2019-08-17 - The Silence Is But A Dream Away


Koa and Keiko head to the Nightfall stronghold in Peru looking for clues to The Silence

Log Info:

Storyteller: None
Date: Sat Aug 17 08:53:33 2019
Location: Peru

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WAND has means of quick transportation though some of them are strange. Koa and Keiko have taken them to Peru, with Koa promising Keiko that they won't be gone more than most of a day unless something goes well and truly wrong. He knows she's got a family life to deal with and he really doesn't want to have one or more Rasputins on his case and/or on his tail because someone got worried that she was late back.

Peru is cool this time of year, it being winter in that hemisphere, though it IS in the tropics so it's not overly cool. It took a few hours of hiking but eventually they came to what is unmistakeably the temple that Keiko was raised in. It's built into a cliffside near a waterfall. The entrance is ancient carved stone, with massive cyclopean columns fronted by jaguar statues. It predates European contact by at least two thousand years and the workmanship… well.

It's quiet out here, but Keiko knows that quiet does not mean unwatched.

"Alright." Koa says. He's dressed in sturdy outdoors clothes instead of his usual and he is very visibly armed both conventionally and arcane-ly. "How do we get their attention without being immediately attacked."

Keiko is dressed just as sensibly. Sturdy clothing and shoes and a pack on her back. Her hair is pulled back into a ponytail and she's wearing a cap to shade her face from the sun - what there is of it.

Taking out a drink bottle she hands it to Koa, she'll take a sip when he's done. "As I said, we knock on the door. I'll have my three spirits out … it will make them think twice and let you do the introductions. Are you ready? We won't have long once we start."

"Right." Koa pulls his sidearm. It's not the friendliest gesture but he doesn't want to get sucker punched. He's been hurt badly enough in the last several weeks that he's not eager to repeat the process.

"Let's get going then. Call your… old family."

Friends? Family? Well neither. Former abductors and abusers. But people for whom she might still have some care. Some of them. Maybe…

Keiko glances at Koa as he pulls his weapon, he can see the question in her eyes whether he's ok. His heart. The nightmares. She knows things suck for him and she's worried. Not that she'd ever voice that in public like this.

Then she's touching her tattooes. Glydril, Bella and Onyxia. Glydril because the dragon is awe inspiring. Bella and Onyxia because they're the most corrupted. She'd told Koa that *very* few callers were able to call more than two spirits at a time. And even fewer call three of their most powerful ones.

Within seconds, the three creatures appear. Glydril hanging in the air above the two of them, Onyxia and Bella in front and flanking them.

Oynxia screams. And it's horrifying.

"That's a good start." Keiko murmurs, as she watches the temple door. After a moment, she raises her voice "A visitor appears at the temple door and demands entrance."

More quietly to Koa "I didn't think I should paint myself as 'worthy'. I'm sure Plokta will have things to say on that."

Koa can hear the steps echoing on the stone floors as … people approach that door.

In previous times Keiko knows that this would have been answered by guards and the 'Voice'. The one who had all of the interactions with the outside world. The approaching footsteps do not sound like the orderly procession of the Voice and her attendants though. It's swifter. More urgent. Several armed cultists appear though they balk when they see the powerful spirits out. A few moments later an older man in robes emerges.

He's one of the Prefects. But they're… midlevel. And he shouldn't be answering the door. It's possible that things have gone very, very wrong here. As might be expected if there had been a civil war.

"Who seeks entrance into the hallowed halls of- You."

He clearly recognizes Keiko. And likely, she him.

"Javier." Keiko tilts her chin up defiantly when the man appears. Koa knows Keiko well enough to know that she might be considering harrassing the man. There's a long silence as Bella prowls forward and Onyxia 'hops'. "It is I, Keiko Kurita and I wish to speak to the Voice. Where is she?"

More quietly to Koa, so the others can't hear, Keiko adds "These were, at best, acolytes."

"Or are you the Voice, now, Javier. Have things gone so wrong since I left?"

Do they know her part in all this?

"The Voice is dead. Many are dead. You betrayed us to the Silent Ones among us. How DARE you show your face here."

Javier takes a step forward only to find Koa's gun pointed right at his head.

