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Hama & Mel
Twist after twist after twist they journeyed in a frantic attempt to make it back to the offering room. Mel looked back to ensure her brother followed, not getting lost in the crush, but alas he was ahead of the curve and even bringing along the mouthy girl like a sack of potatoes over his shoulder. Now how many times had he done the same to her?

At last their frantic chase was done, however, as they reached a wall, the entire building stilled. Mel's sense of direction snarled at the appearance of the sudden split — one going down when before no such staircase had appeared, another going in the opposite direction. Mel panted, eyebrows meeting.

"Dear, when ever is it not troublesome? Surely we can count that on a single one of our hands."

"Emry? Emry?!"

Hama's panicked voice cut through Mel's sardonic reply. She looked with some mixed expression as he paced away from the group after having completed a single headcount, coming up short.

"Did anyone see him?" Hama asked, expression stricken.

"…No, I did not," Mel admitted slowly.

"Razin, not so fast, we don't know what's down there. Stay here. I'll go back and—"

"Your worried are noted, physician, but that is a foolish decision," Mel stated firmly.

Hama frowned deeply, shoulders squaring, offense writ large on his face.

"You ask me to abandon him?"

"And should you become lost in your endeavor? We then have two lost, rather than one. If he was hired by our financier, it is because he can handle himself. Hm?" Melania reasoned.

That did seem to calm the irate, and worried, healer. He hefted his torch, chewing the inside of his lip. Finally, he pulled chalk from his bag, marking the wall with an arrow pointing to the stairs leading down.

"Then let's get moving. And stick close. Please," Hama said as he sidled close to Razin, putting an arm around her shoulders with the obvious terror of one who realized Emry could well have been Razin instead. He gave her a single reassuring squeeze — whether for him, or for her, was hard to tell.

Mel quickly suggested she take point — she was lighter on her feet in the event of a crumbling stair, with a harder head to boot— and Hama begrudgingly gestured she take the lead, her motioning for Pan to join her.

@Red Thunder @Kuno
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As the ground finally stopped shaking, Errol hesitantly peeled himself off Habbas. Though as he went to take a step, he found that his legs were still trembling under him. All of his brightly colored feathers were standing on edge, ruffling as he tried to compose himself. What a terrible place to get caught during an earthquake, he thought to himself.

Errol glanced around the room, inspecting the chamber to see if anything else had changed. When Habbas ordered Asra and Errol to regroup and lead the others back here, Errol nodded. In truth, he was just relieved he hadn't been picked to descend that dark stairwell. "Shall we go?" He peered up at Asra, walking up to her side.

"Of course, Little one."

The tone was warm and friendly, but Asra's face was a mask of concern as she looked down at her friend. They certainly looked shaken by the earth tremors. She may have been a daughter of the sea, but the earth and its depths were still the preserve of her ancestors. Errol, well they were a creature almost more of the sky than anything else. Did they now feel the strange sense of disconnection that Asra herself had felt on the airship. That they were somewhere they shouldn't be. And then to feel the ground shake as if it wanted to swallow them, how would someone used to the openness of the sky feel about that while so confined.

It was a troubling thought, but one that the Puntling could not help but ruminate on as the mismatched pair began the journey down the corridor Agha Al-Farsi had directed them down. The airship had been a strange experience but the journey had been smoothe and calm. What if it had not been so?

"Are you ok?"

The words came out slower and more delicately than the Puntling's steps.

"Have you felt the earth shake like that before or was that your first time?"

Errols was eager to get moving, wanting to conclude their investigation of the temple as swiftly as possible. "Yes, I wasn't injured." He answered, assuming the other was concerned about his physicality. Errol brushed it aside, not wanting to appear as the weak little aspect among such a capable group.

While he continued along the hall, he was thankful that it was already illuminated from their previous journey. "I've felt minor land slides and tremors in my travels but,...nothing such as that." Errol let out a long sigh, "I thought we'd certainly be buried." He concluded, glancing around at the stone walls.

"Have you?" He peered up at the Puntling, tilting his head to meet her gaze.

"Enough times. When I was still small enough that my mother could carry me in one hand, my ama-"

For a few moments, Asra searched for a word that matched the meaning of her natural dialect.

"errrr my mothers mother would tell me it was just our ancestors dancing. That makes it seem not so scary. Also you should not worry about being buried. These stones have stood for centuries. They have seen and known more than you or me might ever. Today will not be the day they fall, I am certain of that."

Asra's words were like a warm blanket, soothing Errols anxious mind. While wary eyes still peered at the walls of stone around them, Errol was able to breath easier as he reminded himself of her insight.

"Dancing, huh?" He mumbled, amused at the thought. "Hopefully your ancestors will refrain from anymore dancing while we're inside here." He replied in a lighthearted tone.

Large fingers trawled gently along the walls as the Punting imagined who it had been who had laid these stones. What had they been like? Where had they called home?

Unexpectedly, a smaller quieter thought appeared behind this last one. Where did the friend she walked with now call home?

"Errol, you know where I come from. I am curious, where is it that you call home, or your kin call home?

Errol paused, the shadows of the faintly illuminated hall accetuating the solemn expression he wore. "My clan is from Turkey, that is where I was born, but…we have no home." Errols fists clenched as anger bubbled up inside of him. Though, after a long moment, he sighed. His shoulders relaxing.

"Now we are nomadic. We go where we can, until we are no longer wanted. I'm sure you understand," Errol glanced up at Asra. "We are abominations to people like them."


A turn in the corridor the pair were following gave the Puntling a moment for reflection. It was impossible to ignore the stares that followed her around everyday. They were always there and Asra had long grown used to them. Yes there were those humans who seemed uncomfortable in her presence, but she had always put that down to gentle fear. Now she wandered those frowning faces and hasty retreats had been the signs of something more unkind. Had she just not noticed because she literally looked down on the common folk in the world. How would life be different if she was instead smaller than humans and their kin.

"I have met many kind people since I left my home. I have met less kind ones too but not so many of them. Maybe fortune has looked kindly on me, I do not know."

The hand that had been trailing along the walls fell to the puntling's side; the fingers dancing and twisting around each other.

"It must be very hard not to have a place to call home. I always know that as far as I go, one day, the lands my kin have called home since the days of the giants will take me back. I do not know how I could venture the world without that."

Errol's mind had wandered to the past. The years he was able to spend in his homeland, surrounded by his clan were some of his happiest times. But, like most joys in this world, it wasn't meant to last. Now, as he thought back on the memories, he only felt a bitter pain in his chest.

The aspect tried to keep a cool expression, however behind his eyes were a hurrican of emotions. "It was hard at first. But, I've grown to become restless if I stay in one place for too long now." Errol replied, stretching his wings out for a moment.

"It's allowed me to see many different things, and meet many different people. Though, I do still hope for my clan to return to our home one day." He admitted. This goal was the entire reason he was on the endeavor to begin with. If he could just earn enough money to buy some land, his clan can return to their previous life. At least, thats what he hoped for.

"That is a good thing to hope for."

Asra clamped her hands against her side in an effort to still the incessant dancing of her fingers. Her mind was just as troubled now as it had been when the pair had set off in search of Agha Al-Farsi's daughter, just for an entirely different reason. She wanted to fix the world Errol found themself in.

"There is a city on Punt that belongs to the beast folk. I went there once when I was young to sell clams. It seemed like lots of clans had made their home there."

In the distance, strange distorted shadows projected on a wall across from a junction in the labyrinthian corridors, became distinguishable from the general gloom. Someone was near. Someone was just around the corner.

"If your travels ever take you to my home, you should go to see it."

Errol flashed a warm grin, "I would like that." He replied softly, "Maybe once this is all done, I'll go visit." Errol added, suddenly having a desire to see this city of beast folk. It sounded like paradise in his mind.

Shifting her gaze downwards, Asra waited till she had the bird aspect's' attention and then pointed to the silhouettes on the wall ahead in case they had missed it.

"I think we are nearly there."

The aspect glanced towards the direction that Asra was pointing, noticing the shadows moving along the walls. "Hopfully everyone is alright," He responded, worry in his voice. "We should hurry." Errol continued, his pace quickening.

Pausing for a moment, Asra watched her friend till she was certain that in the gloom they were far enough that the gloom would hide her well enough from their gaze. When she was certain they were, the punting tenderly pulled on a cord that hung around her neck. The small hag stone that was revealed wasn't so much a secret as just deeply personal for Asra. She had found it on the seafloor many years ago when she should have been hunting fish and had worn it ever since. It was a comfort, a reminder that beauty and goodness were as much part of the world as chaos and malice, and as she held it to her lips, Asra could feel the agitation that had built up in her as had walked with Errol, beginning to still like tree branches in a dying storm. At her side, the fingers of the Putnling's free hand ceased their frantic dancing. The holed stone was tucked back into its hiding place.

"Khânum Al-Farsi, is that you?"

Asra broke into a slow jog to catch up with Errol as she called out in a voice that bounced off the stones that surrounded them.

"Khânum Al-Farsi, your father sent us to find you. He thinks he has found something."​

A collaboration with @MiharuAya
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Do or Dare

The temple was alive. How else would one describe the staggered quakes, like breaths, that trembled the walls, or the shifting of the halls, like a great beast rolling and turning in its sleep? Naudar had prodded something awake; as it fell once more into inactivity, stilling, a shallow wind blew against foot and hoof alike, the whistle of air one slow exhale.

The stairs led both separate parties into a great chasm of black. Every torch set alight along the walls gave forth a shallow circle of light, too wan to illuminate but a step or two ahead of them. Kaveh, the guide, resurrected his initial purpose with the aid of his lantern in hand and slipped to the forefront wordlessly. He let Mel retain the lead, though he was but an arm's length behind, dull eyes watching all. In their own stairwell, Habbas led the way, though his steps were far more cautious. Traps could be anywhere.

"Don't touch the walls," He reminded Alim yet again. Pressure plates within the bricks were a nasty bit of trickery from the ancients. They could not afford an unwelcome surprise.

When they reached the bottom of the steps, something brushed against their feet in an airy breath. Rough and coarse, sand tickled at their skin; the clack of stone beneath their shoes quieted into a sh as they stepped onto sand, cold in the dark. The walls of the stairwell receded away; a vast, pitchless dark stretched forward and all around them. Habbas took a trepidatious step forward into the black, then another.

