Exalted: Ghost of a Chance

Ghost of a Chance, Part 16

Putting the pieces together

The travelers had been split into four groups to make the run down the tunnel, and each had been urged to keep moving by the porters. One by one, they realized they had not encountered the other groups and called a stop. They all found themselves in an area where the walls had been carefully sanded and carved. Much of the carvings were indecipherable due to advanced age but each discovered words etched in the stone walls in their native language. To their shock, they realized the walls were actually displaying their thoughts as they thought them and read them upon the wall. After some experimentation, each group discovered that they could not read the thoughts of the other people in their group nor of any other group.

Deacon left Whispers, Shade, Blood Moon, Sana and one of the porters near where he’d found them telling them to stay put while he searched for the others. Some time later, Gaias’ group heard him pacing down the corridors. Gaias, Koria, Mimiu (two Dragon-Blooded sisters) and two porters were told that the Labyrinth had shifted and the place they were in now was known as the maze of the mind. Deacon mixed a concoction with the blood payment from Koria and set it aflame, following the smoke through the maze. Using the smoke, which was naturally pulled toward the center of the maze, they navigated around its perimeter and out to a dark riverbank. Pointing, Deacon told them that across the black water and out of the range of their light was another riverbank that he would use as their rendezvous. Taking another blood payment from Mimiu, Deacon placed the blood in his mouth and spat it out along the shoreline. Five boats made from flesh-coated rib cages rose from the water to carry them across the river and Deacon took his leave to find the others. The boats moved of their own will and, not long into their journey across the river, the boats began to grab and hold at the travelers. Fearing to break the boats and dump themselves into the water, they resisted as long as they could. The boats reached the bank and carried them up the shore and down another tunnel. Gaias managed to break free of his boat and chased after the two boats that held Koria and Mimiu. Breaking them free, the three of them pondered what to do next.

Second, Azagael, Jay and two porters were in the next group that encountered Deacon. He told them about the Labyrinth shifting and said that since they were near the edge of the Maze of the Mind that he could take them through the Starhollow to the rendezvous point. They followed Deacon into an area where all the surfaces of the cave – walls, floor, ceiling – appear clear as crystal and filled with glowing, multi-colored stars. Second grabbed onto Deacon’s cloak to avoid losing him and each of them had difficulty staying upright on the slippery, invisible floor. Breaking free from Second’s grasp, Deacon turned a corner a little too quickly and Second hit a wall made of stars. Trying to back out and turn around, he found himself caught up in a glass coffin, cut off from the others of the group. Calling around got no response, though Azagael said he was still able to see him. Each of the travelers felt the world shift crazily when the porters tipped over their glass star-coffins and started sliding them along the slippery floor. Azagael shifted into his god body and kicked his way free, chasing down one of the porters to question. The porters ran off, but Azagael broke Jay and Second free and Second called a halt until Deacon returned to continue leading them. In the silence that followed, the trio heard the sounds of battle from nearby.

The third group consisted of Maya, Toki, Aruda (one of the Dragon-Blooded students) and two porters. Deacon told them they had wandered too close to the center when they pointed out that they could see thoughts that didn’t belong to them on the walls. The thoughts were in Foresttongue, and Deacon left for a moment to try to get his bearings. They heard a strange growl that seemed to come from multiple voices at once and Deacon demanded another blood payment from Maya. He poured the blood in a line on the floor and a barricade of bone spears shot from the floor to protect them from whatever lurked at the center of the maze. Toki was disappointed to be prevented from eating whatever it was, but followed the group away from the snarling thing. The bones began to sprout suddenly across the corridor and the travelers found themselves caught up in bone cages. Maya and Toki managed to keep from being separated, but Aruda and the porters were caged separately. The cages proved mobile and began to walk their captives down the hallways. They noticed belatedly that Deacon was nowhere to be seen but decided that their cages were serving as conveyances to the rendezvous he’d mentioned and sat back for the ride.

Back near the entrance to the maze, Whispers, Shade, Sana and Blood Moon waited with one of the porters for Deacon to return. One of them noticed strange balls of flickering light approaching them slowly down one of the corridors. When they got within four yards, the lights started up a screaming alarum that, when they got within two yards, caused them to feel nauseous and shaky. Sana tried attacking one of them, but it flew into his face and he fell, limp, to the ground. Blood Moon likewise tried and fell. Shade examined them for a few seconds and believed them to be hypnotized. He suggested they try calming their minds, closing their eyes and ears to the sight and sound. While Shade failed at his attempt, Whispers had some limited success. The strange lights could not hypnotize the blind woman. When the lights hit him, Shade experienced a feeling of falling through the world and into a hellish world where all his worst nightmares had come to pass. Whispers could only sit amongst her fallen companions amidst the screeching sounds of the lights and hope for rescue.

To be continued…

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