Lotus of the Mountain

GM: Darius
Players: Lotus, Walker
Synopsis: Darius, Lotus and Walker travel into the mountains outside of Denver to meet with Goliath- a free spirit who has a domain there. Once there, Lotus begins her peperations to initiate within the spirit's domain. While there, she ventures to the metaplanes and experiences an enlightenment, but at cost to her health. The cold gets to the young mage, and she almost succumbs to it, before Goliath, Darius and Walker come to her aid.
Date: Sunday, November 08, 2080

So the time has finally come for Pema to take the next step in her practice. She sent messages to her colleagues to meet early in the morning to meet Goliath, and even before the appointed time she's already at the foot of the mountain, ready to begin her trek. She's dressed completely differently from how she normally appears, wearing the actual robes of a wujen. White wraparound tunic and trousers, a white inner robe and finally a black outer one. Her hair has been set up in a bun at the top of her head, held in place by a horizontal hairpin, in a very traditional Chinese fashion. She also has a bag slung over her shoulder, a larger than than she usually carries but nonetheless looks very light for an extended stay in the mountains. She sits, meditating in the morning light, waiting for the others.

Darius's red convertible rolls up the gravel track to the parking area near the entrance of the park once again, pulling to a stop. He's dressed much the same as the last time they came trekking in the woods, black walking boots, black jeans, and a black parka coat. He has the same pack, too, with the first aid kit and other assorted supplies for dealing with most mountainous eventualities. He makes his way up the footpath, towards the base of the mountain trekking paths where Pema waits, feet crunching the gravel underfoot as he approaches.

Walker appears looking much as he did the last time they made the trek: the updated take on shamanic garb with his almost ever-present satchel slung over a shoulder. He doesn't fly in this time, at least not for this leg, rather he strides up the trail from Twin Forks, savouring the mountain air. Nodding to the others as he approaches, he notes Pema's outfit with mild interest but otherwise remains silent as he waits for her to finish her meditation.

Perhaps meditation was the wrong word, because she doesn't seem to be very deep into it. Maybe she was just enjoying the golden morning light, and it is certainly a wonderful crisp autumn morning worth enjoying. As soon as the two mages begin to approach, she opens her eyes immediately. She doesn't look terribly at peace, she looks nervous. She nonetheless raises a hand and gives a wave, the long heavy sleeve of the robes fluttering as she moves her arm. "Good morning," she says, and gets up on her feet.

Darius smiles at the girl a bit, "Good morning." he says then, and casts an eye across her robes as she gets to her feet. "Are you ready?" he asks her, and glances up towards the mountainside path. "It's certainly a good day for it." he adds then, turning around more fully to look back towards the rising sun, shielding his eyes from looking directly at it.
Returning the wave with a smile, Walker nods in agreement with Darius before glancing at the cloudless sky. "It looks like it'll be nice today, but the forecast for tomorrow is for cold and snow," he offers, managing to resist the urge to ask if Pema is dressed warmly enough. Noting the young woman's slightly pensive expression, the elf looks a little concerned but doesn't say anything yet, letting her deal with Darius' question first so as to not overwhelm her.

"I don't know," she says, with a bit of trepidation in her voice. Nonetheless, she tries to smile, "But here we are." she picks up her bag and slings it on her back, its weight forcing a loud huff out of her her. "Snow?" she says, with surprise, "It'll be beautiful from up there, no doubt. Too bad I won't get to see it…" she says, and heads out on the path. "Shall we?" and thus, she begins to walk, easily carrying the heaviest burden of the three despite being the smallest.

Darius nods his head a bit at Pema then, "That's the spirit." he offers, whether about her admission to not being sure she's ready, or about pressing ahead anyway, it's not so clear. He tugs the straps on his own hiking pack so they rest more comfortably on his shoulders, and then begins to follow after her towards the trail. Like Walker, he avoids expressing various concerns he has for the girl- after all, the last thing he wants to do is to inspire doubt in her. So he sets his gaze ahead and puts one foot in front of the other.