Something clicked under his foot.

He was fast. But the temple was faster.

Even as he sprung back, pushing Alim back with his free arm, there was a quaking in the sands. And look! Suddenly, a great fire came alive in the center of the room; it was contained within a massive iron-wrought cage, and its light laid bare a large, circular room. Sand covered every inch of the floor, and upon the sand was…

Gold. An endless sea of gold.

It was impossible to ignore. Wherever the eye landed, it found piles upon piles of gold coins, scattered here and there, high up in the alcoves and tucked in the pockets of the low walls. Habbas moved forward, staring, the ceaseless glittering pulling his gaze in every single direction. He came to the same conclusion as his young scholar, and he threw a dark look towards Alim.

"This must be-"

"-Belatsunat's earthly possessions," Naudar finished, raising his torch high. "So one of her treasure rooms."

Naudar and his separate party had found themselves in virtually the same environment. But where Habbas had taken a moment to take in the scenery, Naudar pushed forward with youthful impatience. Ignoring the treasure, there was something else in their rooms: lining the far wall was a raised dais, and upon it sat two elevated platforms. Small clay pitchers sat upon each; from behind, there was a massive inscription carved into the wall. They were the same angry triangles from before. Cuneiform.

Naudar and Habbas translated it to both their respective parties.

"Blood for life, a treasured way. For Araia, a measured pay."

Naudar merely scoffed. "Caveman poetry. I suppose it's a puzzle."

To Alim, Habbas turned, a grave expression on his face. "A puzzle from Ananias, of course. Be careful. If we answer this incorrectly…

"I don't imagine it will end well for us."

For Habbas had noticed something else besides the gold; tucked intermittently within the piles were bones, and even one of two skulls, left there for Allah only knew how long.

He eyed the two pitchers on the platforms, empty and in need of the puzzle's answers.


Surely, this must have been the hall that Razin and her compatriots had been in only moments before.

The temple had turned on them, like a child's game. Asra's voice echoed into an empty space; they emerged into a slender hall devoid of life, the silhouettes the Puntling had seen earlier having since disappeared amongst the carved figures on the walls. They stood still in their familiar obeisance, blue eyes peering in the duo's direction.

But not all was lost. Footsteps approached from the opposite way; a shadow began to stretch long alongside the walls as a single figure came from around the corner. Whoever it was humming.

Finally, the person appeared, revealing themselves. It was a woman.


She looked just as surprised to see them as they were no doubt surprised to see her. The stranger was an old woman; short and skinny, with long, thin grey hair that hung in strings all around her body. Her skin was cracked and aged from years of the sun's handiwork, and she squinted, as if she couldn't quite see, at the odd pairing before.

"Oh my! I thought I heard some people in here earlier." She cocked her head to the side. "You two are here for the sacrifice, aren't you? Another hour, and you would've missed it!"

There was a knife in her right hand, and a basket in her other hand. A mass of a beige and unpleasant thing weighed it down, and something dripped in a slow trickle onto the ground...


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Alim was having a hell of a time in this old temple. Literally. He wasn't far behind Habbas when the latter avoided getting snatched by a cage fire. The criminal was so high-strung, so ready to leap at the slightest hint of trouble that when trouble finally came, he jumped right into his own torch fire. His arm reflexively came up, as if it were his trusty sword defending his face from a mad client's strike, giving him a brief faceful of ash and pain. Brushing the embarrassment out of his eyes, Alim didn't pay as much attention to the room's details as the studied warrior-scholar. But eventually he got to it.

"Fascinating poetry," Alim said with a hint of dismissal in his voice, pinching out the embers catching in his turban. "How do we 'pay' this, even? The dais?"

The paternal side of Habbas taking over, he swept the remaining embers from the other side of Alim's head covering.

"Well," Habbas began in that slow, measured way of his, "I take it that the pitchers are to collect our offering…whatever that may be."

The gold glittered and shifted like so many shining grains of sand beneath the Arabian sun. The scholar stepped over them without care, though his eyes would dart back occasionally, lingering.

The pitchers were a bruised purple, no bigger than a handswidth in height and length, and they were rough in constitution, like primitive clay. Habbas went to lift one but stopped himself, immediately noting a raised block of stone underneath it that jutted from the pedestal unnaturally.

A pressure plate. Because of course there was one.

"Don't move the pitchers. I'd prefer not to find out how the skeletons amidst the gold got there."

While Habbas had been dutifully inspecting the dais, Alim's eyes lingered on the gold. His spirits were lifted but soured at the same time, seeing all this gold. From his days visually inspecting buckets of treasure as a lowly accountant for some shortly-lived gang, Alim knew that this was enough money for two more covertly-funded revolts, with maybe a third one to spare. Yet from his days pilfering corpses of their material worth, he knew that he'd break his own back if he tried bringing even half of this gold all the way out to the airship. And that the gold was likely booby-trapped with pressure plates or something incredibly rude.

Alim would cry, if he was still capable of it.

His investigative spirit was still there, though: on the gold there was a face. A woman's face, carved the same way on every bit of treasure he saw. Not touching it, Alim simply brought it up with Habbas.

"Habbas, have you seen these coins? There's a face I do not recognize."

"Neither do I."

Habbas came alongside Alim promptly, frowning. The etching in the gold was shoddy work at best. But there was the side profile of a woman, yes, with long, flowing hair and a diadem upon her brow.

Belatsunat? Except…

"I don't remember Queen Belatsunat ever having coins made in her image," Habbas went on. "Not with such precision, anyways. They didn't have the necessary technology."

The scholar glanced back at the poem, his brow furrowing.

Blood for life
A treasured way

For Araia
A measured pay

Alim could only furrow his brows, much like Habbas but less gracefully. What does it mean, what does it mean, what does it mean? Alim tried to think about it rationally, and then irrationally. He tried to tap into his wisdom, the wisdom that he'd accrued from years of being on the wrong side of the law, of being on the run. He'd been running for so long that, it seemed wisdom itself was chasing him. However, given his best answer to the riddle, perhaps he'd outrun that wisdom.

Alim grabbed a fistful of the gold coins, and moved to the pitchers. "Come. We'll fill these up halfway with the gold. The poem said 'measured pay', right?"

"Not necessarily," Habbas said hurriedly, "Wait–"

Allah preserve his heart! He moved to block Alim's hasteful maneuver, arms outstretched. "Think for a moment. Belatsunat did nothing but take lives and hoard riches and power her entire life. She was imprisoned here for a reason…I think…"

But what could Araia possibly want? There was so little known about her; there was so little to about her. A goddess of beauty and simplicity – what more did one give her?

How did one pay a god?

Gold came to mind at once. The old man's eyes darted once more to the bones peeking up from within the coin piles.

"Araia wants payment. But the gold? It just…seems too easy," Habbas finally confessed. "What can she do with gold?"

"Spend it, waste it, kill with it, melt it down." The answer came back matter-of-factly. As if Alim had done it all before. Maybe because he did. Whatever the case, Habbas' addition about Araia did get him thinking more about the positive uses of gold. "A goddess of beauty and simplicity. Well if she was one of beauty, then the answer would be to waste the gold on fine clothes and prettying the face. If she was one of simplicity, then the answer would be…"

"Nothing. But that doesn't make sense, how can one pay with nothing?" Alim cocked his head, having outran wisdom once more. His knuckles twirled a coin between his knuckles, the touching of gold on skin satisfying his ears.

He was right. None of it made sense.

A more prudent man would have waited, but Habbas had an inkling sense that waiting was a trap in itself. The pieces of the puzzle were all around; he just had to think. His gaze went everywhere: the gold, the etched letters of the poem, the sand about the floor, and the same depicted figures etched into the walls, bowing in obeisance to Araia. From there, he looked to Alim, his gaze going beyond him as he drifted away into a deep thought.

Finally, he spoke.

"Alright. Here's what we're going to do…"

(a collab with @Kabboom)
The Geek Squad Is In Town
a collab with @Kuno

Hama took a long and slow breath as he realized they were now trapped in what was most likely some form of treasure chamber. He spun to look at the missing stairs, the gold around him.

"Nobody touch a single thing," Hama said, perhaps unnecessarily.

Or— very necessarily. Melania stood up and brushed off her chiton suspiciously fast, Hama's eyes narrowing at her as she smiled at him and waved. He looked back to Naudar, blazing a path after him.

"Perhaps we shouldn't be calling it 'caveman poetry' when it hardly serves as merely verse. Obviously, this is a riddle for… these."

He gestured to the urns.

"You were saying something about offering blood when the temple began to shift. What was it again?"

"'Take blood of my blood.'"

Naudar was suspiciously confident in his widespread stance upon the raised dais, both of his fists placed firmly at his hips.

"That's what the worshiper said. I doubt he meant his literal blood," He went on blithely, his eyes going everywhere but Hama. There was a note of sourness in his voice. The boy would have preferred to be with Habbas, if only to impress him, but alas! He'd been stuck with the lesser crowd.

Hama looked to the skeletonized remains of those who had come before, his eyes zeroing in on Naudar. He read discomfort off him, some kind of hesitance to engage directly, and he stepped up beside the young man.

"Well. Tell me why you think as much," Hama stated. "Explain it. Scholar to scholar."

A raised and, perhaps amused, eyebrow was raised at Naudar in question. He had his arms crossed, cocking his head to the side. Hama was evidently very confident with traps and riddles of this variety.

There was a halting start to Naudar's words. "Well, Araia's never required blood sacrifices before, and I don't see why she would demand that from us. Plus I…"

Nearly visible, the figurative wheels were turning frantically in the young man's head, round and round and round.

"Belatsunat's debt was paid with her imprisonment," He finished flatly, finally meeting Hama's eyes. "So the real question is: what would a goddess like Araia want as payment? And why?"

There. He had turned it back on Hama.

"That is the question, isn't it? Belatsunat bled the world, you said it yourself. Hoarded for herself riches beyond compare. Meanwhile, Araia hides her face, despite being the goddess of beauty. Her followers are asked to pay in blood, as Belatsunat bled the earth. Gold can melt, can be stolen, can be lost. Blood, however, holds in it life."

Hama was walking back and forth in front of the riddle, the wheels going round.

" 'Blood for life, a treasured way. For Araia, a measured pay.' We keep coming back to blood," Hama murmured. "The offering the worshipper makes to Araia, the fact Belatsunat bled the world, 'blood for life', 'blood of my blood'. We have some options — blood is literal, and we must put blood into these urns, or blood is figurative, and we need a place holder."

