her, relaxed her a little. She came up to the man and the altar, paying her respects before taking a seat next to him. “Did you see the pret too?” She asked quietly.

El’s face was momentarily confused, hearing her say as much, and so soon after he had spoken to Miss Ana about such things. His eyes searched Alex, finding in her no guile, no deception. Yes, Ana had talked of seeing a pret, and now Alex had as well.

“No, but I think Miss Ana, she see one today. We talked, earlier,” Lung El said gravely. “And earlier, Andrew say he see a phi tai hong. Very angry, very violent ghost. This place, it has many ghosts. I feel ill, maybe this is reason why.”

He fingered a golden talisman at his throat, an image of the Buddha encased in glass, and he muttered a short mantra beneath his breath. Earlier, he had felt it, a sudden turn of his stomach, like he was seasick.

“Ana see the ghost outside the temple. You, too, Nong Alex?” he asked.

Alex drew a deep breath. Had she not seen a pret herself just mere minutes ago, she would have dismissed the claims of Ana and Andrew. But she had seen it and so she was inclined to take this seriously. She nodded at El’s question. “It was trying to reach for our provisions. But it was no ordinary ghost. It….. it wore American clothes. And gave a warning.” She paused as she tried to put her thoughts straight. While the cold water and the incense seemed to be doing a good job at keeping her mind grounded, the feeling of nausea had yet to leave her fully. “It said we should not hear the name. I don’t know what kind of name, but something is very wrong with this temple. Human enemies I can handle, but the spirits must be appeased or we cannot guard against them. Will you help me?”

“Of course, yes,” El said, standing up. Alex spoke sense. This was a serious matter — ghosts always were. They were as normal to him as snakes, as tigers, a thing to be accounted for, but not necessarily a thing to panic over.

“You say pret is dressed like the American. Only Americans die here are Americans Lung Greene bring with him,” he thought out loud, as he gathered bowls, incense… “Nong, I need string, and water.”

This would mean being prepared. It was now night — ghosts were stronger under the cover of darkness.

“We bless the camp. I try my best…”

Alex nodded at the instructions and was quick to execute them, bringing Lung El all that he asked for. His best was all she could hope for. She knew not many appeasing rituals herself, so she would have to count on the man’s knowledge. They could only hope to avoid the worst during the night.
 

Ritual Lobotomy

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THOMAS "TOM" O'REILLY|| NAVIGATOR

The deep darkness of the corridor leading further into the temple has been briefly dispersed by the lantern light and several pairs of footsteps. Greene rushed out first. His mangled fist and bloodied cloth understandably attracted attention, alongside an already roughed-up rifleman. Thomas followed a few steps behind, emerging into the camp area with a squint. The human body was as fascinating as it was impractical. Several hours working in the dark nooks of the temple had efficiently disrupted years of development of his visual system.

An audible exhale escaped the navigator glancing around the area. The atmosphere in the camp made a stark contrast to the rest of the temple, a tribal attempt to give it the illusion of welcoming. Or at least acceptable.

Thomas deemed it welcoming enough for the moment, if only for the sight of the freshly filled communal trough when the dust on his face mixed with sweat began to feel like a funeral mask. For the lack of a more appropriate description, given the situation. He knelt down next to the filled bucket, taking both hands full of liquid. He threw it in generous amounts against his face, damp-brushing the dust out of his hair with what remained. The mind did what it did the best in the moments of calm - gave him something to occupy with. The image of a giant serpent initiated the pondering as he scrubbed the dirt from elbows down. By then, the shock of encountering it had plenty of time to settle into a wary curiosity. He welcomed the slight feeling of nervousness over the unknown. It was good. Human. A reasonable explanation, Tom figured, would dawn on him eventually. But pursuing it was a chore reserved for another time. At least the one that came after the self-care routine that the Irish looked forward to as a fitting reward.

A simple refreshment made O'Reilly feel lighter and more put-together than at any other point in the past days. Aside from the fact that looking like a wet dog was perfectly on-brand. And so was the quest for gargle.

The front of Lung El's provision tent was usually among the more lively ones, but as rotten luck would have it, the point when he needed his services was where the man was nowhere to be seen. But the crates were. Thomas looked around again for the sign of man before lifting the lid off of one of the crates. The bottles of gin were neatly stacked within the hay lining, almost too flawlessly to be disturbed. Almost. The artistic value of the arrangement hadn't crossed Tom's mind as he obtained a bottle and reset the casket as he had found it, marking off a single bottle from the list of provisions on the off chance the retainer would inquire about it in the future. He walked away whistling as the drink swayed along with his arm.

A subtle light in the corner caught his attention, and he curiously peeked behind one of the tents, making a few steps backward. The two figures attended the dim-lit improvised altar as devotedly as one would expect. For a few moments it took him to uncap the bottle, Tom contemplated the level of engagement he wished to partake in. The assumed intent behind the shrine to whatever Alex and Lung El were building exasperated and engrossed him.

"Bloody hell," Thomas muttered to himself, making the first step.

The Irish stopped nearby, observing the assembly. It was a lot simpler than he would have imagined. Merely a statue and some offerings. But it seemed to have held significant meaning to the duo if their solemn expressions and hushed voices were anything to go on.

"Aye," he spoke up with a nod. "A wellbeing of man reduced to sticks and stones. Sounds 'bout right. God bless," he concluded, taking a swig. There were so many things that were so flabbergasting about the devotion to the selected people in the sky, lack of realization of how flabbergasting they were being one of the more prominent ones. At the same time, Thomas understood his position as a stranger on the grounds where people lived and breathed such devotions. It was helpful to have it if it was a conviction or a ritual that kept their heads cleared and focused.

"To the divine intervention, I suppose." Unsure of how to proceed, Thomas lifted the bottle of gin, toasting the altar. A strong scent of juniper rose from its neck when the liquid moved. It kept him in a relatively good mood, all things considered. His mind drifted back to the serpent.