"That we are," Walker responds in a little echo of Pema with an encouraging smile, "You'll be fine." Again, the elf just doesn't seem to consider failure to be a possibility. As the trio walk along the familiar path, he lengthens his stride to walk beside Pema. "What are you feeling?" he asks gently, "Nerves are normal, they don't mean you aren't ready. It might help to talk them out first…"

The pack seems to be quite heavy for the frail woman, and they don't seem to need to walk up the mountain for long before they can see the signs of fatigue on her face. Nonetheless, she soldiers on. "I've thought about this for a very long time, and I feel it's the right thing to do." she says, pausing a bit to look back and admire the view. The forested section of the trek has yet to come. "My only fear is that I'll go up there and find… nothing."

Darius glances at Pema, a small frown forming on his face as she is clearly struggling with her pack a bit, but again- holds his tongue on the topic. When she stops to look back at the view, he also comes to a halt, he sighs slightly at her words, and says, "I think I understand that sentiment. Sometimes a resounding failure is more reassuring than nothing happening at all, because at least then you know that something went wrong." he says to her, and offers a wan smile, "But- regardless of what happens, or does not, you've resolved to see it through. And that is often more than enough." he adds.

After listening to both of them, looking up at the mountains instead of back the way they came - the sun hitting the summit is spectacular - Walker nods along before offering his perspective. "As one who has spent a fair amount of time alone on a mountain-top, I'll simply point out that finding nothing is extremely difficult," he looks back to the others and smiles, "At the very least, you find yourself." It might be a joke, maybe, but he hasn't cracked one yet today, and he's wearing that serene smile that the wilds seem to draw out of him. Maybe he's serious.

"If nothing happens in the end, then shame on me for building up the anticipation," Pema says, wiping her brow with her big sleeves. "Without expectation, there cannot be disappointment." she walks on a bit further, taking a long step to mount a big stone. "Unfortunately, I'm not clever enough not to do that." she looks down at Walker. "Reaching the summit would be a goal in itself, actually. I was mainly aiming for the abandoned mine."

Darius nods his head a bit at Walker's words, "I suppose I wouldn't know. Not much of a mountaineer." he says with a shrug. As Pema talks about expectation, he looks over to her, watches her climb up onto the rock. "Having expectations isn't such a bad thing." he says, "The world can't surprise you if you expect nothing." he adds, as he starts walking again. "And that sounds like a rather boring outlook, to me." he adds

"Oh, we should come back another time to do the summit!" Walker replies enthusiastically, "It's been a while since I've been all the way up." Scrambling up the rocks along a route he must think is scenic - that or he just really likes clambering - the shaman seems to mull over the benefits having expectations or not. "What's the Anglo saying?" he murmurs, "No guts, no glory? Seems like the same sentiment. Can't have elation without disappointment and so forth." A new rock face distracts him and he falls silent apart from the occasional grunt of exertion.

Pema stops to ponder that, but eventually she just shrugs. "You know… you guys are probably right. I don't know even know what I'm talking about." she realises she sort of painted herself intellectually into a corner and just decides to keep walking again.

Eventually, they reach the forested part of the trek, with its familiar path. The place where Walker summoned the tiny pup spirit last time.

Darius can't help but chuckle at the girl giving in, and he shakes his head. "Well, when you talk enough, chances are you'll occasionally say something sensible." he retorts to the girl. He eyes the path ahead, and then turns his gaze back towards the robes Pema is wearing, specifically, the hem. "Be careful you don't get snagged on anything." he says, apparently unable to resist this particular urge to mother hen.

Almost nonchalantly, Walker whistles, the musical note carrying well in the morning mountain air. A moment passes, and one might almost think nothing happened, if it weren't for the sudden silence of the local birdsong. A moment later, a branch seems to catch at the elf's cape. Grimacing a little he turns around and quietly says, "Oh."

Behind the elf, shaping itself from the trunk of an oak is another wolf-shaped spirit, but this one is a she-wolf that stands four feet high at the shoulder, gently holding the shaman's outer layer in her jaws. Placing a hand on her snout, Walker smiles and bows his head in greeting before turning to the others with a sheepish look. "Wasn't thinking, this is Runs-Between-Sapling's…" he hesitates and glances to the spirit, whose implacable golden eyes give him no clues at all, "big sister I suppose?" She seems to accept this, padding past the shaman to walk alongside Pema.