The pacing increased urgency.

"But there are two urns. It isn't simple enough to pay; this is a classic riddle about balance. Blood for life. A measured payment. Wait— is Araia only the goddess of beauty?" Hama asked.

"No, she was the goddess of humility or simplicity as well, depending on the text."

Naudar was directly in front of the pitchers now, staring at the dark purple clay intently. Were those pressure plates beneath them?

Nevermind that. The phrase "blood of my blood" had triggered something in his brain.

He went to the walls. The same repeated scene of worshipers bowed in obeisance to Araia had followed them down from the halls, their hands cupped before them. Naudar's eyes flitted from them to the gold scattered around them.

"Blood payments are out of her nature," He continued, though less certain. "Couldn't the term blood symbolize something else?"

Unless the answer was right in front of them. Before he could be stopped, Naudar reached down and picked up a gold coin, examining its sanded surface.

Hama was looking over the urns himself in deep thought. Humility - simplicity - beauty. The opposite to Belatsunat's arrogance, frivolity, and vanity. Perhaps what Araia wanted was the inverse of blood, the opposite of blood, but what could the opposite of blood be

He turned to Naudar to ask a question and seeing him pick up a coin, he tried to stop him, but it was too late. He grit his teeth, hands pressed together in front of him.

"Naudar, the gold is a distraction, I think," Hama said, waiting for axes to fall out of the ceiling or cobras to come slithering from hidden holes in the walls. "Are there other words that could mean blood in Sumerian? The way we might say 'lifeblood of Egypt', and we mean the water of the Nile?"

Naudar perked up at once. "Passion! Or love. Not that they knew the best way to show it, but a deep enough love for another, and they would consider themselves to be of the same blood."

"Blood of my blood! Like family, or a spouse. So replace instead 'Blood for life' with 'Love for life' or 'Passion' for life," Hama stated. "But that does lead to the question… how do you measure out passion?"
Paralysis by Analysis​

"See here: the Sumerian text for 'bled'. Limited though they were linguistically, the Sumerians equated this form of bleed with the term 'menses', or– a woman's cycle."

Naudar's observation had not drawn her attention at the time, the Dimeria being a thing of wonder to her, to hold fast her mind against the temptation of thinking. Too eagerly, Razin had sought to appease her own curiosity; not necessarily for the worse, but perhaps she should have been paying more attention.

The memory stirred in her mind now, even as her father's prize pupil prattled on about riddles and blood sacrifices or such nonsense.

Blood of my blood.

Brow furrowed in focused mental effort, Razin seized a small, sharp stone from the floor in her free hand and approached one of the pitchers.

Pan was having less success with determining a course of action. Indeed, he was barely giving such any consideration at all; that was Mel's job, and any 'heavy lifting' he might attempt in that arena would likely be detrimental.

He was, nonetheless, curious, and he watched the goings-on intently.

"'Blood is life, yes?" Razin's question echoed through the room. She stood now at the pitcher, sharp stone edge to her palm. "'Blood for life'? And Naudar's Sumerians favored the woman's cycle, yes? Well, that particular venue is not an option at the moment. Yet we can still access my blood easy enough. 'Blood of my blood'."

Stone bit palm, and three scarlet drops fell from flesh to container unceremoniously.
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Mohammid Ibn'Sina
The doctor was still going through possibilities for the puzzle as he paced before the platform with its two different jugs. They had two very different goddesses here, diametric opposites. The goddess of vanity, excess, and pain. The goddess of humility, simplicity, and simple pleasures. They had two jugs, the duality of the goddesses perhaps, which meant—

Before he could stop her, Razin was already making her way to the pedestals and had found a suitable sharp stone, damn her. She was forever finding the sharpest object in the room it seemed. Hama made a small noise of caution as she sliced her hand and dripped blood into the urn, snatching her hand back.

"Razin—! Ah, the die is cast, we must play our hand now," Hama huffed, holding Razin's wrist while the other hand glowed a soft gold and suffused the wound with a healing warmth. "You're lucky you have me here! What if you caught an infection? That rock is hardly a scalpel."

But there were two urns… they had to balance.

Hama sighed and pulled out a canteen. Water — the necessity of all life, the baptismal to wash all clean, more precious even than gold, silver, gems. Eying what Razin had put into the first urn, he tried to match the amount that was in its twin.
Going to Hell in a Handbasket
Collab with @Applo @Kuno @MiharuAya

The moment that the frail old lady came into view, Errol's hesitant steps came to a pause. His eyes narrowed in the dim light, examining the stranger up and down with a scrutinizing look. Errol's feathers ruffled, feeling on edge. Even though she didn't look like much, the metallic smell of blood exuding from her gave away something more sinister.

As her words registered in his mind, his hand went to grip the dagger hidden under his cloak. "The sacrifice?" He questioned, glancing toward Asra with a wary expression. Errol remembered the warning about cult members and decided to play it safe, "Right, we're so glad that we made it on time." He answered, unsure what she would do if she found out they were there for ulterior reasons.

Following a few paces behind, Asra walked in incredulous silence. She had been about to protest the old woman's obvious mistake when Errol had claimed that she was in fact correct. Now they were following the elderly matron instead of doing what Agha Al-Farsi had asked and look for his daughter. Why the Bird Aspect had agreed to do so was beyond the Puntling. It would take a brisk walk to outrun this strange inhabitant of the temple and her basket of horrors.

While the pair followed after the elderly woman, Errol caught a glimpse of Asra's puzzled expression. Although he could only hope that his ploy would work out, he still preferred to bet on the side of the dangerous cult members. Rather than anger them. After all, if they were holding a ceremony, there was likely more of them than the two of them could handle.

As they continued through the halls, Errol glanced around for any sign of the other group. Eventually, he cleared his throat, "So, those other's you mentioned…are they a part of your group? Did you happen to see where they went? Perhaps we should go find them so that they don't miss the sacrifice." He spoke calmly, putting on a faked tone of concern.

"I've got no clue where those other people went. Maybe my eyes were playing tricks on me."

The closer they got, the older the woman appeared. She was rail thin and withered with no shortage of wrinkles cracking her thin skin. Should a breeze come down the hall, and the old lady would surely be picked up and carried off by it.

And yet her grip on the bleeding basket and knife was strong. She shuffled along in quick, tiny little steps down the hall.

"Most people go down below," She continued cheerily. "Me? I've been there enough times. Gets old, ya know. I keep to the temple, and keep to the sacrifices…"

She glanced over her shoulder at them with beady eyes.

"My, you both are so young. What's your names?"

"I am Asra… from Punt."
Keeping level with the old lady was difficult for Asra. Taking steps small and slow enough so that she didn't stroll right past their unsettling guide felt like she was all but standing still.

"If you do not mind telling, What is down below? We have never seen this place before."

That question seemed safe to the puntlings mind. It wasn't a lie and perhaps it would reveal where Agha Al-Farsi's daughter and the rest of their companions had gone. The fact that she had given her name without hesitation seemed not to weigh on Asra's mind at all.

"It's just some old relics," the old woman scoffed. "Trash from another era, my dears. Silly baubles that people die over and I haven't the faintest clue why."

Absentmindedly, she wiped the blade of the bloody knife clean on her tunic. She smiled toothily.

"What's most important here is our worship. You understand?"

They had come to another room. Curiously, it was the first door they'd encountered in the entirety of the temple. It was new; the dark, smooth finish of the wooden door stood in stark contrast to the aged brick about it, and the metal ring to pull the door open was freshly polished, shining in the torchlight.

The old woman put her hand to the ring, then stopped.

"What about you, feather boy? Got a name?"

"I'm Errol," The aspect answered hesitantly. Although he wasn't entirely sure if it was safe to give his real name, he figured that since Asra had done so, he might as well follow suit. It wasn't like he felt especially threatened by the woman. Even with the knife, her frail body would make it easy to dodge any sort of attack.

As he peered at the door, Errol felt an ominous feeling grow inside of him. Something instinctual told him that this lady was leading them toward something bad. "Where does this door lead to?" He asked, feeling his feet become heavy with dread, refusing to advance any further.

"Where else?"

Coyness was not becoming of her, and neither was guile. With no more flair for the dramatic, the old woman pulled the door open.

The room before them had been consumed by vegetation. The parading march of sand and stone ended rudely at the cluster of vines, bushes, and marigolds that seemed to sprout from every crack, crook, and cranny in the worn bricks. Torches had been wedged in the remaining spaces free of the pocket jungle. In the center followed the tradition of a water cistern, and back behind it was a stone table covered in cushions.

A man was laid out on it upon a pillow, fast asleep. A young goat Aspect boy with familiar soft features, his chest rising and falling in gentle, peaceful breaths; flowers had been placed all around his body.

It was Emry.

"It's time."

The old woman turned her head, smiling.

"And you call me Bel."

"So? What happens if they get it wrong?"

"They won't."

"But what if they do?"

"They won't."

Tinka raised a brow but said nothing more. It was rare to meet a man with so much unbridled confidence who wasn't also an arrogant prick, but he was quickly learning that his new companion was no ordinary fellow.

The mustachioed one did all the talking. Shortly after sitting by the fire pit, he'd introduced his more stoic companion as Ayaz, a tall Nubian male, but had failed to properly introduce himself. He was apparently too caught up in the moment. Tinka was reminded of a tig-a-mog from home: a force of nature nearly impossible to stop once it caught momentum.

"But let's say they–someone else did fail," Tinka persisted. There was a crackle and pop of his kebab over the bonfire, and he turned the spoke with his calloused hand. "Say…say this puzzle of yours was answered wrong. What happens?"

"Ah, well…" The man scratched his chin, grimacing. "Well. It wouldn't be pretty, that's for sure. I'm not quite sure about the specifics but given the results of Ananias' other puzzles…

"Well. I hope they like surprises."


Blood for blood. Water for life.

It just so happened that Hama and Habbas were kinsmen both in body and mind. The older Arabian came to the same conclusion; his blade drew across his own palm over one pitcher while he carefully instructed Alim to pour water into the other pitcher, an equal amount only. Under the weight, the urns pressed ever so slightly into the pressure plates beneath. The carved worshippers in poses of obeisance on the wall watched in stony reproach. The seconds drew out, long and silent, as they waited for the temple's reply.