"Is it a prize worth sweat?"

Whatever it meant, no. The Yankees might as well have been chasing the waterfalls with the conviction of a child eager to witness Saint Nicholas or a Tooth Fairy. But unlike children, they paid well to be humored. Thinking back, nothing about the hellish encounter seemed normal, yet what the Americans made their mission somehow felt much more outlandish.

@DayDreamer
@Doctor Jax
 
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Kuno

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Holy and unblemished, the light from the end of the tunnel shone through to hungry eyes. Peter passed through into the camp with measured speed, slowing down only when the campfires at last chased away the shadows. Human voices enveloped him. He turned about, looking over the varied men and women there, or taking in their stock, one could say. No one looked any worse for wear; at least, not to his own eyes. But Roland…and Delia – they had looked well on the surface too. A man’s heart could deceive him.

Rest and a good meal would have done him well. But both were nigh impossible, none more so by his disquieted spirit; he moved forward, limping some even with the aid of his crutch, seeking some meaningful source of employment. Faces passed in a seamless blur. Perhaps a fellow or two called out to him, but he moved on without a word, searching for the one face had yet to see all day.

Taumai’s tent was near the center of the camp. Peter rested his crutch against the tent pole before peeling open the flaps.

“Taumai?”

The light was dim inside, coming from a bedside lantern, and there was the low sound of a moan, pained and plaintive. The auxiliary lay upon a cot, largely covered by a sheet, a spreading cancerous red where his injured leg no doubt lay beneath.

His face was wan, shimmering with a fine layer of sweat, despite the dank cool of the temple interior. There was a fevered look in his eyes, as he looked to Peter, but he did not seem to see him.

“Peter!”

The exclamation was sudden behind him, Danford’s youthful face peeking in through the tent flaps.

“Visiting? Or sick? I’m feeling a touch nauseous myself,” the young doctor stated.

Peter swung his head to look at him, a mild annoyance in his frown. “Danford. I’m, ehm. Just visiting.”

Hesitantly, he looked back towards Taumai, his eyes drawn to the swell of red beneath the sheet. He stared intently, his brows knitting together.

“Doctor, what’s…how is he?”

Danford looked to his patient, and he made a slight face, before gesturing Peter to step out of the tent with him. The fresh-faced young doctor looked to the canvas, as if perhaps it would become concrete and shield the ears of his patient.

“Well, he… certainly needs more help perhaps than we can give here.”

”Peter.”

The voice was faint, so close to the edge of hearing, the Irishman could be forgiven for thinking his mind had conjured the thought of Delia’s voice in an unfamiliar place.

Danford continued.

“The bone’s broke, for sure, and while he’s stable, it seems as if he’s acquired infection of the break. I’ve shot him full what we got to give, but he’s got himself a fever,” Danford stated with some nerves.

Bone fever. Peter said nothing, but his face had grown drawn, aged in the news.

Fever and him were old acquaintances, so they were. It liked to plague those close to him; he could almost hear Delia now, could almost see her heat-stricken features.

Peter shook his head, clearing his mind.

"What's it looking like for him?" He asked. "Should the fever linger…what's to do?"

Danford winced, looking crestfallen. He rubbed the back of his neck, his shoulders rising and falling helplessly. His bright demeanor was momentarily doused by the question.

“I… I rightly don’t know.”

”Acushla.”

“It’s anybody’s guess tonight. Unless we find that mystery plant Greene’s been on about, if it even works. I’d guess he wouldn’t mind company.”

”Acushla.”

The voice, this time, was an intimately close whisper, inside the shell of Peter’s ear, the softness of breath tickling the shell as if a person were standing there — but no, nothing. The smell of coffee began to permeate near him, a morning brew.

Lung El was not at his station, the mess empty and barren.

Away from the voice, the rifleman visibly recoiled. Fear had entered his eyes; he was strong enough to weather any storm, any apparition, any unholy thing – but not her.

Never her.

“I’ll sit with him for a spell,” Peter managed, not looking at Danford. He couldn’t be alone. Neither of them, but Peter more so. The demons were after him now. He would not let them in.

“Well, I’ll be back by, then. I think I’ll try to ask Dr. Bertram or Mister El if there’s anything to be done,” Danford reassured, clapping him on the shoulder in solidarity. As he left, the scent of coffee only grew stronger, the closer he came to the flap of the tent.

Peter reached forward slowly. The tent flaps parted, and the faint memory of Delia beckoned, the scents of home teasing him. But only Taumai waited. The rifleman stared emptily, frozen.

Acushla.

He stepped inside, letting the tent enclose him in her walls.

 

Doctor Jax

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Beyond The Veil
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The tent flap was forgotten, the world curling away like so much dry wallpaper in an old house. The scent of brewing coffee filled his nose, mixed with the aroma of chamomile tea, calming to the nerves and soothing to the soul.

Instead of an infirmary tent, there stood in front of Peter his porch. Not a single person was upon it, though he could hear the clatter of industry within the house. The air was balmy, the summer upon Erie with its damp, the chill of night on the breeze. A turn behind him would show the rows of houses, no evidence remaining of the Siamese temple nor the tent he had attempted to enter. By all accounts, it was as if neither had existed at all.

It was impossible.

Erratically, his heart beat. Or had it stopped? Was it the rush of blood leaving his face making the steady thrum in his body?

He didn't move. The breeze was real and palpable, like he was there, really there, back home in Galway. Because this was home; his house, his porch, his weathered tree stump by the roadway, his potted plants along the windowsill. And she, Delia–traces of her was there too. He smelled her in the chamomile tea that followed wherever she went. He saw her in the wicker porch chair from her home, sunken with age and use.

Peter hazarded a step forward, then another, his breaths growing ragged as his hand closed around the doorknob.

It was impossible.