Pema grabs hold of her big sleeves, holding them together with one hand as she begins to tread the path. "Good call," she says, narrowly avoiding some protruding branches. She has already walked a bit when there are suspiciously wolf-life sounds behind her, causing her to turn around. Sure, she remembers the little one last time, but this one's different. She'd probably be frightened by it if it didn't show itself to be gentle. As it comes up next to her, she carefully lays a hand, stroking the wolf-spirits fur. "Majestic creature, you are," she says, walking along with it with a bit more ease than before.

Darius smirks a bit at Walker, "Show off." he accuses the Shaman as he walks along the path. As before, long legs make short work of the distance, and he's not entirely inept at this cross country walking, despite his protestations. "If we go to the peak, can we at least fly?" he wonders. "It's been a while since I stretched my wings." he adds, as he continues following along. He glances up to the path ahead, "We're making good time." he observes, and looks back to

Pema as she avoids the snagging branches. "Once we arrive, is there any particular preparation you need to make that we might assist with?" he asks.

The she-wolf seems to appreciate Pema's compliment far more than Walker's accidental summons and struts along beside the young woman with her tail in the air. Branches suddenly just seem to bend away from Pema as she makes her way along the path. Grinning at this little display, Walker wanders along behind the others, branches still apparently a problem for him, although he just seems to find this amusing.

"Can't help it," he responds to Darius with a shrug, "Might as well tell water to be dry. Didn't even intend to that time." He peers up at the peak and pulls a face, "If we're going to fly we should do a range of peaks or something, otherwise there's no challenge to it."

Pema thus wanders along with the wolf through the forest, looking like a scene out of an Asian trid in her archaic robes. Eventually, she reaches the final steep part, where they had to resort to climbing last time. Then, she turns to Darius. "I don't know, really… wish me luck, come back and see me in a while?" she shrugs. She doesn't exactly sound confident, as if she doesn't need help, it's rather that she just doesn't know what to say. She turns back to her cliffs, adjusting her heavy pack. "Here we go, then,"

Darius raises his eyebrows at that suggestion from Walker, "I could get behind that." he chuckles, but then Pema's words reach him and he nods his head at her. "Alright." he says, a bit more sombrely. "I suppose we'll just have to leave you to it." he adds then, "But be careful, yes?" he adds after a moment. Finally he begins to make his way up the difficult path ahead. "I should really see if Goliath could shape the ground here into steps, some time." he says, mostly to himself.

"Yeah. Stay warm, stay dry, make sure you stay well fed and hydrated," the elf adds. Simple stuff, but that can trip you up out in the wilderness. Shaking his head and smirking at the notion of a ramp, the elf begins to scamper up the rock face while the wolf bounds between outcroppings, now keeping a careful eye on the three of them.

Letting go of her sleeves, Pema gets on it and begins to climb. With a heavy load on her back, her general lack of fitness and wearing rather impractical clothes for the activity, it's hard to believe she nonetheless manages to climb up without falling. She slips on one occasion, probably kicking pebbles down on someone who might be below her, but she holds on. She's not saying anything for now, just focusing on not falling backwards and ending her quest before it even begins.

Darius, likewise, falls quiet with the concentration of the climb. Not as sprightly as the others, he makes his way up and manages not to complain about achey knees, although the temptation to do so is clear in his face. As Pema slips, he jerks- and almost looses his own footing, but relaxes as she catches herself and redoubles his focus on his own climb.

This time, Walker is especially glad to have taken a more interesting route. His head snaps around at the noise of the stumble, but after making sure the others are all right he goes back to climbing. Progress is measured and steady, long limbs hauling him from spot to spot, occasionally pausing to make sure everyone is coping with the climb.

And it seems they make it to the end of the trek, the familiar open plateau outside that run-down mine, where they met with Goliath last time. Pema looks pretty worn from the trek already, and she sets her pack down and slumps on the ground for a bit of quick rest. "Phew," she says, "Well, here we are. Guess we better announce ourselves to Goliath?"


Darius doesn't quite flop down on the ground, after making his way over the last little steep bit, but he does look rather winded. He places his hands on his hips, squinting at the sky behind the cliff face housing Goliath's mine, and catches his breath for a few moments. He eventually nods his head to Pema, "We probably should." he agrees. "Would you like to do the honours, this time?" he wonders. "Since you're the one paying him a visit, we're just your escort."