"Now now." Koa says. "We came here to talk but if we can't do that I've got no problems putting you out of my misery here and now."

Javier takes a step back, hands up and fingers spread.

"What is it you want?"

As Javier moves towards to Keiko, it's not only Koa's weapon he's confronted with. Bella growls, her jaws not far from the mans groin, Onyxia screeches - the human face right in his and Glydril lets out a puff of smoke that curls around him. "I betrayed you to the Silent Ones? The ones that shouldn't have been amongst you and that were corrupting the Nightfall and its vision?"

Keiko snorts, a cold smile touching her lips when Javier steps back. "Good. You know your place." beat "We want to see the old books and scrolls. The sacred writings. Siffror is going to use the Nightfall once again and we're going to stop it."

That's a little white lie. Or at least, Keiko thinks it is. Siffror isn't going to use the Nightfall - but he used them in the past.

"Do not speak of the Nightfall's vision. You turned your back on Lord Plokta. You are not worthy of the beasts you command." Javier's lips curl into a scowl. Almost snarl. Especially when Keiko says what they want.

"Assuming that you're telling the truth even so, why would I let a traitor like you into the archives?"

"Because you know that Siffror has turned a number of your brothers and you want revenge. Which we are willing to supply. We can also give you ways to detect those who have turned to the Silent Ones."

Oh yes. Koa and Keiko want to keep these two groups at eachother's throats for as long as possible.

Keiko's good with letting Koa be the good cop. She lets the Agent speak as she shakes her quarterstaff out.

As Javier blusters, likely turns a lovely shade of purple, she smiles coldly again as Bella growls more loudly and noses against the man. "And if you don't, I'll teach you a lesson with these 'beasts I'm not worthy of' and my quarterstaff. I was always better than you, Javier, and I've had *years* to improve in the few months that you've been trying to eek out a living here."

Again she's quiet for the longest of times. "What he says is true though. We'll give you the tools to detect Siffrors followers and you can tear them out by their roots. Doesn't that sound so much more … easy?"

The 'years to improve' probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense to Javier. He does turn angry purple but either the beasts or Koa's gun or possibly both force him to keep a civil tongue in his head. "And you will give this to us in exchange for access to our archives."

"Yes." Koa says with a nod.

"Up front?"

"Yes." Koa nods again. "Though if you double cross me I'll turn you inside out."

Keiko has never seen him do that and it might not be a literal threat but Koa would certainly attack to get the information he wants. And he would kill to get the information he wants.

"Let's have it then." Javier says at last.

Koa looks to Keiko. She'd helped him work this out. What the distinguishing marks would be and how they would react to particular kinds of power.

That might not make a lot of sense, except that Keiko *looks* older. Much older.

"He'll turn you inside out and I'll let my spirits have you, then make a lovely coat from your hide." Keiko adds, quite calmly. It's horrifying really that she can speak like that not bat an eyelid, but she doesn't - Limbo left deep marks on the peruvian.

"You have the notes, yes? With the images?" She finally says to Koa, letting her eyes rest of Javier for a very long moment. "Each one of the Silent Ones will have a mark embedded in their tattooes. Normally near the wrist or here … " She gestures "… on the collarbone. You'll have to look for it, it's well camouflaged and they go to lengths to hide them. If you can't find the marks, you can use the Gossamer weapons that Plokta gifted to you."

Gifted. Not blessed them with.

"Siffrors Silent Ones react to the blessing."

Keiko probably WOULD do some coat making if she were angry enough and that IS a little frightening since these are people that are being talked about no matter how vile. Koa gives her a sidelong glance as Javier processes the information.

"All of you show me your wrists."

He begins to inspect people. And finally finds one among his guards. His people looked shocked and in that moment the guard tries to knife him. Javier side steps it though and flattens the man with a single blow.

"Take him away. We'll deal with him later. For now, Traitor, I will hold my end of the bargain. Come. But be warned, there was much fighting here and the archives were damaged."

"Yay." Koa says as they're led inside, though a number of very spacious chambers, past a waterfall and at length to a room with a bunch of tablets, scrolls, books and similar.

"Do not attempt to steal anything. And once you leave this temple, our bargain is done."

As in, don't expect a warm welcome if they return.