"What are you doing?" Naudar asked suddenly.

Kaveh was on the ground. Sitting, naturally; nevertheless, he had sat down rather suddenly and now busied himself with unlacing his boots. The right one came off with a grunt and a hard tug. Then came the left one, and under Naudar's incredulous stare, he tied the strings of both boots together and slung them about his neck like some sort of gaudy necklace. The scholar stepped towards him, gawking.


He paused as something squelched under his shoe. Startled, he looked down.

The sand was wet.

It came from every crack and every fissure between the tiles and bricks of the walls. Water was trickling, slow at first, but gradually picking up speed. It sprayed over the gold and onto the legs of the separate parties. At the rate it was going, they would have less than five minutes before the room would be completely submerged, and no avenue of escape had yet been made available. The skulls among the coins grew glossy like perspiring skin.

The simple goddess Araia accepted everything but failure.


Here's a giant hint since y'all will die soon: LOOK AT THE WALLS. Don't you think they're...worthy of imitation? :^)

Out of the Frying Pan
with @Kuno and @Red Thunder

Hama crossed his fingers as he waited for some response from the temple. Perhaps they had guessed correctly. Perhaps it was surely that simple. Maybe their interest in Sumerian and obscure meanings might net them this one reprieve —

No chance at all. The walls began to spill water, and Hama groaned with exaggerated ire, hands balled into fists at the sky in frustration. It took monumental effort not to stare at Razin with elephantine annoyance, as truly it wasn't her fault— mostly.


Now they were on a time table. He looked around the room. Who could he turn to for information on Araia? She was an obscure goddess so the ones who would know her best would be—

His eyes finally fell on the statues of worshippers lining the walls, penitents that had pointed this way to start.

The frustration radiating off Hama like so much heat from the Sun above was difficult to miss, and Razin was for once not obtuse about it. At the change in circumstance, she had taken a step back, panic in her eye for the first time in years. Her mind returned to the flash of blades in the sand; that same fear returned. And to compound it, she had at the least endangered her cousin, dear to her indeed in spite of the irritations, as well as the others present. Indeed, it was likely her own fate awaited Habbas as well. Involuntarily, Razin's eye flicked toward her staff as it leaned against the wall, widening in consideration.

No. No, there had to be a logical way out. They'd been brought down here, yes? If the goddess should have wanted their deaths, why the trouble of guiding them below? For surely that's how they had come to be here.

Her knees buckled, whether from intention or no, and the water splashed as she fell bodily into it and into a humbled position.

"You had best take care of Habbas, yes?" she murmured with some small hesitation, staring at the ceiling.

The splash of water was accompanied by a small gasp from her left.

"Wh-What are you doing?"

Naudar had shrunk into himself against the walls in spite of the water pouring out at his feet. The young scholar's adventurous spirit was nowhere to be found in the face of certain death.

Nor were his wits.

"We have to find a way out!" Naudar exclaimed, stumbling forward on the shifting sands.

"Without some means of solving the puzzle, there isn't a way out," Hama stated, as he glanced back and forth between Razin and the worshipful statues. "Razin may have the right idea. And no, I shall not take care of Habbas— that's your curse, so get used to it."

Hama quickly got to his knees beside Razin.

"Araia wants the opposite of Belatsunat. Perhaps all she asks is humility and worship," Hama posited. "Now, get over here. No, get— come here."

Hama sloshed over to Naudar and yanked him from the wall, gesturing he get on his knees in front of the two urns. He took a deep breath, lifting his hands and muttering a guilty prayer to Allah that the kneeling was… purely out of duress.

"That was to the goddess, dear cousin. I expect her to care for dear Abba given her- expectations of us here."

As Hama set Naudar down, Razin cuffed her father's prodigy on the back of the head gently.

"Regain your composure. Your teacher would be ashamed."

Behind them, Pan stopped prying at the wall that had been their exit. As the trap had been sprung, he'd immediately broken for the entry with all speed, but to no avail. The ends of his fingers were raw from pulling at the stone, and the butt of his spear was splintered.

"Prostration?" He looked at the trio kneeling before the jars, head cocked. There was no mockery in his voice, but there was certainly no surety, either. "This is the answer? It seems- doubtful."

Mel, who had chosen to try and climb the statues instead to get above the water, looked on with equally dubious consideration. She had not even bothered to chime in, deciding learned men could figure this out— evidently, they couldn't.

"Do we… all have to do it?" Mel asked.

Hama glared, withering, at the two satyrs, and Mel put her hands up, clip-clopping down off her safe spot into the water, slogging to come kneel beside them.

"A simple 'yes' would suffice, Sage." Pan in turn joined his sister, kneeling into the rising tide. His weapon remained in his hand, ready against mischief.

The water level rose steadily. It slapped against Naudar's lower back, as cold and unforgiving as the wicked Queen Belatsunat herself. He shivered a bit, throwing a look around.

There was the slosh of water beside him. Kaveh, the guide, took the penitent worship pose with ease. In spite of his doubts still, Naudar finally folded himself into the same position. His hands flattened, palm going heavensward.

Key-Ong, a woman's velveteen voice whispered in their ears, and Naudar froze. To love.

In the blink of an eye, the water streaming into the room began to pour forth with momentous force, bursting through the ancient tiles to the point of blasting their very foundations. On the wall where the poem sat etched in stone, the bricks began to fall into the room's growing pool. Brick by brick, stone by stone, the wall barring them in gave way.

"There!" Naudar cried. It was all he could do but point. Holding the worship pose was impossible now, as the water now lapped at their chins, threatening to overtake them.

His finger marked the wall beyond them. It had partially given way to reveal some sort of space beyond; the blinding light of the sun beckoned from behind what remained of the ancient bricks. A few good pulls, and the wall should give way.

Pan was on it in a moment, having followed both sound of rock and gesture of scribe. With the strength of experience and desperation, he began tearing at the stones that barred their way to daylight. Water began to trickle then gush from their would-be tomb, and the warrior paused but a moment to toss his weapon through before continuing on.

"Come!" he bellowed. "I will help you through."

Razin initially ignored him. Her brow was furrowed, as if she were thinking, or perhaps striving to lock a memory. Suddenly, she too sprang up, though she began swimming rather for her staff than for the opening. As the pull of the existing water became stronger, her strokes became more desperate. Lithe though she was, Razin was not particularly strong.

"No!" The staff was lodged against the bricks near their former entrance, and the flow of the water had not loosened it. Her cries began to be sobs. "No! Help me!"

Hama turned at the sound of his cousin in distress as he helped Mel stand to her feet, herself halting at the shout. Seeing that Razin was going the wrong direction, Hama gestured for Mel to continue with her brother as he fought the current towards her. Perplexed at her sudden panic, as if something about their situation had loosed some madness from her, Mohamid grabbed a hold of her wrist to drag her back the other way.

"Razin, leave it! You'll drown!" he shouted, grabbing her around the waist and lifting her bodily, paradoxically eased by the water rushing past them with such force that he had to plant his feet or be knocked over. Coins smacked into his legs, berating him as the titanic flow continued.

She was inconsolable. Fiercely, she struggled, fighting her cousin as much as she fought the tide. Yet her strength was no match for his, and Razin was drawn away, pounding at his arms as she was. Pan helped them through, last to escape the deluge.

"Fool girl," he muttered.

Unnoticed behind him, a more foolish effort was in play.

With the dam into the next room broken, the unnatural tide of water surged through, pushing and fighting with a vicious current past the bodies that blocked it. Still, the water continued to flow into the room behind them from an unknown source, climbing in height even as the party made their way onto level ground.

Steps greeted them. Kaveh led the way, trudging forth from the water into dry ground and blinking in the sudden light. The space was narrow, but the song of birds and the rustling of the wind could be heard; they found themselves in a sudden atrium, with the very sun shining upon the crowns of their heads. The glyphs on the walls had changed; the bowed worshippers were gone, replaced instead by Araia's image alone. And at the top of the stairs–

A massive splash behind them sounded. Naudar burst from the now submerged offering room, climbing out of the water and onto the steps. He shook his head like a dog.

"Gods. I thought I was stuck."

Behind him, a staff trailed in the water, pushed along gently as if by someone's hand.

Pan turned at Naudar's comment.

"Ah. Apologies, uh- you. I thought everyone was out." Stooping to retrieve his spear, he gave his legs and hair a good scrubbing, driving as much water out as he might. "That sudden bath concluded, now what? The stairs?"

Razin's struggling had finally paid off, and she found herself impacting the wet ground with a grunt. Her sobs had turned to fury, and she sprang up, sputtering through water and tears and hot wrath.

"Muhammad!" she shrieked, whirling on her poor cousin. "You idiotic, blithering, pig-headed, stupid wretch! How could you withhold me from-!"

A gentle, wood thunk was quite clear amidst her screaming, and the open hand she had raised against Hama halted mid-strike. She turned her head, and her expression turned to wild relief.

"Oh!" Razin rushed over, raising the staff from where the water had deposited it. Caressing it, she sighed. Behind her, Naudar looked away, grimacing as he pulled a splinter out of his finger.

Hama's brow furrowed darkly watching Razin race for the piece of wood, still reeling from being verbally accosted by his cousin. He licked his lips slowly, rubbing his cheeks with obvious worry as he watched her inspect and cradle the staff like it were her own child. He huffed softly, shaking the water from his hair, a hint of hurt on his face.

"We should keep moving," he suggested softly to the group, after doing a quick head count.

"Trouble in paradise," Melania murmured under her breath to Pan as she eyed Razin herself. She patted his shoulder fondly, following behind Hama in the awkward silence that always seemed to rush in after a fight.

Pan grunted, his expression having darkened a touch. This was precisely why he hated working with others; Mel was reliable, predictable. Others were an unknown, and a liability. Damn their financier for pairing them with these buffoons. Clicking his teeth, he followed Mel.
The mind is an amazing thing. It constantly hums away like a finely balanced spinning wheel belonging to the most skilled and productive of artisans. Even the most average of specimens near constantly performs a list of tasks so great it would take a small army of scribes weeks of fruitful work to catalog them all. An inventor would burn his tools and shuffle home decrying himself a fraud with every miserable step if asked to design a device that could do the fraction of the labor performed by the mind. In all the mind is a fearsome thing. And yet, it is also an easy thing to stump. All it takes is for a few facts to be rearranged.