He turned it.

“‘Lo?”

Inside was just as he had left it, the place cozy in its smallness. Delia had turned to look to Peter with an expression belying her happiness.

“Somethin’ the matter dear? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”

Not a shred of ill health was there in her face. No— she was the picture of vibrancy, as if she were aglow with good humor.

The room stilled.

Peter stared. His mouth hung open some, preparing to release a sound or word his lungs gave him no air for. He took a step forward, hand stretching a bit forward…only to snake back, his eyes widening.

Acushla, his love. His darling, darling Delia, well and youthful as she ought to have been. It was–

He breathed.

"Delia?"

The look on her face remained bemused, perhaps edged by concern. She strode towards him, the scent wafting after her.

“Yes, acushla?” she asked. “I see you haven’t brought me a single thing I asked for, nor have you brought in the wood for the fire. Ach— I think I can forgive you. Is everything alright?”

Outside, inside, each felt still as stone. Everything was as he had left it, but there was something missing — noise. Dead silence aside from the woman before him, busying herself at the stove.

In the silence came darkness. Peter's eyes had closed; rather, he had brought a hand to them, forcing them shut as his face twisted and trembled.

He was still in the tent. It lingered, that sole thought of sanity, on his mind like a nail, unwilling to give way. There was no way he was not there. There was no way that he was home, that Delia stood before him, that Delia had healed of her own accord, that God would ever afford a poor wretch like him such a reprieve. He knew that; he knew it.

But Peter was still human. Poor and imperfectly human.

It was muscle memory. His arms came around Delia, enclosing her in a hug as he brought her to his body, resting his head atop of her own. Chamomile flooded his nose; the fineness of her hair caressed his cheeks, and the heat of her skin was so, so real.

A strangled noise escaped him.

“Ah, there’s a — Peter, somethin’s the matter. What’s got your goat, dear? Did somethin’ happen?” Delia asked, brow furrowed as she looked at him, a hand caressing his face. “Here, have a sit, right there…”

She led him away to collapse on a settee, bustling about their kitchen to grab his tea. The clink of the china cup against its plate seemed muffled, the air thick. At his feet, she took a knee beside him.

“Now what’s got you worked up?”

"'S nothing."

He couldn't look at her anymore. He'd pined like so many besotted fools to see her face again, but now the storm had returned, roiling deep within his soul. He buried his face in his hands.

She'd been hot to the touch. This healthy, beautiful Delia of his had been feverishly hot, and it had struck him to the core once more how full her figure had become, how her bones had been padded on the shoulders like any other able-bodied woman.

This wasn't his wife. Of course it wasn't his wife. Still, desperate, like a man in a desert, he stayed.

"I'm after a bad spell, is all," He finally managed, raising his head to look at her. His green eyes had been tinted with red, the moisture gathering. "Tis good to see you. I just…I just…"

The dam threatened to break. He swallowed hard. "I just wish you could stay."

“Have you been out for a drink since?” Delia laughed with nervous energy, taking his hands. “What’re you on about, stay? I’m right here, Peter, clear as day.”

But her hands were so curiously, strangely warm, hot to the touch. Yet her words seemed just as warm, this familiar place perfect.

And unnatural in its perfection. The room was just the right temperature. Despite having sat, his tea had not cooled beyond what was comfortable. The noise of the outside world was gone, and what should have been an uncomfortable and thick mugginess to the summer air simply was absent.

He raised her perfect hands to his lips. His shoulders shook; the dam having since given way, he buried his face against her feverish skin, cool tears painting her fingers.

By what force or machination this reunion had come to be, he did not know. It was cruel, wickedly so, and he could feel the knife twisting further in his gut, wrenching him apart. Surely his wife, this vision, would know.

How could he forget the letter? Delia, beautifully poised and honest Delia, had written that she felt poorly, even more so than normal. The doctor said she would never improve. The doctor had said…Delia had said–

I feel poorly, Acushla.

With sudden force, the rifleman tore himself away from Delia and stood.

“I have to go,” he choked out.

And by those words, it was as if some fell magic had been dispelled, the glamour falling away, and the oppressive darkness was back. Only the light of the lantern illuminated the inside of the tent.

Yet he and Taumai were not alone. Before him, the gaunt, mummified body of a monk stood by the bedside, rosary about a wrist as he held a hand over the head of the injured man, the other in front of Peter. Taumai wore a strange and subtle smile upon his face, a far cry from the rictus of pain he had worn before, as if locked in a sweet and enduring dream. The low, thundering hum of chanting filled the tent, as if a chorus in the back of the head, originating from the nape of the skull.

Slowly, the head turned toward Peter, and the figure abruptly disappeared on a flash through the back flap of the tent, Taumai gasping suddenly and moaning as he was jettisoned from whatever vision he had been gifted.
 

Red Thunder

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Deciphering Madness
part II
a collab with @Doctor Jax

But Ana was an investigative journalist first and foremost. Terror be damned. Disgust be damned. She would find out just what the hell was going on.

"Perhaps it does." She took a half second to compose herself then gather her pencil and a fresh piece of paper. "Tell me: what is the 'Great Waters'?"


Henry looked to Ana, taking a scholarly countenance. He was fully in his element now, a man used to lecture and debate. Despite his gaunt face, his eyes did light up.

“The Magi’ians of their time called the divide between life an’ death the Great Waters. It is a place between our world and places beyond our comprehension,” Henry explained, hands animated to illustrate his point. “We are on one island…. And the dead on another. Between us is a gulf, impassable by normal means. But some can communicate regardless.”

Ana nodded slowly, her hand flying. English, if made concise through an absence of articles and the like, began bleeding from her pencil, clear and sharp. Investigate. Record. Distribute. The tenants of journalism. The soft ambience of charcoal stylus on paper filled the air.

"Where is this theory recounted? And why should the- the dead want to communicate?" She glanced up, her hand finally still.