If Keiko sees Koa's look, she doesn't say anything. He might have words with her about that later, or he might not. He though did just promise to turn them inside out.

"Our information is good then?" Keiko asks flatly, retreating to the unemotional woman she'd been on her return from Limbo. She doesn't offer to help with the guard, Javier has it in hand, quite literally, after all.

"The scrolls we're looking for, were kept over here …" She gestures to one part of the temple. "It is these the Magi used to read from when they were … working … with us."

Koa runs his hand over one of the shelves. They're cut into the rock, most of them, rather than being constructed of wood. Which makes sense. It'd damp out here. Wood would eventually rot, as indeed would the scrolls if they were not constantly maintained. There's a scorch mark on the outside of the end-cap. Javier wasn't kidding when he said there'd been fighting in here.

Koa takes one of the scrolls and opens them. "How's the learning to read thing coming, by the way?"

She'd still kind of been working on that before she went to limbo. Years ago for her but only months ago for him.

Keiko frowns at the scrolls and runs her hands over a section that are charred. The stone floor beneath them is scorched as well. "It was more than just fighting in here, by the looks." She murmurs. There's the distinct markings of spell work going off.

One of the marks on the end caps catches her eye though and her hand hesitates on it, before she draws it free. She doesn't open it, given that Koa has one already.

"Slowly. I'm using Elena's readers to practice. English and Spanish. My English is better, of course but if Elena is to know them, I should too." beat "There wasn't really the opportunity in Limbo, to learn. No books after all."

Well, rather the only books that ARE in Limbo are in the library, they mostly concern spellwork and they're in a variety of dead and alien languages. Nothing really to use to learn how to read. One does not learn english by reading physics texts and one does not learn Cthonic by reading grimoires.

Koa closes that scroll and lays it aside to pick up another before glancing over at Keiko. He sees she's got one and pauses. "What is it?"

Koa knows she can't read. So she must have recognized something. Unless she was just thinking to hand him things.

There's a library in Limbo? Keiko has no idea. They certainly didn't have access to it, in the seven years they were there.

"Hmmmm?" Keiko's mind had wandered with Koa's question about reading. Or maybe it was with Elena for a moment."Oh. Try this one. I recognised the seal on the end, see…" She turns it to show Koa. It's similar to one of the symbols on the Pillars back in New York. "There's a series of them… "

The Peruvian takes out another two - each with similar symbols that are subtly different. Koa should recognise them as some of the symbols he's copied to translate. They're possibly numbers and there's probably thirteen scrolls.

Koa opens it and starts to read. He frowns and keeps reading. "Yeah, this is it. Give me a few more."

Over the course of the next few minutes Koa starts copying passages and taking notes.

"I can't believe they preserved these. I wonder if they even know what's in them. These are records from a time when the Nightfall served Siffror and not Plokta." While Plokta and indeed most of the splinter lords maintain active presences on earth in the form of followers, who those people are shifts over time. "Plokta must have made a concerted effort to take it away from Siffror. That must have been quite a coup. No wonder Siffror is trying to infiltrate it."

He shakes his head. "This must have been around that time. These scrolls record an inquisition of sorts. Followers of Siffror attempting to hunt down minions of 'The Lord of Desire'."

He taps one of the scrolls. "THIS one tells the tale of the Silence though not directly. It details the support this temple was directed to give, and the preparations they made in the event of its success."

The trick is finding the right scrolls in the plethora that are there. It's also possible that some are missing or not complete - damaged or faded over time.

"I would say that maybe they didn't know what they were, but at least one of the Magi that … looked after these was one who converted us. There was probably more Silent Ones amongst the Magi's to begin with. Biding their time till Siffror needed them."

She sighs. Everything she believed was a lie. Which is *exactly* what Koa and Illyana had tried to tell her … years ago, now.

"So Siffror's minions hunted Plokta's and now Plokta's hunt Siffrors. There's some synergy to that, don't you think?"

"This *temple* was involved in that, all those years ago? What does it say?"

"Symmetry." Koa corrects with a small smile. It's fleeting though as he continues to read and take notes. This is kind of grim reading truth be told.