Walker spends the little pause appreciating the view again. "It's a nice little spot he found for himself," he muses as he gazes back down the mountain. For her part, the wolf-spirit pads between the trio, sniffing at them each as if to check they're unharmed. Satisfied, she pads back to Pema and sits down at the girl's side, doing a surprisingly good impression of an alert guard dog.

Pema cannot resist but to pat the wolf where she sits, though she does it carefully and respectfully. She's not a pet, after all. "You're right," she nods to Darius. She looks up at the facade of the cliffs, harkles once and then takes a deep breath. Rather than call the spirits name, she begins to sing, some Tibetan song about mountains or something. The emotional Himalayan wailing doing very well in this particular environment, the cliffs themselves reflecting the sound like an amplifier.

Goliath leaves Pema hanging for some time- after all, as they learned, he does everything on his own time. Eventually, however, that same deep vibration joins her singing, like the mountains themselves are sounding a drum. The Vibration grows louder, nearer. Pebbles dance with each resounding beat, and dust shakes itself loose from the clifside. The trees quiver, and the birds call their complaints. Finally, those massive hands make themselves known, one and then the other, clutching the sides of the mine entrance. Goliath, once more, drags himself out onto the plateau "The Walker, Lotus Flower, Darius. Friends." he says in his bassy rumble. "You return so soon." he adds, several long moments later. He sounds pleased. Probably. It's hard to tell.

Darius dusts the debris from his jeans from the climb, before taking a step back to allow Pema to call out to the free spirit of the mines. As she begins to sink, a look of surprise washes over his features, promptly replaced with a small smile. A smile which grows wider as Goliath emerges, "It's been a week, friend." he retorts. "But it is good to see you." he offers.

The pat seems to go over well, the wolf-spirit's tail waving lazily back and forth on the ground. As Pema sings, the spirit glances back over its shoulder to Walker and wags the tail harder, which just makes the elf roll his eyes and mouth 'suck-up' with a smirk. Invoking it seems, can put a little more of the summoner in the spirit than they might prefer.

Walker himself waits in silence while Pema sings, watching for the first tremors. The she-wolf doesn't like it, bouncing up onto her feet and taking a step forwards as the behemoth emerges, not quite growling but ears pricked up and eyes never leaving Goliath. Only when the elf calls out a greeting in return does she relax once more, padding back to settle to the ground behind Pema, her eyes still fixed on the giant elemental.

Pema, who is already seated, bows down, almost like a kowtow but not quite so deep her forehead touches the ground. Then, she gets up on her feet. "Great spirit, I request to settle in your domain for my meditation, as I mentioned last time." She clearly does not regard the spirit in the casual friendly manner as Darius does.

Goliath regards the three of them with those quartzy eyes of his for several long moments, and then his hands slowly come together, before colliding with a loud grinding of stone against stone that might be generously called a clap. "Yes. Come." Goliath says, and turns away from them. He lowers onto his haunches, and squeezes himself back into the mine entrance. He doesn't look as though he should fit, but he does, just barely. Or rather, on closer inspection, he doesn't really. Hunks of his stony form merge with the rock faces of the Mine, and fresh chunks of stone break away from it to replace what he loses. The net effect is like a travelling wave of cave-in, and likely quite unsettling to see for anyone intending to enter the Mine.

Darius raises his eyebrows, "I haven't seen him this animated since Daria was little." he muses, and turns towards Pema. "I suppose he wants you to follow him." he tells her. "Are you certain you have everything you need?" he asks the teenager.

Walker watches Goliath's movements with keen interest, the waves through the earth seeming to intrigue him. Darius' voice brings him back in though and he nods to Pema. "I'll have a spirit wait out here if that's all right? Until you're done I'll be wandering the park, so if you need anything tell them - they'll be able to find me and I can contact Darius." He fishes in his bag and brings out a hat and gloves - too large for Pema, but warm nonetheless, "You want these for when the weather turns?"

The teenager then picks up her heavy pack, tossing it over a shoulder, and gives the wolf one final pet. She turns over to the two mages, with a face of conflicting emotions. "I believe I have everything, yes," she nods. "The most important things for this trip are," she puts a hand over her heart. "Well… " then Walker takes out the hat and gloves, and she looks like she's about to almost cry. "Thank you, Walker," she says, accepting them. "Well… see you soon, then? Perhaps I'll be a different person next time we meet." and then, she turns around and begins to walk towards the cave entrance, eventually disappearing into the darkness.