“Why, my ow’ books,” Henry chuckled, obviously proud to say so. “My life’s work, studying ‘hese people. Curious, ‘hey don’ say in so many words… But to give advishe to the living, to give succor ‘o the grieving, ‘hat sort of ‘hing.”

He tapped the Tala-patra, a single emaciated finger on dry, brittle leaves.

“‘hey were masters at it.”

“‘...they- subject- masters’,” she wrote quickly. Her hand paused, her attention rather to what her eyes read. It was important, of course, to keep a running edit of the notes one took, in the event they were transcribed incorrectly or simply heard wrong. Something more, something other, took her mind to what she’d just written.


“Tell me, sir.” Tatyana looked up, brow furrowed in confusion mixed with the lessening horror of her experiences thus far. “You called me a- no, that I- commune. If your wife wanted to say something- why should she pick me? Why not-”

These were the wrong questions. She still wanted answers- no, she wanted natural answers. And this was not the time to ask for them.

“Would-” Ana began, “do you wish to speak with ‘one you are separated from by the Great Waters’?”

Henry’s expression grew soft, his eyes misted. He swallowed, hard, and not trusting himself to speak, he did nod his head. His mouth opened, closed, opened again.

“Yes, I belief I would,” he said, his voice somehow steady despite the bob of his Adam’s apple. His hands wound together, like the gnarled tendrils of vine about each other.

“You… somehow are in conne’shion, by birth or by circums’ance, with those pas’ the Great Waters,” the professor stressed. “Have you ever had stwange happeningsh abou’ you, Miss Volkov? ‘Hings you simply could not explain?”

The furrow of her brow told far more than any words of deflection or straight denial would have. Ana did not respond for nearly a full minute. Instead, she sat slumped in her chair, eyes having lowered to stare sightlessly at the parchment before her. Even gone, the Khuman Tong left a phantom weight about her neck. Or perhaps it was only her imagination, her fear, her- loneliness.

The realization shocked her. During the brief break back home, Ana had felt oh so lonely. Her father leaving her in death, the prosecution of her paper by the government, the failure of her fellow journalists to stay strong under the oppression. What else had she, save for that Khuman Tong? It'd become something of an idol, a focus of her attention and affection. Was- did she really miss it? Eventually, she found her voice.

"Da. Last time, before we found you. It started with- oh." Her voice faltered. Chert by pobral yego za smert'. Roland had a- I think it was called a 'Khuman Tong'. Lung El told me, maybe; I cannot recall. It came home with me. Then back here.

"Since taking it from Roland's bo- from Roland, I have had- dreams. Seen things not there. The child before the rock fall. The starving giant outside with the airships."

Its scream.

She couldn't forget it; her mind seized onto it. But it was utterly disquieting, all the more that she had heard it even after discarding- it. Again, silence filled the room, and Ana squeezed her eyes shut.

Henry’s eyes never left Ana, listening with the patience of a lecturer awaiting his student’s reply. He slowly nodded as the information sank in. Then, his eyes - bright - began to flicker around, as if tracing the path of his own thoughts, flying about in different directions.

“Aaaaah -- the chil’ in the amulet, it touched you,” Henry breathed with understanding. “Fickle creashures. Some, ‘hey like. Others…” He made a face in mimicry of a tyke finding something most displeasing. “You, it took an interest in, and now, you can perceive beyond what I or Angelica or Chuck can manage. A medium.”

It was becoming ever more clear that while Angelica was the rationalist of the family, Henry was a stronger proponent of the occult, the macabre, the otherworldly and ethereal. To others this may have given the impression of eccentricity. Here, however, after so many encounters with things beyond mortal comprehension…

“It quite appears writing is the channel ‘hrough which ‘hese beings can communicate wiv you. And perhaps you should try. Shall we?”

There was a hope, a lightness to the man, which had not been present before.

“That is little comfort, to be favored by some- enchanted charm.”

Ana smiled, the wry expression reaching her eyes as the horror of the memory was stifled beneath focus on the present. She sat, silent once more, save now in thought instead of memory. Nodding, she looked back to Henry.

“Very well.” The charcoal point touched the parchment. “How am I to do this?”

“Simply…. Write back,” Henry stated, gesturing to the paper in front of her.

However, it would seem they would not get the chance. A woman’s scream cut the air, the shrill stab of terror ringing in their ears.
 
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Doctor Jax

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Down The Rabbit Hole

The temple’s thick dark was difficult to traverse, and doubly so with a broken thumb to steal Chuck’s mind away from his feet. Andrew trudged ahead with a lamp in hand while Chuck held his maimed appendage in the handkerchief soaking with blood.

“Still haven’t said how you ended up smashin’ your thumb to pieces,” Andrew huffed.

“Can it wait for Danford or Bentham’s keen eye first?“ Chuck chided under his breath, glancing briefly at the pillars around him, briefly illuminated by Andrew’s keen lantern. In fact to him, they reminded him a bit of something, a place with tall pillars that lifted a vaulted ceiling, lit by yellow light.

He rounded a corner, and before him was a restaurant. Plates clinked. People in finery of the latest American make tasted delicacies untold upon their forks, and Charles Greene’s eyebrows met immediately at the sudden change in venue, as seamless as if he’d walked through a door into the Chardonnay Hall of Baltimore and her finest chefs. He spun to look back, and sure enough — no temple. Just the doorway leading back to the smoking rooms and foyer. Just the round room with its vaulted ceiling and Grecian pillars and hanging vines.

“Are you gonna stand there and gape like a fish, or are you gonna sit?” stated a deep, alto voice beside Charles, and he looked down to the woman sitting beside him. She was a stately woman of older class, with a rich Dixie accent and steel gray hair piled high upon her head. Where all others were in the most recent fashion, she wore a gown easily three decades out of date.