"This temple was yes. The place looks ancient so I'm not surprised. The last attempt at the Silence was only a few hundred years ago." Which means Siffror had the Nightfall until relatively recently. That squares with what Koa knows of the group. Yes, everything she'd been told was a lie. Cults… are like that.

"It says that the temple armed itself in preparations for the great reaping of life in the name of their Lord. It ALSO says many dedicated themselves to the ranks of the 'The Balancers'. Sounds like they're creatures that drain life and… put it somewhere. Unclear."

He keeps reading. "Ah. Toward the end they were asked to create great pillars to counter the 'foul workings of the unbelievers.'"

He turns the scroll to show Keiko a drawing. It's not an exact match for the device that they saw in New York. But the general shape is the same.

"They're called Anchors. The magi of New York had a word for them too, but they used a greek word. Stelae."

"Symmetry. Are you sure? I thought it was synergy." Keiko's grasp on English is fleeting, so it's not surprising she got it wrong. She notes though that Koa smiles, which is something he does so very rarely now. Being corrected is a small price to pay for that.

"I guess it makes sense." She says quietly, searching for the rest of the scrolls as Koa keeps reading and explaining. She finds another one, and another one. That makes six or seven?

"Balancers? You mean like that tattoo on my back? Remember how it tried to draw that spirit in? What if …" she shakes her head. That can't be right, can it? Maybe she's just jumping at shadows.

"Anchors for what? I don't understand, Koa. They were anchoring a spell, weren't they?"

"Possibly something like that yes. But related to life force and not spirit. Though the two are closer than most like to think."

In answer to Keiko's question Koa is silent for a long, long while. He's studying the drawing and what is written about it.

"No… no I don't think they were. Something simpler. Almost… cruder. These devices are anchored in multiple realities simultaneously. And if there are enough of them and you put enough power into it, you can collapse the realities together so that one merges into another. But there was a problem. The geomantic defense spell was part of it, but it sounds like Limbo was… in the way. And Belasco, at the time, wasn't keen on someone collapsing their realm into his own, even if it WAS his prison."

"Illyana was able to use my tattoo to reach Siffror … if the Magi were able to pervert it so it stored life force and there were enough of us." What would it take to convince the 'soldiers' of the Nightfall that this was their purpose? Keiko had trusted her Magi, unfailingly.

"Like a … black hole? It sucks everything. A vortex. Yes?" In a way Keiko visualises it like a plug in a sink full of water being pulled.

"Did … Belasco stop it?"

"After a fashion. It sounds like he sabotaged the setup. They're difficult to destroy since you have to destroy them in all three realities at once and that can't be done purely physically." He's still copying down information about the stelae, Koa is. Maybe there's something here that can give him a hint as to how they might be taken down.

"Not like a black hole no. More like… a computer. Taking one reality and overwriting it with another. Making earth and Limbo follow the Lifeless Realm's rules." Which would be horrifying. Siffror would rule it all with the power of god.

Yeah, that sounds bad for everyone.

Koa rolls his shoulder as if it's bothering him. There's no visible injury but… Keiko knows what's been happening to him at night.

"Is there a reason that stelae was used by the New York magi?" Keiko asks, she finds another scroll and there's at least one more that's at about 6' up the "bookcase". She considers before trying to scale the holes to reach it.

"Belasco did, did he…." She's thinking on that. "So he likely didn't destroy the Anchors but he did something that disturbed their operation." beat "Do you think it has something to do with the Heart? I don't know much about it, really… but it was mentioned."

"What's wrong with your shoulder, Koa?"

"I feel like someone's been hanging me from a fishhook." Koa murmurs. Under ordinary circumstances that would mean him being funny but the circumstances are far from normal. Keiko knows exactly what he's been going through and odds are good he has been hung from a fishhook recently.

"The word 'stelae' you mean? Probably because they were relatively educated Europeans and stelae is a Greek word. It fits…" Koa puts the scroll aside and waits for Keiko to come down with whatever it is she's got up there. She clearly thought it important enough to climb for.

"The heart? Maybe. The heart is the source of all of Limbo's power. It might have been used to repel whatever incursion Siffror attempted. But it's hard to say. This history here doesn't really say what went on in Limbo. Only that the Silence was halted by the magi in New York. Well, New Amsterdam at the time."