After heading into the abandoned Mine shaft with Goliath, the free spirit leads Lotus along the narrow passage into the mountain face, until it opens up into a rather large circular cavern. It somehow looks less man made than the mineshafts, but it doesn't look entirely natural, either, it's too smooth and regular. Likely the work of the elemental shaping the stone. In this large cavern are dozens of stones of various shapes, hues and sizes, studded into the walls. Many of them look as though they are not originally part of the surrounding rock, and among them is a familiar ostrich-egg sized chunk of Himalayan rock salt.

Lotus is hauling along her heavy bag, still a little tired from her trek up the mountain. Fortunately, the spirit is a slow mover too. She has, once again, a lit candle with her as her only light source, but the glitter of minerals and stones in the hall provides her a sense of scale of the hall. She looks around, walking closer to the walls. Having never been inside the domain of a free spirit before, she's struck with awe and spends a while just wandering about, taking it in.

Eventually though, she recalls what she is her for, and decides to look for a place to sit. She takes out a blanket from her pack and spreads it out, taking a seat on it. "Great spirit," she says, "I hope the noise will not bother you. It will not go on for long." Once seated on the blanket, she takes out her ritual implements; the hand drum, the bell, the thunderbolt sceptre. Finally, she blows out the candle, plunging the room in perfect darkness. Then, she begins to chant herself into a trance, and eventually even the drum and bell goes quiet.

Having lead her into his domain, Goliath returns to the passage that leads here, and rests against it- as he promised, he will prevent any disturbance to Lotus while she undergoes this ritual, and his hulking form blocks up the entrance entirely. As the candle goes out, moments later the dull glow of his quartz eyes also fades, leaving the room in pitch blackness, and the only sound that of Pema's chanting and ritual implements.

Some time Later

Some time after the world fades to darkness, though how long is hard to say, a light begins to penetrate the darkness. How far away it is, how how it moves is impossible to gauge given the inky blackness all around, but eventually the light begins to coalesce into a form. A ring of light around a humanoid figure, with long drooping ears and a colourful headdress. A jewel is pressed to his brow, which seems to contain a starry sky and he is bare chested. He sits in the lotus position, atop a bed of large petals, upon which fractal patterns of colour pulsate.

Lotus opens her eyes to this brilliant figure. At least, she thinks she is, by now walking the edge of consciousness so much she's not sure whether awake or dreaming or something else. She's never had a vision this clear before, and it surprises her greatly. "L..lord Buddha?" she asks, her eyes almost tearing up with a mixture of fear and excitement.

The figure forms a shinya mudra with one hand, the other held down, palm facing away, eyes still closed, it bows its head, "Your words honour I am known by many names, among them Namkha'i Nyingpo." he speaks to Lotus. "You have come seeking Maranasati. It is a difficult path to walk. Are you prepared?" the apparent bodhisattva asks the young mage, the two of them still drifting in the empty void- a space between spaces that feels at once infinite, and as though they are the only two things to exist here.

Pema, still bound to her perception of reality she just left to imagine herself sitting, kowtows to the bodhisattva, forehead touching the non-existent void where she imagines herself sitting. "Was I not reborn in this lifetime as a Tibetan so that I may walk this path? If not, what other purpose do I have in this life?" she rises slowly from that deep reverential bow. "I am prepared. Please bless me that my human foolishness may fade."

The Bodhisattva brings its palms together in an anjali mudra, "If you are resolved, you will walk the path. You have my blessing." it says. It begins to drift away from Pema, leaving her once more alone in the darkness. Again, moments, or hours, or perhaps days pass- time is impossible to gauge here, perhaps this very place is timeless. But eventually figures begin to appear in the darkness- bestial figures with curled fangs and sharp claws, wearing necklaces of human skulls and smelling of blood and death, barely perceptible on the edges of reality prowl closer and closer to the girl. Eventually they begin to snap at her, tearing at her robes, then skin, and then her flesh. Whether in her mind, or in another realm of existence, the pain, and the fear it brings is entirely real to Lotus.