As Asra followed Bel into the strange vegetation infested room her lips moved as much as her legs, but no sound came out. The woman had been talking about sacrifices, that it was time. Now the distinctive shape of Emry was laid out in front of her. The puntling's mind tried to follow the facts like directions but had found itself lost in a maze of what had to be confused nonsense, unable to progress and barely able to remember how it had arrived there. It cried out for understanding.

"Khânum Bel, please stop will you."

Asra paused near the still body of her traveling companion, one hand reaching out towards Errol to usher them too to a stop.

"You have spoken much but said little that I understand. I humbly ask if you could explain what you mean by it is time and why one of our companions is sleeping in this strange chamber of yours. Our employer tasked us with an important job and I fear that we are getting further from it with each step we take behind you."​
Out of Their Depth
starring @Kuno and @Kabboom

Why can't it just be water in the pitcher? Why can't things just obey the rules of reality sometimes? In Alim's mind, this shouldn't be happening. In Alim's mind, the pitchers should've went down ever so slightly, triggering some complicated but logical contraption to open another hidden door, or a reasonably sized chamber of gold coins or (more boringly and realistically) archaic dusty documents that his adventuring companions will no doubt pore over like they were gold. That kind of mechanism - though unimaginative and boring - made sense to him, given his experience spelunking in ruins that didn't welcome him, and in homes that no longer welcomed him. His brain, shaped by his life full of mundane evil and pragmatic manipulation, could not conceive any other way.

Imagine his surprise when water came up through the tiles and soaked his boots.

"Habbas! Habbas, what is going on?" The question came out of his mouth freely, flowing like the water beneath his feet, as he looked around to the only other person in this room who might know what's going on.

"What's going on is we were wrong," Habbas grimaced. Because by Allah, of course they were. When did anything ever go right with that madman Ananias?

Right. The puzzle – they still had a chance to solve it. The water flowed freely from the floor and the walls, yes, but at the rate of its flow, there was ample time before they had to worry about being submerged. Araia was giving them another chance.

He stayed, rooted as a tree, and water, sand, and gold coins alike washed over his feet first, and then his ankles. He stared intently at the puzzle. They had tried gold, they had tried blood…now what? What could Araia possibly want?

While Habbas held intelligent thoughts, and went down a list of things they tried, Alim's brain was going through a less intelligent list. He wondered if the way back was shut, and lo it was. He wondered if he could punch through it - though not wishing to break both his hands, he thought not. He wondered if he'd shat himself at the thought of him dying to a water room - and wondered if Habbas would mind him pooping himself, if he was also to join Alim in death. His mind eventually snapped out of the 'death' route, favoring more practical things.

Not paying heed to the surroundings, Alim looked down. There had to be some mechanism down there, perhaps a plate to trigger to stop the water, or some sort of central grate the water's coming from that they could block. Something. He looked down, but found naught. It didn't help that water was still coming up, soaking his shoes and making Alim's footsteps squeak.

"Quick, Habbas! Help me look! There's gotta be… be something we could block!"

Truly, Habbas was as immovable as the statues around them. Indeed, that's where his focus was now geared; he stared, almost mesmerized, at the glyphs in their poses on the walls, his eyes boring holes into their carved heads.

For Araia a measured pay…

Measured pay…measured pay…

It came to him in the lap of water against his knee.

"Alim! Come over here!" Habbas ordered with urgency. He began to kneel in the water, shivering at the frigid temperature. "The glyphs on the walls. We need to mimic the worship poses!"

Alim's brain once again failed to understand this. "What??" He stared back at Habbas, voice raised higher than usual.

"Kneel beside me! It's alright," He assured the other man, his hand stretching out to beckon towards him.

Alim glanced at the water flowing up to his thighs, and trudged over with great effort, swinging his hips and upper torso to reach his legs further with every step. He may not understand the mechanisms of this trap, but Habbas is the one with knowledge here, not him. And if Habbas is wrong, at least the fault lies not in Alim, and that is good enough.

On the way, he steps on a sizeable block of coins that easily give way under the buoyancy of water, and he trips. Re-emerging from the water with a soaked turban and a less dignified scowl on his face, he got to Habbas' side. Getting into the prostrating pose - shivering when his nethers went below the water - Alim looked over to the wiser of the two foolish adventurers. "What now?"

"Hold that pose."

Habbas looked only into the water. Was there a chance he could be wrong? Possibly. But was it better to try it this way rather than to look for an impossible escape? Yes…maybe. Probably. Only time would render his doubts as a fatal mistake or not.

Coincidentally, Araia was quick to review their penance.

The water that had so far been merely a petering stream now burst forth from every fissure and crack in the walls and ceilings with tremendous force. It surged at their backs, napes, and chests; breaking the pose instantly, Habbas lurched to the side, startled to find the water having risen to their armpits. He blinked the onslaught of water from out of his eyes.

"Do you see anything?" He yelled over the rushing water.

Alim was too busy choking on water to reply. He too had broken his pose, but being of smaller stature than Habbas meant the water actually managed to push him forward, dipping his head below the water for a second time. Emerging upright and coughing profusely, Alim could barely hack out a reply.

"It's still rising! We're doomed!"

Habbas looked at him in alarm. "Can you swim?"

Alim's head going underwater a third time answered that. Habbas seized the young man at once, hoisting him by the arms up out of the water as his feet kicked furiously for the both of them.

"It's alright, just kick your feet and keep your head up–look there!"

Ahead of them, where the poem was written on the wall, the water gushing forth had managed to pry a few bricks loose into the growing indoor pool; a bright light emerged from the space beyond. Grimacing, Habbas paddled them forward, bringing them up against the crumbling wall.

"Let's pull this loose. Grab onto the bricks and just pull."

Alim was still coughing up water, more focused on not sinking than on listening for specific words. Never in his days had he been in this much water; he knew of the sea, of course, but he never went into its blue depths. Man was not meant for the roiling waters, or the turbulent skies. Man was not meant for much, other than crushing dreams and destroying life. Or maybe that was just Alim.

Alim held onto the loose bricks that Habbas guided him toward, legs kicking wildly and incorrectly; any sailor or seaman looking down from heaven - or more likely up from hell, where seafarers belong - would die laughing at his non-existent form and technique. His arms held onto the bricks, more focused on tethering him to the surface than to yanking them like calm Habbas. Falling prey to gravity and a lapse in his kicks, Alim's body went under the water, and brought a brick with it. He went up for another brick, to hold him afloat while he took deep heaves. And so, brick by brick, Alim aided Habbas.

The last brick Alim grabbed was the key to the foundation of the wall. The rest of the bricks collapsed under the monstrous pressure, and at last their way was made clear. Too soon, they came into the next room. There was barely enough time to register the set of stairs before the pressure of the water slammed them forward against the steps, crashing in one great wave into the sunlight space. Habbas, still instinctively holding onto Alim against the pull of the water, dragged the man with him as he crawled up the stairs, not stepping until they reached the top.

Curse that puzzle.

Habbas laid on the dusty floor awhile, catching his breath. "Are you alright?" He finally managed. Alim, coughing and inhaling at the same time - which led to more coughing - could only raise a defeated thumbs-up in response. The hand soon fell back down to the ground, as the sopping wet Alim tries and fails to get directly onto his feet. He instead settles for getting up onto his knees, which he barely manages.

"Where are we?" Alim managed to weakly cough that out, not really looking with his eyes.

"Well we're-" Habbas grimaced as he twisted to look behind them. A sunlit corridor stretched beyond, coming to a stop to what looked like a courtyard.

Back outside?

His hand went to his right ankle. "We've come full circle. I think our prize is just ahead," He went on. Brows furrowing, he grimaced as he rolled his foot about in search of a sprain. There was pain, yes–but no sprain or broken bones. That was fine. He could live with a bruise.

He rose tentatively, grimacing still. Yes, there were plenty more bruises to be had. Wordlessly, he extended a hand to Alim.

Alim's hands were preoccupied, his coughs having subsided with the lack of water going into them. He was in the middle of wringing out his turban to at least have one item of clothing not clinging to his skin with moisture. But alas, the adventure was not over, and the half-wet turban went back on his scalp, as he took Habbas' hand and stood up. The corridor was touched by the light, but Alim's eyes first scoured the darkness. A high-contrast environment like this was a prime candidate for ambushes, like Headmen with bows at the ready. Though given the… situation he just escaped, Alim thought he'd rather look out for magical mechanisms throwing lightning at him or some other crazy notion.

Satisfied that they were in the clear, his posture straightened, though it went back down to a hunched ready stance the moment he heard faint, distant noises. He raised a hand to shush Habbas–

No, that is just Razin. So they survived as well. Unfortunately.

"I can hear the others. We should see if they are unharmed. I'll go first." Alim's squeaky footsteps echoed down the corridor, leading Habbas towards the rest of the adventuring party.
Errol Demir
Interactions: Asra @Applo Bel @Kuno

As the Aspect stepped into the room, the smell of the fresh foliage billowed past his nose. The room was full of vines and various types of vegetation, filling every inch of the outer edge of the room. Errol was surprised to find such a place inside an ancient temple, he figured that anything inside would have long since perished.

When his eyes met with the unconscious form of Emry, the Aspect tensed. He glanced back toward Bel with a suspicious expression. Although his instinct urged him to check on their comrade, he followed Asra's lead. Errol paused next to Asra, his hand subtly slipping under his robe to hover above his dagger.

"Yes, please explain. And enough of your vague euphemism." Errol added, warily glancing around the room. "What did you do to our companion?" He gestured down at the sleeping Emry.

Eyes on the Prize

Both of the parties' separate stairwells and hallways converged at a single point. They came out on opposite sides within a small inner courtyard overgrown with shrubbery and flowers clinging to stones. Habbas hurried out after Alim, the familiar sound of Razin's voice quickening the urgency of his steps.

He did not recognize the balding man who stepped from the shadowed hallway first. His hand went quickly to his sword at the sight of Kaveh--until Hama, and then Razin soon emerged, followed by a sullen looking Naudar. Habbas' shoulders sagged in relief.

Being the closest to him, Habbas went to Hama at once. "Is everyone alright?"

Hama nodded with a sigh, glancing back to the group for a moment. His eyes narrowed upon Razin for longer than the others.