It's another scroll with a similar markings on the end cap. That would make right scrolls she's recovered. At least Keiko is good for something.

When shes on the ground around, the Peruvian hands it over and considers the Wand agent carefully. "If what Nalani showed me is to be believed, you probably were. I wish I could help you Koa. I told Illyana that I wanted to kill Nightmare. She asked if I wanted to be Lady Nightmare."

But Keiko would do it. Kill the Splinter Lord if she could.

"There's a library in Limbo. Do you think… Illyana would let us look in there? Could you read the tomes and scrolls there if we could?"

"I think she would and I could probably read some of it yes." Koa nods. "Of course that involves GOING to Limbo and that's something of a risk for both of us." Because they're already connected. Because they're already corrupted. It's a significant thing she's proposing whether she knows it or not.

"I… appreciate that but Illyana is right about that. If you kill Nightmare you'll become him and in more ways than one. Eventually the realm will make you everything he is." Beat. "Then it will be you torturing me. It's why Illyana's so unusual. She became the ruler of Limbo… but DIDN'T kill Belasco."

Koa is treated to a flat look one that Piotr would be familiar with. "I'm not stupid, Koa. I know what I'm proposing and how risky it is. Illyana will say she can the research and she could. The time difference might even work in our favour, given her time to find the information but with two or three of us, it will be even quicker. "

"And who else better to go than those who already bear the taint. I spent seven years soaking in it, Koa, what's a few more weeks?" Piotr will argue and they will likely fight if Illyana says yes but Keiko doesn't mention that.

"We need to know what was done in Limbo to stop this, don't we?"

"I'm honoured you think I *could* kill Nightmare. I don't but I want to for what he's doing to you. But maybe there's something to that, how Illyana beat Belasco that could free you from his grasp."

"Well you're not wrong about that. If we do it no one else risks getting tainted. But we risk becoming a lot more so. It's not just Limbo, Keiko. There are grimoires in the world that will taint those who read or handle them and if I had to guess I would say that Belasco wasn't too picky about what he put in his library."

Koa of course doesn't know that for sure, but it seems reasonable.

"It makes a difference if it kicks you over the edge. But you're right. We… well I can't be sure we need to know but I need as much information as possible and we'd be stupid to ignore this." After all, Illyana is friendly and regardless of WHO gets the information it's key that they get it. If it's there to be had that is.

"I think you would if you could." Koa chuckles grimly as he reads the scroll. "But I don't think any of us CAN. Illyana is the closest and I don't think she has the power to do it either…"

Maybe, just maybe Koa could beat Nightmare at his own game but if he did it'd be the same problem. Nightmare Lord Koa.

Given everything else he's got going on in him that sounds like an awful idea.

"Hrm… what's this? This scroll isn't the same history as the others but it is the same author. I can tell be the writing. Listen: 'We have this one hope, this one chance, to undo what has been done. We will give ourselves to the Lord of Merest Dreams, forsaking the Silent One. In time the Nightfall will become his tools, his agents. As we serve him we shall know that we are serving Glorious Siffror. And when all of our dreams have come true… then the Silence shall come.'"

There's no way Keiko could kill Nightmare. She's just a soldier after all. A bloodthirsty one but still just a soldier.

"I know I'm not wrong and when people stop trying to protect me and realise that I'm uneducated not stupid, things will go so much more smoothly. Have you signed me to WAND yet, by the way?"

It's unclear whether she's trolling now.

"Isn't Siffror the Silent One?" the dusky skinned woman frowns as Koa reads. "The Nightfall changed allegiance but… still served Siffror?"

"No one thinks you're stupid, Keiko." Koa says. Well, he's pretty sure that no one thinks she's stupid. Uneducated yes but he's known plenty of very intelligent but uneducated beings. The ones people underestimate tend to be the most dangerous ones.

"Signed to WAND?" Koa stops reading and looks up. "No I have not. And I'm not sure I particularly suggest it. But you could you know. I don't make the hiring decisions and the fact is that they're always looking for people." Talent is short and the risks are great. It means that WAND can't be too choosy about who it takes on. It's also why WAND operates differently from the rest of SHIELD.