This is precisely the sensations that she read about, what the old masters experienced during their deepest trance. It is, like all things, illusory and devoid of essence. Empty, like the temptations of Mara that was brought upon Sakyamuni Buddha beneath the bodhi tree. Unfortunately, Pema is not the Buddha, her mind still clinging to illusion, and when the horrid beasts sink their claws into her, the pain and horror is still real. She bites her lips as she first claw tears into her and stains her white inner robe red with her own blood, desperately trying to focus her mind. It doesn't last long, and soon she finds herself shrieking into the darkness in agony and shock as her frail body is being torn apart. She even looks down at herself, seeing her own bones exposed beneath her flesh, her own mortality revealed as an inner beating heart hungrily ought after by the horrid beasts. Soon enough, she'll either wake up from this, or she'll be reduced to a pile of picked-clean bones, like a discarded animal carcass on the road.

Still the creatures do not relent, and perhaps are driven on by the Pema's screams. They tear her body apart, leaving nothing but bloody tatters of the girl. And yet, she remains- with the representation of her physical body so violently shed, she finds her astral form floating there. A flame ignites within her chest, and begins to burn its way through her form, purging the scent of blood and fear. The fire is easily as ravenous as the beasts, but it is tranquil in its hunger as it consumes the metaphysical.

Having lived a fairly sheltered life, Pema's experience with death has been limited. How fitting then, how the first death violent death in this manner she ever gets to see is her own. Her body reduced to nothing, she looks down at the form she once had. It is a bitter experience, but also a liberating one. She seeks to distance herself from the puddle of blood and gore that once was her, and she looks down to see what she looks like now. It's a fleeting form, without a real substance, but it still resembles what her physical form looked like somewhat. Despite this, there's still a pain and sensation of warmth going through her, but it affects her significantly less, and she continues to float away from her physical remains, leaving them behind like the used carcass they are.

The fire continue burning, spreading out from Lotus's astral form and lapping at the darkness that surrounds her. The fire spreads, burning away the shadows and filling the world with light once again. The creatures, seemingly a part of the darkness itself, are no where to be seen, either. The light becomes blinding after a while, until it eventually fades. Lotus will find herself inside the bud of her namesake, albeit a very large one, its petals slowly spreading apart to deliver her into the next part of this vision- she finds herself atop a mountain, cold and harsh, and above the clouds. The sun in the distance is brilliant, washing over an endless sea of mist below. The sound of the wind is soon joined by a voice, and then another. Chanting echoing through the stony reaches.

The first thought that comes through Pema when the lotus flower opens and reveals the mountain is, if she's standing atop the mythical mount Sumeru, overlooking all the world? The mist stretches on endlessly like the sea, though. She stands there for a moment, looking about, taken by the view and relieved over being liberated by that pervading darkness in her previous visions. She listens to the wind. First, it is the only thing she hears, but soon she can hear words embedded in it as it dances by her. The voices grow stronger, and eventually she hears more of the song than the wind itself. It is a chant she knows very well, naturally; she grew up hearing it, and she knows its meaning. It seems natural that she is only to join in. Taking on an upright position and placing her hands over her belly, she gathers her voice and joins in the chant, deep throat-singing giving way to the high-pitched wail of the Himalayan peoples.

As she sings, her Lotus flower bears her aloft and she begins to drift upwards above the peak of the mountain. Those other voices draw nearer, each of them upon a lotus flower of their own. They form a circle in the sky around the peak of the mountain, their singing seem to fill all the space between earth and heaven. The mists begin to recede away, down the sides of the great mountain, allowing the rays of the sun to illuminate the land below- the snowy mountain giving way to lush forested foothills and winding rivers and great fields of gold, pure and untouched.

As the lotus flower lifts her off, the young sorceress decides to sit down upon it, legs crossed perfectly as is seen in all the Thangkas and other images. She looks with wonder over at the other lotus flowers and whatever presence they carry, thinking for a moment if she is alone within her own mind or if she has connected with others across time and space. Her attention shifts quickly to the view below, though; first to the mountain peak, then to the landscapes taking form underneath the receding clouds. She focuses, visualising the lotus she's sitting on, and attempts to control it, bringing her down towards the earth and the landscapes below that beckon to her.