“Mave. Ah. Good to see you,” Charles muttered, taking a seat and finding he, too, was dressed in tuxedo and tie. His eyes darted around. He felt like he was losing grip of something. No, he’d just been in a temple in Siam, hadn’t he? And something about Mave herself…

”Eat your filet mignon. It’s getting cold, darlin’. Always was slow on the uptake. Shocked you did as well as you have with the Contingency, son,” Mave sighed, cutting her own food into pieces. Stone gray eyes bore in Charles’, her gaze cutting. “Well? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”

Charles swallowed slowly. He took a bite of his food. It was delicious, as it should have been.

”I suppose it’s because I believe I have.”

”Oh? And what makes you think so?”

”Because I am without a shadow of a doubt certain you died three years ago.”

***
Tom was left alone with his thoughts, Lung El having beckoned Alex to accompany him to retrieve some other object of devotion for their nightly ritual. The dark remained cloying near the mess station, the place eerily silent other than the slosh of gin inside a bottle. Every swig did seem to fuzz the mind into impressionistic smears of feeling, the world losing all of its fine edges.

Indeed, the dark was now velveteen instead of choking. After all, being alone in the dark isn’t the fear. No, the fear is having company you aren’t aware you keep.

A turn of the head, a shift in the seat, and the dark was lightening ever so slightly. There was thr slosh of water outside, but not from far off like the river water had been. This was close up against the hull of a ship that swayed Tom in its grip. It was hard to tell when he’d sat down at this floating pub, but indeed he was there.

”Well, Tom?”

The expectant voice was rough, a man in his graying years sitting directly to Tom‘s left. He held a hand of cards, two other young men sitting across from him with the same look.

”We know how much ya like finding the bottom of a bottle, but at least let me get to the bottom of your wallet first, O’Reilly,“ one of the two joked.

The other shoved him, muttering, “Don’t be a gobshite, Conall. What’ll it be, Tom? Fold? Or up the ante?”

Distantly, on the edge of hearing, he heard something like a scream.

@Ritual Lobotomy

***
”Almost finish,” Lung El promised Alex. They needed just a bit more water, another full basin to sprinkle blessed water upon the tents to protect them while they slept. It would be the final act of the night before they went to sleep. It was a poor choice all the way around to stay here. Lung El glanced at Alex as they began toward the doorway of the temple.

”Nong Alex… I know Sir Henry much want to find this soma, but… I am scared,” he confided softly. The entrance to the temple loomed in the dark. “Perhaps… in the morning—”

A figure appeared in the dark before them, and Lung El reached for a knife, only for a Dutch expletive to bound out. Andrej’s white face appeared, hands up.

”You scare me half to death! I just take a short piss. Lord above!”

”So sorry, Mr. Andrej. You going to bed?”

”Me? No, no, Helmut, Muhammad, Mawvan, we play cards. We will take turns on watch. Orville, he is already asleep. Good for me — he is fussy.”

With that, the big European walked past, and Lung El sighed with relief.

It was premature. As he bent to get water, something became clear. At first he had thought the night merely cloudy and moonless. But no… He looked about, the rustle of water all around them. No, the sky was starless, save for one star above the temple, like a baleful eye. There was no sign of the jungle, only black and the wide open waters, as if they were a boat upon a great ocean.

And then, from inside the temple, they heard a scream.

@DayDreamer

***

Andrew didn’t wait for Chuck. Truly, he didn’t have to. The man’s thumb was broken, not his legs, so he saw no reason to check he was following behind. No, instead he was trying to untangle all he’d heard tonight. He needed to be on his highest alert. Strange things were afoot here, things beyond been his comprehension. He had seen spooky things in the bush, but those he could have dismissed. This felt… targeted.

He felt watched.

“Chuck?” Andrew said, turning about with the lantern.

Nothing. He didn’t remember the dark being this thick. Some of their lanterns had gone out around the camp perimeter.

“Chuck, I know it stings, but pick up the pace, man, we don’t have all—”

The trees around him were a copse of gum, a single fire in the midst of them. It was the dry waning heat of the bush at night, the grasses rustling but altogether too far away. Andrew frowned, his lantern still in hand. At the fire, a single figure sat. His beard was softly lit in the pale glow, a pipe huffing softly smoke into the air. There wasn’t a single breeze, yet the column drifted as if to follow some invisible current.

“You won’t sit with yer ol’ man, boy?” a grizzled voice said, and Andrew stood in shock and profound stillness.

“…. Sure, Pops.”

***

Angelica huffed as she paced outside of Chuck’s cabin. Eventually, he’d be back here, and she could complain that her father was yet again spouting that drivel. Spiritualism, occultism, he had been chasing it her whole life. Yes, well, she wasn’t desperate to believe, and Uncle Charlie seemed the sanest of the bunch at the moment. He might lack some social grace, but he did truly know fact from fiction.

Perhaps… well, perhaps he was already here. She hardly needed to knock. The young woman pushed open the flap into Chuck’s tent, the inside clean and organized to nearly military precision. He wasn’t there, but that meant no reason she should not wait here for him. Yes, she would merely take a seat at his desk. No harm to be had at all.

And he had been writing something. Angelica’s eyes tracked from it to the door. Well… it could not have been so important. He had left it to go and commit some grave mistake with a hammer, so he should not mind it if she read it.

Her eyes flashed over it in youthful nosiness. Perhaps it was to some lady love of his— no, it was too sterile, too businesslike. However, the longer she read, the more confused she became. Compromised? Henry gives him nothing? Must destroy the resource before Siam or Atticus finds it. Angelica picked up the half-written letter with trepidation. What was this all about?

She dug deeper into the notes in his drawer, not finding a thing but receipts. No, the only clue as to what the letter was about or to whom were on the letterhead: the Contingency. An eagle inscribed a pyramid, holding a rod and an olive branch, sat above as its seal.