He looks at Keiko for a long moment, gaze almost… sharklike. Something about his eyes. Something about the way he's weighing her. Then he looks back down at the scroll.

"If what I am reading here is correct, the leadership of the Nightfall deliberately entered Plokta's service as a means of… using him. Getting something from him. It's not quite clear what but they seem to think they needed his power and favor to bring about Siffror's plans. That would explain why the infiltration seems so extensive, if it's true."

That gets another flat look. Koa's probably correct that people don't think Keiko is stupid but being uneducated changes the way they interact with her at times. "You keep telling me that you 'signed up' to all this, Koa and that I 'just volunteered'. I didn't and I'm serious about keeping the world safe. I'm partly to blame for some of this."

His hungry gaze has her chin tilting up. "You wouldn't recommend it because of Elena, yes? Because I need to consider that I have responsibilities there, yes?"

She leaves that hanging, letting him mull on how she's interpreted his previous words to think on his explanation of the Nightfall. "Something they could get from Siffror. The Goassamer and the way it bonds the spirits to the bearers. It's the only thing that makes sense."

"I wouldn't recommended because I'd hate to see you memory wiped after you lost your temper and skinned someone." Koa retorts. He's exaggerating a little but her temperament is a big thing. Seven years in Limbo made her direct, blunt and brutal and all too willing to use violence to solve problems. It is true that often their problems are the kind that need to be solved with violence and so far that has worked out well but it isn't all WAND does and if she signed up Keiko wouldn't have much choice about the things she had to deal with. Choice she DOES have now.

"And yes, Keiko. I signed up for this. Took an oath. And I've done the job for a bit." And it's cost him. That's not always the case in WAND. But it is more than in other places in SHIELD.

"Possibly direct access to Plokta's power itself. Whatever it is, it took them a long time to get it. That was three hundred years ago and they're only now making their move. I wonder if…"

Koa stops and stares at the scroll then slowly turns it around. On it is a sketch of a patch of black and gold circuitry.

"The inscription says 'Blood of the Machine.'"

"I've seen the other WAND agents." Keiko points out giving Koa one of her patented looks. She's good at that. "Maybe I'm just not good enough … " she grumbles. She hasn't skinned *anyone* since she returned from Limbo and she hasn't really lost temper. Well, not really.

"Blood of the Machine?" She looks at the circuitry and up at Koa. "We need to find the other scrolls, see if there's more like this. I … don't know what that mean." But it's leaving her feeling uneasy.

Koa sighs at the look. "If you're serious about it go to the office and ask to see Agent Munsen. He's in recruiting. He'll give you the literature, such as it is, and look you over for basic qualifications." If she's sure. He's going to get punched for this by someone named Rasputin, he can tell.

"See if you can find any of the others that have this mark on it." He taps the one at the end of the scroll. "You might not. It's possible they stopped keeping these records after they defected in order to make it look proper. But we need to look anyway."

"I'll tell him you recommended me." Keiko answers, seeing the look of resignation. "And if Piotr says anything to you, you send him right back to me. It wasn't your decision and I've got a brain of my own." And a lot of self will. Maybe she'll talk to Piotr before she does this. Who knows?

She might choose not to yet, as well.

"There are eight scrolls there, right? I reckon there's another five hidden in here." Why? Thirteen. Thirteen missing children. Thirteen sites in New York. Thirteen scrolls - it also means that there might more on the ones they've already found.

To find the other ones, Keiko has to climb up. The 'holes' that house the scrolls rise to the ceiling after all. "Here's another one…" She holds it down to Koa to take as she 'monkeys' along, looking at the rows of scroll as she does.

Will she find the remaining four? Or is she clutching at … scrolls.

Koa looks at the next scroll and while he's doing that Keiko finds two more. She can hear him mutter a word from below. "Lacuna…"

Then he opens up the other ones. The ones they have had previously found and frowns.

"Keiko, is there… is there anything here that's big? A tablet. A table. Something with writing or pictures on it and a thirteen pointed star?"

He's on to something. But what?

"What does that mean?" Keiko frowns as she looks. It's a good thing she's fit and strong, the way she has to shimmy along the edge to find what she's looking for. "Here's another one …" and there's the next one. That might leave two they haven't located.

