On the road again, looking for gods in all the wrong places.
It is nearly dawn when the amazons leave the sacred grove of Nylea and descend through the meadows on their steady trudge toward home. Weighed down by the loss of Thyia, the three warriors hardly speak to each other, ultimately drive a slower pace for the sake of Lysandra, who is still very much in the throes of her quag sickness.
As day breaks, the sun rises and the sky shines gray blue. The respite from the rain is welcome, but isn't enough to lift anyone's spirits from the miasma of loss that haunts them all. The trees thicken and part, and as they stop for lunch, Ptolema notices a strange, towering bluff just off their path, like a temple carved from the living rock. Where a door should be, there is instead the great yawning mouth of a cavern, forboding and dark.
"If that is a temple of some sort, we might find respite inside its walls," Ptolema offers. Lysandra only looks at her, pale faced and exhausted, then nods. When Ptolema looks at Alekto, the younger woman only looks away, picks at the edges of her sandles. Steeling herself, Ptolema takes it as consensus, and when they rise again to continue their journey, they make their way toward the temple bluff and its cavernous entrance.
It is nearing dusk when the amazons cross into the cavern, grateful at first for the shade and the cool air coming out of the depths. Casting an illumination spell, Ptolema leads the way into the musty darkness, looking for signs of life, for signs of offerings, but finding none.
And then they reach the huge iron door to the subterranian temple, ten meters high and almost as wide, encrusted with thousands of skulls and blackened bones. The sight is enough to make Alekto gasp, but Ptolema and Lysandra look upon the grisly door silently, grimly. The portent is clear to Ptolema, and as she lowers her magic light, she turns to the others.
"This place is sacred to Erebos," Ptolema says. "Beyond this door, we tread only in the realm of the dead. We should turn back."
"I have walked through places sacred to Erebos before," Lysandra squints at the door, her voice hoarse. "With Thyia so recently gone, it may be a blessing that we come upon such a place so quickly. It may be that we can broker an exchange with the priesthood in this place for the release of some, or of all of our sisters lost on these shores, and in the wreck of the trireme."
Ptolema pulls in a deep, uncertain breath, but the hope is enough to get Alekto back to her feet, excited.
"How do we get inside?" Alekto asks.
"One need only to knock," a voice answers, a crackling voice like rustling leaves that comes from a shadow slowly resolving itself into the shape of a (Oracle:) human priestess with a smooth, bald head and piercing blue eyes. Her golden robes shimmer over armor that seems to be made as much from bone as from shadow, and she has two tiny ring piercings over her left eyebrow.
Alekto exchanges a look with Ptolema, but it is Lysandra who walks past the priestess and knocks upon the bone door. There's a cracking noise, a rasping like chains across stone, and then the priestess smiles, gestures for the amazons to cross inside.
What they find inside is enough to make them all hesitate, staring, uncertain. Huge, billowing clouds hang heavy overhead, nearly obscuring the distant, vaulting ceilings of the cavern. Massive, towering mushrooms and bioluminescent ferns provide so much light that the cavern is nearly as bright as the daylight outside, and the soil they grow in smells fertile, healthy and loamy. It's everything Ptolema can do not to stumble as she gawps, but the priestess only smiles as she leads the amazons deeper into the subterranean forest.
"My soldiers and I are in need of rest," Lysandra speaks up, catching the attention of the priestess. "We would also like to trade for the lives of our fallen sisters if we can."
OOC: Can we rest here?
OOC: Can we ressurect anyone here?
(Oracle:) Yes, but. . .
"I am afraid that your sickness would only worsen in this place, so you should continue on, lest you linger so long that you become one of the dead." The priestess tilts her head slightly to the side. "But Erebos may be willing to entertain the idea of a trade."
OOC: Would an offering be enough?
OOC: How many can we bring back?
(Oracle:) (d10) Six points worth.
OOC: Would we get more if we took on a quest?
"Let us make an offering to Erebos then, in return for our youngest sisters lost when Thassa's rage sank our trireme," Ptolema says, reaching into her satchel and pulling out small parcels of sweet acorn bread from Nylea's grove. Even together, the amazons only manage to produce six loaves, one for each soldier they hope to trade for, but Ptolema presents them to the priestess on bended knee like they are gifts of gold.
"It is rare to receive the gifts of another god in this place," the priestess sounds delighted, then summons a handful of shadows from the mushroom forest, directing them to each take a loaf of bread. "Your journey home is long, sisters to war, and so the value of this food is not lost on me or Erebos. These shades are your sisters who perished in the wreck of the trireme. Erebos considers it to be a fair exchange. Once they deliver these gifts of life to the lord of the dead, he will unlock the shackles that hold them here and return them to their young lives under Lysandra's charge."
The grim old veteran nods her thanks, and as the shades disappear into the mushroom forest one by one, Alekto, Ptolema and Lysandra wait for their sisters in battle to return.
And return they do. Six of them, all bright-eyed and warm with life, cheering and hugging their haggard friends.
The priestess of death looks on, watching the reunion with a soft, sad smile. When all is well again, Ptolema crosses to stand before the priestess and thanks her.
"It is always a rare pleasure to speak with the living," the priestess responds, already evaporating into mist. "Blessings of all the gods be upon you as you make your way home."
Clapping each other on the back, the troupe of amazons makes their way back out of the cave, leaving the Temple of Erebos with smiles on their lips. Working together, they gather wood, sing songs, and tell stories around a campfire, staying up late into the night, even as eager as they are to set out again in the coming morning.
Ptolema and Alekto level up!*
Thyia rejoins the party!
Maria, Eleni, Delia, Lyra and Phoebe join the party!
- - -
*I figured it was time for a little experience upgrade for these two, after all they've been through already.
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