Willed onwards by Lotus's urging, and yet still bearing its own will, the flower glides down the mountaintop, passing from snow, to stone, to forest. It follows the path of the river as it cuts its way through fields, until eventually it falls over a cliff- the waterfall having carved out a great basin of water below, deep but crystal clear. The lotus settles into a position in the centre of the basin, with the waterfall behind Lotus, and the world before her, resting delicately upon the water's surface.

Even in this plane of existence or non-existence, the sensations still feel real. The cool air sweeping past her as she descends from the high point, the sounds of the river becoming clearer as he approaches it, and eventually feeling that slightly warm, clear water against her skin as it submerges. She float up, and remains there for a while. This moment is pleasant, and alluring, and for a time it manages to lull her into a sensory state of contentment. Then, she realises that's not why she is here; all of this is illusory, and getting attached to it will not aid her on her quest but rather bring her down. She has to go on, lest she learn nothing from this quest. Thus, she slowly tries to swim - despite having never really learned that skill - to the shore, and it somehow works. Her clothes and long black hair are soaking wet, but she keeps going, knowing instinctively that she is reaching the end of this particular sojourn.

As she nears the shore, her senses slowly begin to fade, the world begins to grow dark once again. The water feels heavy in her hands and the sounds grow quiet, as though distant. Eventually, she finds herself in the darkness that she was in when she first begin this journey, once more. When she opens her eyes again, the world is still black. She still doesn't hear a thing. She knows that it is cold, but she does not shiver, or feel the stone beneath her. She is tired, her eyelids heavy, her limbs heavier. An overwhelming urge to close her eyes wells up from within. To rest. Just for a moment.

The lack of light is confusing, and the cold is starting to dig deeply into Pema's frail body despite being wrapped in several blankets, wearing the hat and mittens Walker gave her. Nonetheless, she is still sitting exactly the way she was when she began, and slowly she sinks into sleep still sitting that way.

Just as Pema's consciousness fades, the last thing she feels is a vague rumble in the earth.

In the darkness of the cavern, two points of light appear, their subtle glow illuminating the moss-bearded face of Goliath as he wakes from his slumber. As he had promised, he has been barring the entrance lest any unwelcome visitors make themselves known. They observe the unconscious Pema for several moments, the Giant moving closer and peering at her closely. And then he rises to his full height, and charges back towards the entrance of the cave. He barrels through the stone walls towards the entrance of the cave. When he finally arrives at the entrance, his chest expands, soil and dirt and gravel upending itself and being drawn into his maw. Then he bellows- it's like a thunderclap, like an avalanche The shout is wordless, but it travels far, scaring birds from their roosts, sending foxes and deer scurrying into their hiding places.

All the way down in Twin Forks, it rattles the window of the Chalet Darius has rented, and he at once knows from whence the noise originates. He sets down his book, sweeps up his pack, and strides out of the door. He takes flight immediately, to the shock and astonishment of some hapless tourists who are still looking up at the mountain face which just bellowed in worried surprise.

into astral space with a shower of leaves. Walker heard the noise of course, and he's already above tree height when the astral wolf finds him before he shoots off towards the cave, a vague shape cloaking him in mists as he hurtles towards the mountain.

Darius hurtles up the mountainside, just above the trees as the fierce winds of his rapid flight whip at his face and cloak. Thankfully, he manages to hold onto his pack, given that the same magical force is hurtling it along with him towards Goliath's domain. A mottled brown merlin hawk appears in flight beside him, keeping up despite the speed, and then peels off to go and find Walker. The two mages have little trouble reaching the clearing in mere minutes, rather than the hour long hike they might usually take.

Goliath waits for them in the clearing, "She sleeps, and will not wake." the lumbering form tells them as they approach, the closest thing to urgency the Elemental has shown in years. It turns back towards the cave, and grips the entrance with its massive hands, tearing the mineshaft open so the mages can enter unimpeded by low ceilings or narrow passages.