"Yes, of course. It's uh …" Koa might get a little impatient as she climbs down again "… over here." Taking them out of the area they're in, through a small vaulted hall, to another area, there's a largeish tablet supported on something like an easel. It's old. Not really weathered, it's been cared for extremely well and torches gutter nearby, casting shadow on it.

"This is the tablet they use in our final trial."

Koa walks around it, examining it. It has a thirteen pointed star and images and glyphs. It looks ancient. He takes one of the scrolls and rolls it out on the tablet. It has several holes in it and the holes line up on certain glyphs.

"Lacuna. Latin for 'gap.' Old manuscripts sometimes have holes in them from age or decay but sometimes they're put there on purpose, usually to excise a particular concept or figure from the record. And see? These incisions are clean. They were made with a knife, not by moths or mold. And who exactly cuts up sacred texts with a knife?"

He looks back at the shelves. "We need the other two. There's a cipher here. Something that the gaps in those scrolls are supposed to tell us. But without the complete set we can't get the whole message."

"The Magi…" Keiko finishes, looking over Koa's shoulder- standing on tiptoes so she can - as he lines that scroll up. "A message hidden in the void." That sounds almost like a litany, the way she says it. "The ones that can see the message will make the final step."

"They aren't there." the peruvian looks back to shelves. "One of the last parts of trials were to 'cross the void and retrieve the Word'. There's a chamber, further back that we were taken to. Not everyone returned. I told you. I assumed they were taken to Plokta … "

But what if they weren't. What if they just failed and died?

Koa makes a face and finishes laying the scrolls out. Then he gets out his phone to do a panoramic picture of it. Normally he'd sketch this but he wants something interactable and manipulatable for later. He'll need it when he's trying to figure the code out.

"That makes sense actually. It'd be a security system, just in case any of Plokta's true devoted ever figured out what we just did. Walk me through those final rituals. Tell me what you know. There has to be a way to get the final pieces of this puzzle…"

"There is." Keiko answers. "We can go to the chamber and walk through the void. I'm sure we can."

"We were never told the final ritual till we ready to undertake it. They were preparing me but I still had some steps to go. First there was ritual cleansing in the waterfall. We were told we find the … guidance … needed when our bodies were cleansed of all outside influences. Then we to be taken to the chamber via the sacred path. You saw the start of that when we came in. On reaching the chamber, we were to meditate and the way would open."

"Then and only then could we start and we'd be challenged on the way."

"Hrm. Astral journey. Dimensional space?" Koa considers. "Smoke and mirrors?" Could be any of those. But he suspects that whatever it is, there is a clue they need in that ritual. And they HAVE to undertake it. It's a pretty big risk though.

But they're running out of time. If they don't start generating more answers than questions soon it's all over.

"I don't think we should cleanse ourselves…" He says finally. "That's almost never necessary to get anywhere. It usually IS necessary to make a good impression but it can also be used to make you tasty to certain kinds of predators. We need to go through that void gate. I don't think we can leave until we do."

Because they won't get a chance to return here unless they shoot their way in.

"Are you ready for that? I can't promise it won't be… kind of hell."

Keiko frowns. "I … " She shakes her head. "Come on. I'll go through the Waterfall and then we can continue. I don't think we should miss anything that I remember - generally, there's a reason for everything. I don't know if it's an Astral journey - most of us aren't remotely magically or psychically inclined. Dimensional space, maybe. We won't know till we look though."

"Spend seven years in Limbo and then talk to me about a kind of hell." the peruvian gestures, waiting for Koa to store what they've found. "Or have a toddler wake several times in night wanting a drink." That's … a joke. "Whatever is waiting, Koa. We'll manage it. We can't afford to fail, can we?"

"Spend a couple months with Nightmare." Koa counters grimly. Which is worse? Keiko had to endure raising a child in a place with no love, no warmth, no humanity. Koa is nightly tormented with his fondest hopes and worst fears by a sadistic, ageless monster that he can't fight and hasn't been able to escape yet.

Koa checks his weapon and his artifacts and takes a deep breath so he can draw in power he's sure to need.

"Alright. Let's go."

The void opens and he steps forward, and is gone.

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