Logs:Ink, Blood, Fire, Woe

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Ink, Blood, Fire, Woe

"Dammit, Nana."

Dramatis Personae

Frankie with Warren as ST

25 March, 2018


Frankie needs some answers, and a journey to the Athenaeum requires navigating the Underworld and crossing at least four rivers. Thankfully, Frankie is a pretty good delver. She runs into a bit of trouble at the gate, no thanks to grandma. Norbert is almost too sassy to live.

Location

Underworld, Athenaeum


The Song of Suicide gate is one of Frankie's most frequently used gates when she's traveling alone. She's got a very small collection of records just to bring here to destroy in front of the window. The rest of the key is easy for her, too. She just doesn't like company when she does it. Finishing her song, Frankie breaks the record - it's an old BeeGees disc, scratched right on 'How Deep Is Your Love' but otherwise functioning - in two and watches the stained glass window whirl apart and open up. Norbert Ghost-Crow is, as ever, at her side. Specifically, perched on the top of the very large backpack purchased at an army surplus store she's wearing. There's even a thin bedroll strapped to the bottom, wrapped around something that could quite possibly be a sheathed sword. Hint: it is. It's a katana.


Glittering glass shards cascade the way they must have so long ago, but instead of landing on pavement untold stories below like so many stars around a shattered corpse, they blow into pure blackness. A warm and humid wind blows forth, and it carries faintly with it the sweet carrion smell of old meat just starting to rot an halitosis. The way forward is in to the gullet of death, with remaining window shards still teasing the notion of jagged teeth waiting to devour.


Frankie steps out into the darkness despite the usual woozy feeling of vertigo that always accompanies the opening of the gate. And as always, her boots find the coarse sand of the Drowned Beach. Frankie shrugs the backpack off her shoulders, lays it down, and removes the bedroll. Once it's unrolled, she takes the sheathed katana out and slings it around her waist with a belt. It's very D&D, somehow, but like one of the Eastern Kingdom expansion manuals. The bedroll is rolled up and re-attached. Frankie wills her Keystone compass into her palm and consults it, standing guard by the gate. It will remain open for several minutes, and she means to be the only being that crosses through this time.


(Other than Norbert.)


There's a tense moment when a strobing ball of light hovers near, possibly curious or possibly seeking a way back into the living world through the massive stone gate cracked open behind Frankie. It makes no move on the gate, perhaps because of the Sin-Eater guarding the breach until stone doors grate through broken glass and close with a hollow boom of finality. And, closed the doorway fades away until it's only just visible if you know what to look for--not so much invisible as imperceptible.


Like its real world counterpart, there are no signs of life here. There are no fish, no birds save for the death crow Norbert, and no boats in the brackish water. Brown stones coated with thick black slime, some a permanent stain and some much more recent, jut up from broad flat stones like fangs piercing up from the ground. A ruined dock there, skeleton swaying from a rotting rope in the carrion wind. This place is so unlike most of the Autochthonous Depths. But there are options from here, and despite the name, the beach itself abuts no river of the Underworld at this location.


Frankie debated making a detour to the Drowned Village, get some new reading material to Weatherby, but ultimately decided against it. It's much closer to the Forbidden Gate, and that's located over in the basement of Kilo's tattoo shop. Frankie doesn't particularly want to explain what she's doing going on trip to the Underworld with so many supplies and she wants to explain the katana even less.


She sets out down a familiar enough path. This isn't her first visit to the Athenaeum, and she's not going to do any more exploring on her way there. No turning around or getting sidetracked: she has a mission here. She walks inland, heading toward the first river.


The gurgling mass of tattooed skin in chunks and writing coils of blue-black watery ink reeks like chemicals. It's pretty gross, but it's not the grossest river Frankie's had occasion to ford. She waits for a ferryman, digging a pomegranate out of her backpack for payment. Frankie's kind of old school that way.


First time or tenth, the cartography of the Underworld is inconstant and metaphorical. There is no way to successfully map the Autochthonous Depths, just as if there's no way to chart or even count the number of rivers. That Frankie recognizes her surroundings is fortunate... perhaps a good omen of things to come.


After all, it's much easier than navigating a large pack through the small canals of stone that are the most frequent thing one encounters after entering a gate. Pushing it ahead of her in the crawlspaces and cracked caverns for miles and miles was not something to be looked forward to.