She snatched up the bundle, walking out of Charles’ tent. But to whom? Her father seemed… erratic, even for him. She could not confront Charles on her own, though. But who did that leave? Who could she wholeheartedly trust?

The answer was immediate. She started for the mess tent.

The way was dark, and her heart raced as she kept the papers close. In the light of the fire, she could see someone standing near Tom, their back turned to her. She sped to him, relief flowing over her.

”Lung El! Lung El, oh, I desperately need your advice. I-I think something has gone terribly wrong—“

The visage that turned back to her was not that of Lung El, but a horrifically mummified countenance. The lips were stretched in a gruesome rictus, the eyes dried shut. It’s form was a stringy mass of limbs and robes, leathery skin taut over every bone.

In abject horror, Angelica drew breath and gave a great scream.

@Red Thunder @Kuno

Okay, long time no see! Sorry for the awful formatting, but for whatever reason on my tablet it will not allow me to make edits to BBCode. As of now, we have three members beset by three monks! I let you decide - will you run to Angelica? Will you run away from the screaming? Feel free to collaborate if you want! My DMs are open.
 

Kuno

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PETER O'KEEFE || RIFLEMAN
Location: Camp center
It was the second time that night he’d been too slow to draw his firearm. The next delay would mean his or another’s life; Peter was sure of it.

There was nothing within his pistol crosshairs save air, that which was still settling from the corpse’s rapid escape. Yes – that’s what it had been. A corpse, walking and talking and moving, quick as a sprung arrow through the back flaps of the tent. Peter had surprised himself with how swiftly he had run after it, only to meet once again nothing but the lonely night. It was only after he returned to the tent that he began to process in frightening focus what had just happened.

There was a scripture that abruptly came to mind. Peter knew not its origin nor its name, but the nuns used to recite it to the boys at the orphanage during frightful storms. Something…something about fearing no evil, no matter where they were. Even if it was through the valley of the shadow of death. But a plaintive cry from one who had gone willingly to the valley of evil…would God make recompense for such a man? Would He shield his eyes?

His eyes. Eyes that were still wet with tears over that…that demonic vision. He’d had in her arms, he had. To have the only thing he loved bandied about at the end of a monster’s string…

Something dark and hateful was bubbling up in Peter’s soul.

“Peter?”

The rifleman whipped about, eyes ablaze. Taumai! How quickly he had forgotten about him.

“Y’alright there?” Peter started, coming quickly to his side. “You–”

“Where are the doctor? I had such a good dream…” A pained groan escaped him, anger underlying his tone. “You have to wake me? What for?”

The rifleman stared. Something in his face shifted, like a curtain closing over a stage. His jaw worked a bit, the man himself silent.

But the Devil’s work was not done. As he toyed with an answer, a woman’s scream suddenly pierced the air, shrill and high. It came from just outside their tent.

Peter burst out from within the tent flaps, pistol at the ready. There was a fire burning in the mess tent; from its light, he saw the figure of Angelica standing there, and two others with her. With great haste, he went towards her.

“Miss, what’s th–” He began, his eyes sweeping towards the seated. He broke off suddenly when he saw, truly saw the withered form of the navigator’s companion. His breath seized.

He would not hesitate to shoot for the third time in a row.

Whatever warning Peter gave to Angelica to stand clear was quickly drowned out by the blast of two gunshots fired in quick succession at the decrepit demon’s head.

 

Ritual Lobotomy

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THOMAS "TOM" O'REILLY|| NAVIGATOR

Without a coherent thought, Thomas sat on a crate, eyes fixated on the altar long after Lung El and Alex left his ever-so-slightly disrupted field of vision. Perhaps there was something in silent reflection that acted as a sedative, but even through the involuntary but accepted deterioration of consciousness, Tom would argue it was the gin. The last shot of adrenaline had drowned itself in consistent swigs of a prickly juniper that coated his throat - a familiar sensation in the sea of newly created ones he wished not to relate to.

The value of home and peace of mind he hadn't cherished so since Africa.

Cursed be the necessity of a coin.

"Well, Tom?"

"Well, what," he mustered out mechanically before his mind wrapped around the familiar, though unlikely voice. In a brief moment of existing somewhere in the middle, his body went numb, and he felt as weightless as he would falling asleep. Right before the entire weight of nightmares would slap him in the face.

He frowned, feeling that he, in fact, still has a body. He waited for the strike of heavy subconscious anxiety to propel him back into another sleepless night. But the nightmare never came. Instead of the distorted visions of death, hostile faces, and the smell of wet soil seeping through his coffin buried in the ground, he felt at ease. In response to his half-witted question, the voice laughed joyfully, joined in by a couple more that lured Tom's awareness, and he finally dared open his eyes. The tipsiness was there, but even at his worst, Thomas had an eye good enough to tame vertigo that would disable many others.

Unmistakeably, the voices remained surrounded by a familiar image of a bar and an overpowering smell of booze, lantern oil, and that godawful excuse of a cigar Cormick was partial about. His face clearly carried some level of noticeable perplexion as he looked around, finally resting his eyes on the men sitting at his table. All three faces studied him, amused for a brief moment before Conall Gilroy broke the silence.

"We know how much ya like finding the bottom of a bottle, but at least let me get to the bottom of your wallet first, O'Reilly." The remaining gin slushed back and forth when Thoms lifted the bottle while, behind it, Conall was promptly reprimanded by Dáithí O'Hea - a man according to whom Thomas O'Reilly could do no wrong. No matter how rough around the edges, a purebred Irish veteran was a saint in the book of the rowdy barkeep.

"Right," Thomas responded dismissively, studying their forms distorted through the bottle, challenging his disbelief. They were crooked, distorted, and impossible, just like they would be in any reality seen through the thick glass. Then he removed the bottle; they were proper, realistic, yet just as impossible. "Fuck's sake," he mumbled, placing the bottle of gin he was convinced he had taken from Lung El's tent in the middle of the Siamese temple, sparing the group another glare before bursting into full-hearted laughter of a hopeless sot.