"Unfortunately, Emry must have got lost in the commotion. And there is… one other thing," Hama said, gesturing for Habbas to draw closer, whispering in his ear. The older man frowned, listening intently. Then his eyes flicked to Razin, holding her pale form with a sudden intensity. Habbas made to say something, but he was rendered silent by the new appearances of two more strangers: Pan and Mel. Catching his cousin's look, Hama also gestured to their three newcomers, explaining that their employer had sent additional reinforcements, who knew him by name. The old man sighed. Phineas - unconventional to the bitter end.

"Right. Well - where are Asra and Errol? I sent them to join your group."

"We haven't seen them." Naudar, still cradling his right hand, had marched to Habbas' side. "Teacher, you should have seen the puzzle room. It was just like the texts-"

"Yes, Alim and I were in a puzzle room of our own," Habbas cut in roughly, distracted. Allah above - first Emry, now Errol and Asra were missing. And Razin...his eyes went to her again, a latent anger in them.

The guide identified as Kaveh, meanwhile, had wandered away once more. A single archway framed the way out of their small courtyard; through it, the river that abutted the Dimetria and their riverside camp was in clear view. This was the way out of the temple once and for all. But what about their prize?

While the others talked, Kaveh began to search through bushes and stones, looking for the next piece of the Ananias Square.


Bel put her hand basket down on the floor besides the table where Emry was laid. A quick peek would reveal its boon: the beheaded body of a chicken. The old woman wiped the chicken's blood off on her tattered tunic as she'd done thousands of times before and placed the knife besides Emry. Her free hand pushed a hair away from the sleeping boys eyes.

The silence drew out uncomfortably. Bel didn't turn to look at them, but her back was relaxed, her shoulders low.

"When you get to be my age, you spend a lot of time thinking about the choices you've made in your life...and your regrets. Serving Araia offers clarity, perspective, and redemption. When you speak, she answers. So I've been here long enough to know what she wants and what I want.

"But oh, when you're young," Bel went on with a sigh, finally turning to face Asra and Errol. With the shadows dancing over her many wrinkles, she grew impossibly older by the second. "The world is truly yours. Time is yours...until it runs out."

Her fingers rattled against the stone tabletop. One of the flowers fell from the table, and she frowned, placing it once more by Emry's feet.

"Araia brought the boy to me. I simply found him and prepared him for a sacrifice, as she would like. But I can't do a thing unless it's voluntarily offered. That's where you two come in." She looked at them with a small, sad smile. "Money and riches mean nothing to me anymore. What I want is the youth I squandered so many years ago. I'm old, older than I have any right to be. And I want to be young again, even if it's just for a day."

She smiled fully now, revealing stained, crooked teeth.

"Give me a year of your youth, and I promise your reward will make up for it tenfold. Or--"

She gestured towards Emry's still, resting form.

"Offer me his instead."

Errol Demir

Interactions: Bel @Kuno
Mentions: Asra @Applo

In the quiet of the darkened room, Errol was growing impatient with the elderly lady. It was obvious by her silence that she wasn't interested in answering their questions. He had hoped that following her would lead them to something useful, but it seems it was all just a waste of time. Though, at least they managed to locate Emry.

The aspect crossed his arms, sighing in irritation as he watched her wipe her bloodied hands on her clothes. But, despite his urge to argue, he too held his tongue. The gory contents of the woman's basket weren't lost on him and stood as a stark reminder that she wasn't as harmless as she appeared.

When she began to speak again, it seemed that she was continuing to talk in riddles. Errol listened quietly, his lips forming a tight line on his face. His listless mind wondered if there was a point to all of her verbal waxing about her age. Though, as the lights shimmered and danced across her face, it appeared as if she was growing older by the second. But, surely this must be a trick of the light.

The moment that the lady brought up money and riches, Errol became far more attentive to her words. His feathered ears perked, though his eyes gazed at her skeptically. The deal that she laid out was simple. A year of his life for a substantial reward. It was an easy decision for someone like Errol, who would do anything to earn money for his clan. However, he wasn't so trusting, or naive to believe such a fairytale so easily.

"How do we know you're telling the truth?" Errol asked skeptically, walking towards the woman. "If I give you a year of my life, how do I know you won't take more? Or that this isn't some kind of trick?" His brows furrowed as if trying to decipher if she was telling the truth.
"I will give you neither."

Taking a step towards the unconscious form of Emry, Asra folded her arms as she tried to gently position herself between Bel and the unconscious aspect. Bewilderment still ruled the muscles of her face, but now an uprising of something akin to anger had begun to usurp the old ruler.

"I do not want… whatever it is you have you think is as valuable as time, and…"

Taking another small step, Asra bullied her way a little further between the strange old woman and the altar.

"our friend is not ours to give, or you or your strange god's to take."

The Puntlings gaze flicked towards Errol. The memory of the conversation in the corridors had been enough for Asra to bite back her first reaction to the bird aspects willingness to make a deal with Bel. Personally the Puntling could think of nothing valuable enough to trade for a commodity that could never be regained and already felt like it was slipping through her fingers like the oceans waves. Perhaps though time had a different value to someone with Errol's past?

"Think carefully about this deal little one."

A gentle smile flitted across the puntling's face as she once more shifted, this time getting so close to the altar that the backs of her legs grazed against the decorative flowers laid down by the old woman.

Mohamed Ibn'Sina was many things, but he certainly did not consider himself stupid. As they walked to the courtyard, seeing the way out, he slowed as he frowned and looked back over his shoulder. They had finished the first of the Square's challenges, but there was no follow-up reward.

They were missing something.

"Is everybody alright? I forgot to ask," Hama said, looking back to the rest of their party.

Melania put her hands up and shrugged her shoulders.

"I believe I'm fine, besides being soaked to the skin," she sighed, squeezing out her chiton.

Hama put his hands up and turned around as she practically rolled it up to the bust. He instead turned his eyes to Naudar.

"What about you?"


It was impossible to hide how carefully the young man cradled his right hand against his chest like an injured bird. Still, Naudar was stubborn.

"I hurt my hand against the bricks but it should be fine. Just a bruise."

"Are you sure?" Habbas interjected. Immediately, Naudar straightened, clearing his throat.

"Yes, teacher. Besides–where's the square? I thought it would be here somewhere."

"Oh, it will be. We must merely apply ourselves. Surely the great goddess would not renege after we suffered both indignation and a wetting?

"Come, Naudar!" Razin flashed him a grin. His downcast expression had not escaped her notice, and she nudged him as she circled the courtyard. "A wetting never hurt anyone, save they were made of sugar. And you are far too sour for that."

Staff in hand, and her grip about it iron, Razin continued a leisurely path, the weight of melancholy not completely dispelled. She paused, leaning against a wall, her eyes closed against the movement of air on her face again. Interesting as the Temple had been, it was good to be back in on the world instead of within it.

Somehow, in spite of the wetting, Razin was somewhat more dry than her companions. Pan, particularly, was still soaked to the fur, and his perpetually sour expression did nothing to contradict his unintentional impression of a drowned rat.

"Mm. No injuries." He gave Habbas a look. "You are employed by Phineas, as well?"

"Something like that. He tasked me with leading the expedition in his stead." Though from the looks of things, Phineas was doing just as much leading from behind the scenes.

Hama, on the other hand, was less interested in Phineas' involvement than he was with Naudar's attempt to act brave. He bullied his way over to him with a look of exasperated disbelief, grabbing his wrist.

"A bruise on these soft hands surely feels like being near death," Hama jabbed. "These hands make your coin, Naudar— take care of them."

He turned it over to get a better look. Three of the fingers were an angry mottled purple, and the thumb was at an odd angle, ever so slightly pressed beyond its limit. Naudar winced, his face subdued in its displeasure.

"I don't need you to tell me that," the young scholar finally retorted. Still, he did not pull away. "Like I said. A bruise. My hand just got caught in the rocks."

"Evidently you do need me to, because otherwise you would not have let it happen," Hama singsonged as he hovered a palm over Naudar's hand, a soft glow emitting from his skin. "Because these are certainly broken or sprained."

Mel peered over his shoulder with interest.

"You're an Endowed?"

"Fortunately for all of you— yes."

"I thought it was obvious." The sharp reply came from Hama's elbow, where Razin peered at his handiwork. She looked on in vague disinterest. "How did this happen, Naudar? As dear cousin mentioned, you are so careful with your hands."

A few feet off, Pan scoffed openly.

"At needs, the will to live is greater than all else, and even those inclined to academics will forego niceties."

"Big words," she replied. "Did they hurt?"

Pan only scowled.

"Come," he said generally, looking between Habbas and Mel. "What is our next move?"


Habbas had moved to stand beside Kaveh, who in turn had taken up post in the center of the courtyard. There was uneven footing amongst the mix of tile and grass; what appeared to be the broken base of a narrow pillar had caught both men's eyes.

"Teacher, what is it?" Naudar demanded, eager for a distraction; there was a distinct reddening of his ears beneath his curls.

"What's left of an offering table," Habbas answered. With a grunt, he crouched down beside the hollow remnant, peering into its center as Kaveh followed his actions. "I see it. I think I can– No, my arm might not be long enough, or my hands too large."

"It sounds like something that may need a feminine touch," Melania stated cheekily, walking over to the hollowed table. The satyr — checking first there were no snakes making a nice home out of the thing — put her arm into the space to see if she couldn't fish the next piece out.

"I certainly hope someone else didn't figure this out before we did," Mel griped. "Getting soaked like that for nothing would put a crimp in my day."

Her quarry did not come without difficulty. As she fished for the prize, Habbas, newly unemployed, went to his wayward pupil again, his eyes on the boy's hands.

"You'll have to be more careful," He warned. "An injury like that–just what were you doing?"

Naudar looked away. "It was stuck."


"Her staff. It was stuck in the bricks."

Habbas stared, a slow realization setting his brooding eyes alight. He made to say something–

"Oh she's got it!" Naudar cried, and the man turned around at once.

Melania's efforts had been rewarded. Her fingers at last felt the strings of a tied satchel; as she drew back her arm, a muted glow spilled from the hollow pillar, until the glow burst across her features, the radiance of the Ananias' Square piece as sudden as it was fleeting. It flickered once, twice, like the beat of a heart before growing dormant, the glowing march of spiders around its border waxing away into black ink.