There are others waiting for the Ferryman, and those are admitted before the Sin Eater. Not in a back of the bus treatment, but because their passage has already been bought with their own death and the Sin Eater? Dealings can be a bit more complex. It regards her with an empty, bovine skull for a head. It's horns are uneven. Its thick robe dirty and tattered enough to reveal hooves upon the petrified wood of the dock.


"Why cross you here, at this River?" asks the ferryman, resisting the blood red pomegranate offered. For the moment. Life beckons.


"It was the closest," Frankie tells the ferryman, still holding her hand out with the pomegranate. Norbert, perched on her backpack, adds a 'caw' of agreement. She is telling the truth, good sir. "I have a long trip ahead of me."


The Ferryman waits, perhaps searching for the inevitable dishonesty that so many ghosts would have offered up. At last, it signals acceptance by reaching out one terrible hand to take the pomegranate. It withers instantly at its touch, the red and luscious fruit becoming a decayed brown husk. But something new glitters in black eye sockets as it indicates for Frankie to get in to the boat, whereupon it sweeps in after her.


The boat ride across the gobbets of flesh stained with poisonous chemicals is anything but pleasant, but it is uneventful, and this time Frankie is the first to disembark. The ghosts would, as ever, prefer to stay and be ferried back to the other side. As Frankie leaves, the Ferryman is already using his oar to... convince the ghosts to leave the boat. The first of many rivers down, and yet not so far removed from the Suicide Gate after all.


> Frankie to Here <===================================================

   Rolled 1 Success 
   < 1 1 5 5 6 6 9 >

============================> Wits + Survival.Underworld [No Flags] <

> Frankie to Here <===================================================

   Rolled 1 Success 
   < 3 4 4 5 5 7 7 10 >

============================> Wits + Survival.Underworld [No Flags] <

> Frankie to Here <===================================================

   Rolled 3 Successes 
   < 2 2 2 5 8 8 9 >

============================> Wits + Survival.Underworld [No Flags] <


Past the River of Ink and the grand cavern that wells up around it... as if any geologist could be convinced to study whether or not it actually eroded the rock, are more twisting caverns. It's little wonder why many new Sin Eaters don't even notice that they've crossed into the Lower Mysteries. There are more ghosts, for starters. Wending through smooth gray stone made more slippery by the rime of frost clinging to every surface are ghosts who are drawn ever on toward some Dominion that calls to them. They are sand through the hourglass tumbling to their destination.


Inevitable as gravity. Frankie, never particularly chatty, just keeps to herself for the most part. Even when she sees a trio of other Sin-Eaters. She doesn't recognize them. She tips her chin to acknowledge them, but there's no offer to help guide them. That's not why she's down here this time. They look kind of puzzled by the inky-black crow with glowing red eyes, and Norbert watches them like a creeper, just to see if he can unsettle them further.


Frankie's not used to the backpack. She'll be used to it by the end of this, probably. It will be lighter on the way back. At least there's that.


Frankie's refusal to talk doesn't stop her from gathering a series of pilgrims behind her, ghosts that gibber and talk with disbelief about where they are and implore Frankie to lead them out. The warren of passages let out onto the shore of a river boiling over and flickering with the faint glow of fire, and her ghostly followers disband to stand upon the shore and stare deep into its turbulent depths. At least, after the crossing the frost is banished and the slippery steps are replaced by sharp slices of black obsidian.


Technically, that's better.


Ignoring the pilgrims is hard. It feels wrong, somehow. She's supposed to be a guide, after all. Maybe next time, she tells herself.


She should get a new pair of boots soon. These ones have worn down soles, and while she judged them good enough for this trip when she inspected them before she left, she would feel better on this black glass if they were a little newer. Maybe crampons? Her lips quirk up just slightly at the corners. It would be generous to call it a smile.


Frankie keeps walking, slipping from time to time on the obsidian but luckily avoiding any worse than a scrape.


With every river crossed and every offering given, more and more of Frankie's belongings have shifted form to become something else more appropriate to the hallowed age. Mementos and the like are exempted, of course, as is the sword. An ancient form of a katana... is still a katana. Her clothing, however, is something different but not exactly a shroud. Somehow it is still uniquely Frankie.


The backpack, and some of its contents, certainly look different. Older. Stranger. Canvas instead of nylon. Leather straps. Heavier metal. Aluminum was scarce, until relatively recent.