"Brilliant. Fuckin' grand," Thomas spoke up louder in a tone that only barely carried traces of faint desperation, dragging his hands across his face to get it together. He didn't fail to notice: save for callouses from the nautical rope, his hands held no markings of the jungle. The faces of his comrades showed no sign of concern over Tom's confusion. Instead, they seemed to be somewhat amused. Another painfully realistic reaction he failed to explain. He was no stranger to hallucinations, although there was nothing to indicate that there was one this time, even though the feeling of urgency to find it remained, desperate to reason with how improbable such an image was.

But it felt like a losing battle.

"Fold? Or up the ante?" O'Hea had asked him while Conall and the old captain grew impatient to rob him of his money. Admittedly, for the price of keeping their company, Thomas had grown to love playing that damn game to lose. Cards were barely ever in his favor. With a sigh, Thomas focused on the spread-out set of cards turned face-down in front of him.

"Right then," he exclaimed, dragging the cards towards himself. The touch of an overused paper tickled the palm of his hand. The heavy oak table smelled like cheap varnish. This was it. This, Tom thought, is where he will have an auspicious hand that never happens and call it out. This would be his damn Ariadne's thread through the maze of his disturbed mind.

Barely a pair to play with, he found. Nothing out of the ordinary.

"Ya alright there, chiseler? Lookin' bit pale," Cormick's voice boomed across the table as his deep-seated blue eyes pierced through Thomas inquisitively before dropping down to a set of cards in his large hand. "Ya didn't bring some Yankee disease back to the shore. Did ya?" A gurgling chuckle escaped him before coughing up a stray puff of smoke out of his lungs.

"Nay," Conall jumped in, his usual cheerful self rearranging his own cards with a glint of dare in his eye. A virtue one would not define a former soldier with, yet it seemed to be his staple. "Chancer got cold feet's all!" Darn, that lad had a lot of practical masteries, but poker face wasn't one of them, Tom thought, smirking solemnly.

"Oh bugger off the lot of ya," O'Hea scolded men waving at them dismissively. "None 'o that shite. Not lad's fault that his gut can't handle as much booze after all those Yankee-filled cruises, eh! They have a talent for sufferin' Irish wherever our roads cross," he added with the usual dose of venomous spite before he spat at the ground - a universal sign that the barkeeper has had his blood boiled and enough of Yankee talk.

"Oi!" Thomas spoke up, jabbed by the notion that he - out of all people - couldn't handle his liquor. It provoked a burst of wheezy laughter out of the three as Tom pointed the neck of the bottle towards them. "Ya can talk shite all ya want, but O'Reilly'd drink any of ya under the table any day! Piss off," he added with a suppressed chuckle, finding it hard to keep a straight face. "A man can't even be tired with the lot of ya."

"Yer gonna have time to be tired when yer dead, brother," Conall laughed, beckoning for Thomas to play his hand. "But I'll make ya light on the coin first. Come on then, what's it?"

A long sigh later, Tom's body eased into the seat, eyes focused on the poor hand he's been dealt. Bummer.

"Ya know me," he referred to O'Hea's previous taunt, tracing the cards. "I don't fold off the bat. Deal another." While it caused an approving rumble around the table, the old captain shook his head, speaking through the teeth clenched around the cigar. "Ya know, men are either lucky in love or in gambling. Yer shite at both, lad."

"What can I say. They were outta luck t'spare when I dropped outta me mother." The table burst into loud, ringing laughter, except for Cormick, that shot him another knowing glare under thick caterpillar-like grey eyebrows.

"Scarlet for yer ma for having ye," he grumbled, grinning as much as the cigar would let him. "Yer no shite-outta-luck lad. Yer a stubborn tool is what y'are. Noggin through the bloody wall before the hammer, this one." Although in good fun, Cormick's words held the savage truth as usual. Of course, Tom would lose this round, and of course, he'd ask for another remedial one as he was finishing his drink and ordered another one. Nothing ever changed with O'Reilly. Not visibly, at least.

Cards marched in front of his eyes. Black and red in the sea of white A stark contrast to dull darkness from which his eyes still seemed to be readapting. In what world, he wondered, would a man have fewer doubts about encountering a talking serpent than playing poker in the pub on Liffey? Perhaps the liquor finally pushed past the tipping point. But if that was the proper justification, how come his mind perceived the surroundings as sharply as always?

Wouldn't he be incapable of rational thought, let alone a card game?

Wouldn't he fail to identify the faces at his table and notice the vibrant colors of the fresh flower arrangement on the bar?

Once more, a sea of white: hellebores, primroses, and solomon's seals adorned with specks of red spurges, poppies, and attention-picking burgundy anemones - large blotches of spring's blood on the bouquet. Although O'Hea hated the soft flowery arrangements planted around the pub, it was the only thing his diffident daughter ever honestly countered him on. Like any lovestruck father, he'd let her have it her way. It wasn't the first time Thomas would point it out and poke the fun at Dáithí's soft parental side, except this time, he had pointed it out after a moment of contemplation over a more unnerving reason.

"Banger bunch o'flowers ye got," Tom nodded towards the large vase sitting lonely in the center of an otherwise empty bar.

"Aye. Lass brought them in fresh this mornin'," O'Hea explained dismissively, stroking a streak of white in his long ginger beard without lifting his eyes up from the cards. "Ye fancy them, ye take 'em home. Consider 'em a compensation for leavin' ya naked and broke," he jested drunkenly, referring to Tom's losing streak. O'Reilly's expression grew more perplexed.

"They're spring flowers."

"Aren't ya a perceptive one?" came another friendly jab from Conall Gilroy, missing a dignified response from Thomas.