Pan's ear twitched. The exchange was not unheard, but he refrained from reaction. So. The scholar was more than a heedless child, reading what he did not know. There was courage, after all, beyond mere struggle to survive. And charity, too. He made mental note to give him some patient deference in the future.

For her part, the al Farsi daughter had followed Mel to the hole and now looked on in obvious wonder.

"It's so bright!" she said, her voice subdued. "For all the research, I'd not expected it to be so, for all my cynicism."

"Indeed, it is. I have rarely seen a text so bright. Do either of you speak Sumerian? This is cuneiform, and unfortunately not my forte," Mel sighed as she fingered the spider motif in its subdued glow. It was a gorgeous artifact, a piece of myth. Mel was almost loath to give it up as she handed it toward Habbas and Naudar, Hama holding his hands up to absolve himself of translating the work.

Habbas took it with practiced care. He brought it up before his eyes, and Naudar peered from around his shoulder. Young eyes beat the old in speed; the student glanced curiously at his teacher.

"Does that mean what I think it does?"

"If the word for 'sea' is this, then yes."

In the light of mythic wonder, Habbas was decidedly subdued, his frown belying the racing thoughts in his mind. He rolled the parchment up carefully, the glow bleeding through the tan paper as he stowed it in the pouch hanging off his belt. He looked over the assembled party there.

"Let's get back to camp and regroup. I want to make sure the others are safe before we continue. Then we can decipher this…puzzle."

"Abba, what about-" Razin's voice lost its earlier condescension. She'd expect Habbas to meet them with his full party in tow. But no, he was only accompanied by Alim. The others were not with them: Asra, Errol, and Emry. Her gut twisted; she had justified Emry's disappearance earlier as coincidence, easily and naturally corrected. He'd merely taken a wrong turning, she had supposed, and would have met with the other party. This was plainly not so. "Where are the others?"

"Somewhere in the temple," Habbas replied sharply. "Perhaps caught in yet another trap. But we will be heading back to camp before I return to find them."

His hawkish eyes found Razin's.

"There will be no more incidents today."

"Wha-!" Any modicum of humility that had presented itself burned away in the fire of her anger as words of self-defense and justification raced to her mind. As quickly, she stamped them out. This was a discussion for later. Closing her mouth, and feeling her face grow hot, she turned away.

Her father moved on. Naudar followed closely like a shadow, and soon Kaveh came with, the rest filing in as they departed the ancient stonework of the tunnel into the foliage of the Persian forest, the campgrounds of their ship just ahead.

A collab with @Red Thunder @Doctor Jax

"Yes indeed. Think very carefully."

Bel was still as a statue, her eyes tracking Asra's ascent to where she stood. The Puntling towered over her, and yet the old woman showed not the slightest hint of fear. She placed her gnarled hands at the table's edge.

"And I don't want a year off your life, child. Just your youth. You'll age a year faster than before; but what difference does that make to those with longevity?"

Her right hand stroked Emry's hair. The boy was still fast asleep, none the wiser.

"This boy here…he is younger than you, yes? Surely he won't miss it. And in return, I'll give you something worth its weight in gold."


In one fluid movement, Asra reached down and scooped Emry off of the table and away from the strange crone's touch, her eyes full of unfamiliar anger.

"You know my answer and I will not offer that that is not mine to give."

Cradled in the puntlings arms, the goat aspect looked almost like a babe held in a mother's embrace as Asra no took a step back towards the entrance of the chamber.

Bel did not even blink.

"And you?" Her aged eyes went Errol's way. "What is your final answer? You will never get this offer again in your life."

The more that the old hag explained the deal, the less appealing it became. Errol could accept losing a year or two, but to age faster? Nor was he interested in something worth its weight in gold. It was only the precious mineral that would buy comfort for his tribe, not some mysterious item.

Though, it was the sight of Asra's anger that truly caused Errol to second guess his intention, and in the end, he decided to simply refuse. "No. I've heard similar offers from street merchants. You should try someone more gullible next time," He replied pompously, as if he wasn't close to taking the hags deal moments before.

The old woman stared for a long time before her face cracked into a smile.


Bel picked one of the flowers from the table and brought it to her nose, inhaling deeply.

"If there's anything Araia hates more, it's greed," She went on, placing the flower back down. "It's how she got me stuck here. I suppose I should be grateful; this prison is the only reason I'm still alive and not cast to some hellscape from the gods."

Something was happening to her features. A trick of the light? No – her wrinkles, one by one, we're fading, the skin smoothing out into increasingly younger looking skin. At the crown of her head, gray bled into black, the limp strands of hair slowly furling up into luscious ivory curls.

It was as if the picture that Habbas had shown them of the evil queen Belatsunat had come to life and now stood before them, stretching leisurely into the air like a cat. Equally cat-like, the queen's eyes flicked towards them, and she grinned.

"It's a neat trick, don't you think? A win-win, if you will. Araia has a means to punish wanton greed intruding in her sanctum, and I…well. I get a break from the monotony of 1200 years in this dusty old temple."

Suddenly, the ground shook.

"Beautiful temple! Beautiful temple," Bel hastily amended, and the shaking abated.

Errol continued to inch towards the doorway, his steps casual but with a sense of urgency. The aspect was still in disbelief of the old womans transformation, and the revelation of her identity. He suddenly felt grateful that he had denied her offer, and now only wished to make a quick escape.

"Well, it was a pleasure meeting you, but we must meet up with our friends…" Errol announced, tugging on Asra to hurry her along.

For her part, Asra, feeling the tug on her clothes, shifted sideways half a step to put herself between Errol and the newly transformed crone as they both inched closer to the room's exit.

"So your god, she trapped you here to haunt their temple and kidnap strangers for fun?"

It wasn't much of a question, really more of a statement. But what she had just witnessed was more than the Puntling could fully comprehend and so her mind grasped for at what it could.

Bel laughed.

"You have a strange way of looking at things. A couple of centuries ago, and I might have said the same thing. No, I…I was a queen once. A wicked, wicked queen. The gods saw fit to punish me by imprisoning me here at this temple, forever to be a lowly caretaker. It humbled me. And that's what Araia is all about, isn't she? Beauty in pious humility."

Her steps toward them were slow and sure. She had plucked up her basket once more, though it's bloody contents had inexplicably vanished. She reached her hand into it as she approached them, her hands curling around something.

"Most people don't know that there are two treasures to be had from here. Your friends have gotten the other; now I'm giving you the last. Here."

Bel reached out her right hand and opened it. Inside was a whistle in the shape of a many ringed shell carved from ivory.

"Take it. When treachery arises of the Sea, use it."

Errol's suspicious gaze glanced between the whistle and the woman, unsure if her words could be trusted. Despite Bel's story, her true motives were unclear. "How do we know this isn't another trick?" The aspect asked, still hesitant to take the item.

"The gods are inclined to reward good behavior far more than they are to petty games. This is Araia we're talking about – not Anansi."

With a shifting of her grip on the unconscious Emry, Asra slowly reached out a hand. Where as before her transformation Bel's demeanor had seemed hungry, almost predatory, now the once queen reminded the puntling of the sea immediately after the death of a storm. Even so there was still a little hesitation in Asra's movements as her fingers closed around the ornate whistle. It was strange to trust a being who could change themself so completely.

"Your god has our thanks."

The hand that held the whistle gently withdrew from Bel, down and behind Asra where it's contents was revealed for Errol to take hold charge of as the Puntling once again began to shuffle for the rooms exit.

"You too. I hope you won't grow lonely in your duty."

Errol took the whistle from Asra, his eyes observing the ornate carving before slipping the item into his chest pocket. His feet continued towards the exit, giving the former queen a hesitant nod as a show of thanks.

"Oh don't worry about me, bird boy. Another millenia will fly by."

With a tinkling laugh, the woman formerly known as Belatsunat began to fade. In the blink of an eye, she was gone, only the lingering notes of her mirth trailing after the young aspect and his Puntling friend as they traveled once more through the twisting tunnels of Araia's temple.​

A Collab with @Kuno & @MiharuAya

And The Winner Is...

Under Ahura Mazda's reddening sky, a zephyr passed through the trees from the west, combing lightly over the tents and the silken robes and the sanded, ancient temple stones. The sun warmed their dampened clothes, and the rays of sunshine bathed their skin in their gods' mercy. The sense of peace was instinctual; a measure of calm, for the moment, had returned to them.

And so had the missing party members. They converged on the camp's center from opposing sides: Habbas and his followers from the west, and Asra and her young men from the temple's door. The scholar sighed in relief; he had not been looking forward to going back into that labyrinth of a temple to find them.

Yet just as quickly as the relief had come, it dissipated at the sight of Emry's unconscious form in Asra's arms.

"Asra? Errol? What happened?" He began. "Is Emry–"


From behind the towering flames of their main campfire, the large figure of Tinka lumbered towards them. Habbas' eyes darted between both Puntling and half-Puntling, before finally it settled on the latter. Tinka's expression was troubling enough to warrant interruption.

"What is it?"

"You have…guests."


Following soon after Tinka, two men approached their assembled group, one decidedly more stoic and familiar to Habbas than the other. The darker skinned man, he was–

"Ayaz," Habbas said in lieu of a greeting, his brows knitting together. "I was wondering what had happened to you. How on Earth did you…?"

He trailed off, looking towards the other man. The man, by Allah – he was practically staring a hole through Habbas' head, the intensity of his green eyes distinctly intimate. He was handsome, distractingly so, in a way not often seen beyond the city limits where the Persians squirreled away their best and brightest and prettiest. He had a finely cut hairstyle and an equally styled mustache to accompany, and it lifted in a warm, broad smile as he took steps towards Habbas.

"And who are you?" Habbas demanded, but the stranger kept walking, closer and closer, as if he hadn't heard a word the older man had said. He stopped a foot away from Habbas, chuckling to himself, and the older scholar could only stare in bewilderment as the man firmly placed his hands on his shoulders.

"Brother," Phineas said with fervor, crushing Habbas in an embrace.


somewhere within the Golden Palace

A breath here. A breath there. One breath as shallow as a pond. One breath as deep as the Adriatic Sea.

One breath came in spurts, rattling and rolling through the chest like waves building and crashing against the docks of Isfahan in the wake of a passing ship; it ended in a cough equally as turbulent, and the chest, at length, settled once more into its shallow dips and rises.