And ahead, another river. This one a raging torrent of black blood lapping over borders as white and shiny as teeth.


The leather jacket has the lining making it a memento, at least. Does that change? Though a leather jacket over a shroud would be kind of funny looking. In any case, there's a reason Frankie never takes her smartphone down here. Another ferry to wait for. Norbert takes it upon himself to fly over the river, scanning for a ferryman. He can only go so far before he has to return to Frankie, would has found herself a rock to sit on. She's making some notes in her journal. Adding to the descriptions of ferrymen she's seen.


Perhaps the lining is the reason that the jacket never fully changes to a shroud. It lengthens in places, and appears to age, but if anything it would probably just seem to be a particularly fashionable coat if it didn't have a habit of returning to what seems like normal upon a return. Jeans are old. Boots even moreso... so it may be "dated", but it's still Frankie.


The Ferryman was dressed as a plague doctor, or perhaps just a vicious sawbones of the old school. It didn't want fruit or trinkets. The price for the living crossing a river of blood... was blood. Its talon smarts, but it's nothing Frankie hasn't felt before. And beyond that river? The Lower Mysteries are becoming very strange. Ghosts roaming as if in gangs, piling upon other lone ghosts and laying into them until nothing remains while a red luminous fog gathers against the ceiling of a huge cavern supported by pillars of bizarre geometries like lighting bolts and tongues and broken trees.


One more river. What will it be? It seems... yes. Of course it would have to be Acheron, the River of Woe.


Frankie makes a face when the talon drags across her skin. It's more annoyance than pain. It's a crossing easily taken care of.


The ghost gangs make her frown, though. She's not familiar with that phenomena, and she wonders if it should concern her. She tries to keep out of their way without sacrificing the appearance of confidence. Being a target here seems... unwise. Very unwise.


Frankie comes to a halt in front of the River of Woe, making notes on the strange cavern and the ghost-jumping gangs. She checks for a piece of regular paper tucked inside the cover of the journal. Nana's old broccoli and carrot tureen recipe is, in fact, intact, written in spidery handwriting from a hand shaky with age.


The Ferryman at the river looks at Frankie. She looks at it. Maybe there's something hopeful there. It forgoes her offering and points at the boat. Something inside of her has already satisfied whatever it wants for her to pass. The gray, greasy waters move slowly and lap against the boat with the soft whispers of people long dead. And the whispers of people that Frankie used to know. She hears her mom in those waters. She hears Warren.


That's something. Not needing to pay the offering at the River of Woe. Apparently, she's already paid it. Frankie blinks a few times, unsure how to react to that, and takes a seat in the boat. Norbert lands on the bench next to her, keeping close as Frankie listens to the whispers. She strains to hear more of her mother's voice. And Warren's voice, that just makes her sad. And even more determined.


The ferryboat passes through low mists, and Frankie being the only one aboard, is surrounded by voices. Most are still alive. Classmates. Old coworkers. Even her own voice, softly singing a song that can't be placed. But there's joy in it. Frances sang with joy. Frankie sings... differently, if she sings at all.


The boat drags against the bottom, a rough sound of gravel tumbling over and over until it comes to a stop within a couple steps of the shore. Something buzzes violently past Frankie's head, there and then gone again as a blur flits through the green bars of a coppery gate set among a high wooden palisade like she backyard fence that guards a quicker way in.


Frankie is silent and stony-faced during the journey. This requires concentration. She feels... heavy. The backpack is heavy, but it's a relief when they touch the shore and she won't have to hear the whispers of woe anymore. Once she regains her feet but before she disembarks, she asks the ferryman, "We're at the Athenaeum, right?" It's definitely not the front door.


The Ferryman regards Frankie silently, an expression of mute sadness fixed upon its face. It's both inhuman and yet somehow familiar to her. It nods, once, and it only pushes off once she's out of the boat. Which leaves Frankie at a gate, closed and latched but not locked, and the vista of decayed marble pillars spread across a permanently infertile ground. And looming large beyond that felled forest of facile facades is the Athenaeum... probably. Frankie's never seen it at this angle before.


This feels a bit weird. Frankie reaches up and tentatively unlatches the gate, pushing it open and peering about. Presumably if she keeps walking, she'll get to the front of the Athenaeum. She glances over at Norbert, who CAWs and obligingly takes flight, soaring off in search of the two guardians of this dominion.