But he departed in the summer. As clear as day, he had remembered the note with the date and Greene's requirement. He remembered the impossible, hard-to-forget heat of the claustrophobic jungle. It was as real as they came. The exhaustion of the journey, the encounters in the temple, and the people that followed along. It happened.

So, how come it was still springtime back in Ireland?

As an emphasis to his thoughts, while he sat fixated on the blooming red, a faint scream sounded... somewhere. Barely audible, but detectable nevertheless. A guttural, raw scream of terror. Female. Thomas shut his eyes tight and blinked them wide open again, leaning back into his chair, the corner of his eye acknowledging the lack of reaction from the rest of the table. Not even Conall's sharp ears seemed to be perking up at the sound, nor did his heroic sense of justice propel him to run outside and give it a look. Unbothered, they began another round, bickering amongst themselves.

"It's all in your head, you broken gobshite. You just enjoy ruining everything, don't you?"

Cold sweat tickled the back of his neck as he felt his stomach convulsing and his vision darkening ever so slightly at the sound of a riffle that, once more, no one acknowledged.

"All you had to do was let it go."

It has been some time since the last panic attack, he reckoned. Somehow, he had hoped he had finally found a permanent refuge from anxiety, keeping himself tipsy and unbothered. But the panic was tangible and true when the concerns of the mind's memory attempted to move an overly-comfortable, idle body. Thoughts and overthinking clashed in an incoherent ball of sensations that weren't there: dampness, the smell of death, movement of the sea, the scorching sun, and the hostility of a suffocatingly narrow space reflected on his reality. In fear of losing a marble, he felt like he had dropped an entire bag. The chair Thomas sat on began to feel tight and constricting, pushing him into hyperventilation he stubbornly fought against with all his remaining sanity.

"Fine. Drown, then."

He could feel the table jerk and Gilroy's lanky frame rushing into his field of view. Fucking pup. He could never understand that not everyone could be saved. Nevertheless, Thomas had to appreciate the attempt.

"He should have left you there when he had a chance."

"Tom! For fuck's sake," an almost desperate plea reached him as he focused on Conall's presence. Only then did he pay attention to Seán and Dáithí and their concerned faces. Aware of demons that plagued him, they silently allowed him space as Gilroy persistently shook his shoulder.
"Yer safe here, brother," he stated before landing a generous slap against Tom's stiffened jaw. It hurt. Followed by a commanding shout, it was sobering. "Ye hear me, O'Reilly? Yer done! Yer home!"

So that is what it was.

"Yer home," Conall repeated once more, relieved after receiving an acknowledging nod from Thomas, followed by a tight grip around his arm. O'Reilly was not a sort of many words, but a simple gesture like such told Gilroy what he needed to know. He chuckled nervously, patting the man on the back. "Ya scared the living shite out of us."

Without a verbal response, Thomas exhaled and placed the bottle back on the table, lifting himself up. Expected insecurity in steps after almost two bottles of gin did not show as he stepped away from the table, brushing his hand through sweat-drenched hair. Partially embarrassed and partially confused, he gestured emptily, failing to put his thoughts into words several times before giving up. "Fuck me. I don't know," he then said simply, shrugging in defeat.

"Nothing t'be ashamed of, lad," O'Hea announced, waving his fist significantly. "If anything, it's fine proof of your sacrifice!" Often a point of appreciation, O'Hea's words now felt like a burden Thomas needed a break from.

"I'll grab some air ya dossers," he attempted to jest, stepping back towards the door. "Before ya gawk yer way through me." While it earned him a brief chuckle from the two men, Conall did not seem amused. Tom gestured towards the man, reassuring him directly. "I'll be dandy, Gilroy. Just give me a minute to breathe fer fuck's sake."

A short trip from the table to the door felt like nothing out of the ordinary. It took him over quickly, but Thomas locked it back in its cage even quicker. Nothing remained in Tom's stance to indicate that the panic attack ever crushed him in the first place. Insecurity was weakness, and weakness was death, and he was angry it had ever emerged from within him in such a way.

He didn't hesitate to press on the cold brass handle.

"Deal another while I get back."

The worn-out wooden entrance door opened with a familiar squeal.
 

Doctor Jax

Lord of the Mice
Original poster
FOLKLORE MEMBER
Invitation Status
Posting Speed
  1. 1-3 posts per week
Online Availability
3PM CST - 9 PM CST
Writing Levels
  1. Intermediate
  2. Adept
  3. Advanced
  4. Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
  1. Male
  2. Female
  3. No Preferences
Genres
Fantasy, Scifi, Urban Fantasy, Horror
Angelica’s scream had devolved into a blubber of helplessness, the letters scattered about before her as she backed away from the horrid apparition in front of her. Every sense seemed to be keyed to that figure, and to her horror she realized that it had shifted its gaze to her instead. Its blank eyes burrowed into her face, the leathery head becoming all she could focus upon.

An oiliness began to fuzz her vision, her world bleeding at the edges like so much paint thrown in with thinner. It was reminiscent of her time under the ether as a child when they held her down with a rag, to extract a rotted tooth, that slipping sensation as the world slid sideways and--

CRACK!

The world snapped back into blocks of darkness before her. The apparition reeled, the mummified creature dashing around the navigator to put him between it and Peter, but too late.

CRACK!

This time, a piece of its braincase flew away, the blast revealing a shower of blood and brain. The white matter shone in the light, pulsing with veins. It bled. The creature looked to Peter in silence, no sound coming from its mouth even as it opened to reveal its teeth, a grimace maybe if one were so imaginative as to put a name to the expression.

Angelica whimpered, crawling away to the mess tent. A knife. She needed a knife.

That thing…. It was not an undead creature. It yet lived somehow.

Thomas jerked. Not awake, no, but a jolt nevertheless. His dreaming shifted. Something about this place was wrong, impossible in some inexplicable way…

@Kuno @Ritual Lobotomy