Shahdokt Vanushe raised a handkerchief to the old man's mouth, drying the spittle that had settled there. She was the only one to visit him lately. Sometimes the council would come, tutting and muttering at the life there waxing away in that frail body in its majestically ornate bed. Only the acolytes came more than she did; there was nothing left to do for the dying save to stave off their pain, and they did their best, as much as anyone could do for a man at Death's door. Every stuttering breath made the princess think of Death pulling at his soul with a hard tug, inching the old man closer to his realm little by little, breath by breath.

Sometimes she could not bear to watch. And yet, she came still, even when the other daughters refused. Vanushe had always been the good, dutiful daughter.

The man's skin was cold to the touch as she brushed back hair now naked from a crown. His eyes fluttered open towards her, squinting, and she smiled sadly.

A breath here. Another breath there.

Vanushe raised her cloth to his mouth for a cough that never came.

  • Bucket of Rainbows
Reactions: Red Thunder

The amount of events occurring in so short a day threatened to detract from the ultimate prize of their efforts, and Habbas, more than anyone, was acutely aware of their need to disseminate information.

But Phineas' arrival had…changed things.

He was unlike anything Habbas had ever encountered before. The letters, oh! How little they had done to express the man's true nature. Phineas was a planetary body on the Earth's surface, and Habbas, Naudar, and quite possibly everyone else within that camp had been drawn into his gravitational pull, orbiting around and around and around – willingly or not. Habbas could only continue to stare, stunned into an unprecedented silence.

The large campfire stoked diligently by Tinka was enough to accommodate their quickly growing group. Something bubbled in a pot about the licking flames, the delicious aroma tickling their noses. Here Habbas had been corralled to sit, he and his scribe Naudar providing a captive audience for their bombastic financier.

"My friend, I don't understand," Habbas was saying. His hands were holding a cup of wine that Phineas had miraculously produced from his belongings, and, much to Naudar's utter shock, the older man had actually downed a glass. "Why are you here? I thought– you stressed that you wanted to remain an anonymous donor."

Phineas grinned. "Well, I lied! Come, now; an adventure like this? I'd be a fool to miss out on it. Something like this only happens once in a man's lifetime."

"Well I…I suppose I understand but–"

"You do want me here, don't you? If not, I would understand if I'm in the way."

"No!" Habbas hurriedly said. "Not at all. It's just…my goodness. I never expected to actually meet you."

Phineas laughed then, clapping a hand roughly on Habbas' shoulder before leaning over and whispering something in his ear. The sudden burst of laughter that came from the older man had Naudar staring in bewilderment. Had he ever heard his teacher laugh?

"Are we going to look at the Square?" He interjected rather impatiently, only to be drowned out by more of Fin's laughter. Nevertheless, the mustachioed man finally set his gaze upon him, sobering.

"Right you are. The puzzle, mm; Habbas, why don't we settle where we're headed next? I've no mind for this so I'll leave you two to it…ah, Naudar? Some wine for you?"

Meanwhile, Tinka set about serving soup to those who wished to eat. After hearing of Ayaz's ordeal, he had kindly offered the man the first serving for dinner. It was not often that one escaped from the clutches of the Headmen, even if it was with aid.

Time came to a standstill within a Detainment Tower cell. The architectural design was insidious in nature. No windows meant no way to tell the passage of time, and the cell itself was buried so deep within the walls interior that not even a glimpse of wind or snow or rain from the streets beyond could give one an inkling of the changing seasons. Conversation outside the cell fell flat against the insular thick walls; no sounds got in, and no sounds left out. It was the epitome of complete and utter isolation.

Ayaz could count his blessings. His interrogator was much less interested in driving him mad as she was in getting answers as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Unfortunately for him, she was beginning to care less about the latter goal.

"I can't help you if you don't help me."

Every word that came from Eme's mouth was clipped short, finished before it had fully started. She leaned forward, her leather tunic creasing under the weight. There was a short, round table in front of her with several pieces of paper. She held two of them up. They were wanted posters; while the image of the bearded man itself was the same–who bore striking resemblance to Alim– the name at the bottom of the posters were different. One read Aysar the Talkative, and the other read Diogo Manez.

"This man. I need to know the name he's using now, and where he's going. I don't care about your criminal activities. All I want is information."

Ayaz was no stranger to pain. In his line of business, flops occurred nearly as often as a good score, albeit much less if you were as good as he was, or at least he believed he was. It wasn't uncommon to find oneself with a fist in the face, sometimes more than one. Pain came with everything in life, and his work was no exception. But that was a fight.

Torture was different.

The idea of potentially being tortured or beaten occurred to Ayaz from the moment he'd been captured and jailed. The thought of being rescued was but a joke to him, and escape didn't look possible either. He'd have to face the music eventually, either that or give them what they were looking for. Sadly for Eme, and for Ayaz, he was a thief, not a rat.

"I don't have that information for you. I hardly know the guy, and I didn't really get a name." He grunted his response. His gaze never even wandered over the posters, sticking to the woman interrogating him. "I definitely didn't get a copy of his map, so I can't say where he was going, either. Even if I did, I wouldn't bust up someone's opportunity to score." He grinned, pausing in his speech before adding an afterthought. "Unless, of course, it was to snag it for myself."

"What about the others traveling with him?" Her stare was unflinching. "You must have been going somewhere, no?"

She tapped the poster again, a restless tic.

"I think you know more than you think.""

"I think you think I know more than I think because you're seeing more than what's there." He responded curtly.

Then, he sighed, leaning back. "I can't tell you who is traveling with him. I never got to know anybody, or what they're doing. I'm telling you. Thief's honor."A hand rested above his heart.

"I don't have any information for you, believe what you will." He could only pray he was selling it well enough.

Eme grimaced. Whether it was for his sake or her own was unclear, but what followed next was unmistakable.

A pressure similar to a vice-like grip slowly encircled Ayaz's head, building minutely in discomfort. Something flickered in his mind, and, unbidden, the memory of sitting at Habbas' table within the courtyard appeared.

The headwoman's eyes had closed. "Who is that man, Ayaz? Don't make me rip the memory from you by force."

A searing pain shot through his temple on cue.

Ayaz's eyes widened as the pressure in his mind increased, from what seemed like the beginnings of a headache into a sensation he could only describe as being squeezed, but from the inside of his skull.

His teeth clenched tightly together, the memory of Habbas bubbling to the forefront of his thoughts. "D-don't...know...him..!" He hissed in pain and defiance, doing his best to think of something else. Wine perhaps, or a despicable feline, even!

The pain had become a saber's edge. Ayaz's distraction, however momentary, was effective; Eme hissed much like the cat's image now occupying his brain, and the pressure increased. The pain threatened to bring one to the edge of unconsciousness.

Just as black spots began to emerge at her hapless quarry's vision, an urgent knock came at the door.

Startled, Eme's eyes flew open, her head turning, and just like that, the hold on Ayaz disappeared.

"Who is it?"

"A moment of your time, please," came a muffled voice from behind the door.

The headwoman grumbled something unpleasant under her breath before coming to the door, opening it a crack. Whoever stood on the other side spoke too low to be heard by anyone but Eme, but something could still be inferred; her face immediately blanched.

"Now?" She said, throwing a furtive look back at Ayaz. A muffled reply came, and she sighed. The woman stepped neatly to the side as the door swung upon. A man stood in the entryway.

"There he is!" He exclaimed, smiling handsomely. He stepped inside with purpose, rubbing his hands together. "My dear Ayaz–thank goodness I've found you!"

His clothes, while muted in color and style, exuded a wealth that only a fellow rich man or thief's eyes could pick out. His features were of a pleasing, handsome character, and the Persian man looked to be not much older than Ayaz. Eme had grown mute in his presence, eyes cast downward.

The man sat across from Ayaz. Concern entered his gaze.

"Are you well? I hope Eme wasn't too rough on you."

"It was an interrogation," She remarked from the corner.

Ayaz had never seen this man before in his life, and to be fair, even if he had, the searing pain in his head would have made it difficult to remember. But even in his miserable state, he could recognize a boon when it was being thrown his way.

"She wasn't the worst house guest," He sputtered, shaking his head, "But she wasn't exactly hospitable either. The sooner I can get out of here, the better." He narrowed his eyes at the woman, before pleasantly smiling at the Persian, wincing only slightly.

"That's the spirit!" The man laughed loudly–much to the detriment of the searing pain in Ayaz's head. "There, there. We'll get you fixed up and on your way in no time.

"You see?" He went on, turning Eme's way. "I told you. Spry as a spring, innocent as a dove."


"My name is Phineas, by the way." Those brilliant green eyes fixated on Ayaz once more. "At your service."

He stuck out a hand to shake, a grin on his face.

"Now. Back to our business with the Square, hm?"

At the behest of Phineas, Pan and Kaveh had been assigned to take the first watch of the day, though the evening had not yet faded into the black of night. Emry had been placed in a tent to wake when ready; though he did not seem injured, it would not hurt to give him a look over should the strange sleep of his persist. As to the rest, each remained to get settled within their own tents, each space allowing enough room for two sleeping cots only. Phineas, it seemed, had gathered Hama's belongings and placed them within his own tent, his sudden, earlier embrace forced upon the man as abrupt as it had been familiar. Apparently they knew one another as well.

Hey, I promised a massive post, and you got one! Our illustrious financier Phineas has arrived! In true mustachioed fashion, the man is a whirlwind of activity in itself and threatens to derail all scholarly endeavors of the night. So this posting round will be an interim of some character building and/or dialogue before we step into the next, more dangerous chapter of the story. You've got a couple options for things to do, but my suggestions are:
  • Your financier is here! Have any money or personal questions? Now's the time!
  • Naudar and Habbas are looking at the newest puzzle piece, though admittedly, the scholar has a certain daughter that needs talking to…nevertheless, nerds are invited to join the puzzlin'!
  • Let's sit around the campfire and sing a campfire song. The C-A-M-P-F-I-R-E S-O-N-G SONG
  • A camp still needs watching over. It wouldn't hurt to take a walk around the perimeter…right?
  • Ayaz @Spekkun is back, baby! Feel free to bring this guy up to speed on the temple shenanigans
  • NPCs that are available for borrowing are: Habbas, Naudar (who's a-puzzlin'), Tinka, Kaveh (presumably picking his nose somewhere), and Fin! Feel free to borrow any of them.