The black bird wings off over sheared sculptures and mangled monuments, and several curious balls of feathers track after, making a miniature flock as Norbert orbits. There's the entry, guarded by two enormous beasts, one with the body of a lion, great eagle wings and the trunks and heads of a woman, the other, a huge bipedal humanoid, jet-black, with a jackal head. The keeper and the protector of the lore guarding a crude stone archway.


There we are.


Norbert wings his way back to Frankie, landing on her backpack again. "Caw," he announces. "Caw. Caw."


"Just making sure," Frankie tells the crow, pursing her lips together. Then she's making her way to the entrance. She's not looking forward to seeing Razil again, the sting of the sphinx's anger at the death of her brother still fresh. Anubis is easier. Frankie pulls the slip of paper out of her journal and offers it up to him.


The footsteps are loud enough to hear, and the guardians return them with ponderous footsteps of their own as they approach the dais that marks the entry way. As they pass, mystical runes begin to glow with eldritch energies as the merest passing of their tremendous spectral force is enough to cause a sympathetic charge to build up inside of them. Anubus, tall and dark and proud escorts Razil to the large stone platform.


Both stand there, ominous and forbidding as Frankie makes her way to stand before them. Razil's face is nasty with both recognition and resignation. She's seen this one before. Many times, and on much worse days than this.


"You."


Awkward.


"Hello," Frankie says after a long hesitation. "I seek entrance to the Athenaeum. Um. I hope this is okay." She steps closer to Anubis and reaches up to offer the slip of paper with the recipe on it to him. She finds him much less intimidating than Razil.


The striking black figure with the jackal's head bends forward and takes the slip of paper from the hand of the living woman. It holds it up to its face, which could be comical because of the scale. It might have even been if not for the quiet seethe of the sphinx-like woman standing next to him. There were times, where that might have been enough. Instead, more ominously, Anubis passes the piece of paper to Razil who reads it quickly. Then again, her lips moving.


"Broccoli and carrot... the is from the June 1959 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. What are you trying to pull?" snaps Razil, voice both that of a woman scorned and given harsh, ghostly overtones as her patience is tried further.


Frankie blinks twice. "I... what?" A line appears between her brows and she grumps, "Dammit, Nana."


Norbert flaps up and lands on Frankie's head, spreading his wings out and puffing up as best he can. He is still so tiny. "CAW!" he announces at Razil. "Caw! Caw! Caw!" He is... scolding the guardian? Oh no.


Frankie reaches up to try to take him off her head. "Sssh, stop that," she hisses at the bird.


Anubis takes a step closer, and Frankie can feel that it's definitely not because of her. One can offer up something and not know. That's not against the old laws. However, it's unlikely that the guardians of the Athenaeum are willing to give much leeway to a hitchhiker who is making such a fuss. And it's terribly uncomfortable to be so close to such a titanic spiritual entity. The sense of unease and strangeness that always accompanies a trip to the Underworld grows by magnitudes as it comes closer. In moments like these, their more "human seeming" natures are tested and the strangeness of those who enforce the Old Laws comes to the front in a passage of gooseflesh and queasiness.


"Perhaps... you have something else to offer," suggests Razil. Who might like Norbert as an offering, even if that's not a bit of knowledge they don't already have. He's awfully noisy for a library.


Frankie tucks Norbert under her arm and presses her lips together. She has broken into a sweat. This is making her feel very, very queasy. She opens the journal up and frantically flips through pages. There it is: a bit of paper she was half using as a bookmark and also... working on. She pulls it out and offers it up to Anubis, her cheeks pink. Embarrassment.


Anubis takes it and considers it a moment. There's the slightest of nods, and then it hands the paper to Razil. The sphinx considers it and finally nods her great head. As one, they step to each side of the dais and admit Frankie to the Athenaeum. It seems a bout of creativity, freely given and lost to the endless aeons of time is as good as death for that song. Will she even be able to recall it in a few days?


Once inside, bright light rains down from the immense skylight above, illuminating a grand cylindrical hall which seems to go down forever. There are stairs, halls, and raised platforms of architecture from every period, and though they're different and strangely wrought, they fit together. Two owlings flash by in a flutter of feathers, each carrying a small paper scroll and bound for the depths of the hallway. Now that Frankie is in... wherever will she go?