Looking just a little alarmed by the casual way Goliath rends the earth apart, apparently with no care for things like load-bearing columns, Walker gives Darius a curt nod in greeting before hurrying towards the entrance. "How's your first aid?" he asks the other man without preamble, "Mine is only passable at best…"

Right in the centre of the circular room Goliath has shaped, decorated with all the stones he has acquired with time, sits Pema. There's dust on the cave floor with just a single pair of human footprints, indicating that she sat down there in the middle of the complete darkness and didn't move from the spot for days. There's a blanket rolled out on the cave floor she's seated on, and she is wearing two more about her body, along with the hat and mittens Walker gave her. No fire, though, not even a light. She sat there this whole time in complete darkness with her ritual implements neatly arranged, an empty Thermos of tea, and collapsed still sitting in a lotus, slouched forward so her head almost touches the ground.

"Not great, but I have a savior kit." Darius says back to Walker in hurried tones- he's not quite so bothered by the elementals display of force. Perhaps used to brute force solutions. He alights heavily next to Pema, dropping his pack, and pulls the expert kit out of it. He reaches for her wrist, and he jolts back, "She's ice cold." he says, before taking her wrist again and moving her to lay back, head against his pack, and unfolds her legs. He turns his head to the side, ear next to her mouth, listening for breathing sounds and watching her chest for the telltale rise and fall- as hard as that might be to see wrapped up in blankets as she is- while his fingers search for a pulse on her wrist.

"Good enough in a pinch," the elf comments as he kneels down on the other side of her. Green eyes glow golden in the low light of the cave as he examines the frozen girl. "Not enough water," he mutters grimly, "Or enough heat." A gallows smile cracks his face for a moment before he adds, "Whatever happened though, it worked: she's an initiate now." Not really sure what else to do, he shrugs off his buckskin cape and drapes it over the her like another blanket.
The girl is still breathing, albeit weakly and with a wheeze that speaks of pneumonia. Her skin is cold and pale, but there's still a pulse there. She probably wouldn't last for much longer though. Since she's hunched over in a lotus, her position is kind of awkward, though all the blankets prevented her from falling over completely.

While still trying to find the girl's pulse- it doesn't help he's not especially proficient at it- Darius says to Walker, "I'll call a fire elemental for the heat. I have some sports drinks in my pack." he says then. See, being an overly prepared tourist is handy. Sometimes. Once he confirms that she is still alive- in the mundane way- he releases his grip on her wrist and moves away from her. He closes his eyes for a moment, and murmurs something in an ancient language. Moments later, a figure appears in the room- appearing as a horned metahuman from the waist up, with charcoal black skin, full of bright cracks, and burning ruby eyes, but a swirling vortex of flame in lieu of legs. "We need warmth- gentle warmth." Darius makes sure to remind the elemental, who certainly looks like he's more accustomed to incineration. Regardless, the cracks glow brighter, and waves of heat like a camp fire begin radiating out from him.

"Definite improvement," the elf notes at the sight of the flaming figure before shuffling around to retrieve Darius' pack and the bottle inside it. He sets it down nearby and glances up at the hermetic, "Probably ought to save it for when she's conscious again. Better to let the kit do a drip if she doesn't come to."

Pema's wrist drops limp as soon as the mage lets go of her. She's hard to work with as she's sitting; laying her down might also help her with breathing. The heat is still not enough to bring her back to consciousness. On the blanket, she has the drum and bell she used in the spirit ceremony they did earlier. Also a Thermos that's empty. No bowl, or indication that she has eaten anything this whole time, so she's probably malnourished as well. Wouldn't take her long, since she was already a very slender woman even before exposing herself to this ordeal.

Darius nods his head then, at Walker's suggestion about the kit- as calm as he's trying to stay, it's clear he's panicking slightly, "Right, yes, the kit of course." he says then. He opens up the kit, and the touchscreen interface kicks to life. He quickly taps his way through the context-sensitive menus, and follows the instructions that pop up. He pulls out an antiseptic cleaning wipe, and takes one of Pema's wrists again. He pushes her sleeve up, and then wipes clean the crook of her elbow. Then he takes an indicated, needle-tipped tube from the device, and carefully pushes it into her skin- he misses the vein, which the device helpfully tells him, and then he tries again- getting it this time. Then the medpack flashes to indicate it needs to be elevated, so he picks it up and gets to his feet, lifting it up, so that the IV fluids can begin to flow- a smart valve on the tube ensuring that any bubbles are vented before reaching Pema's bloodstream.

"Thank you Mr. Shiawase," Walker murmurs as the kit bleeps contentedly and does its work. Not seeing much more he can do for Pema, he rummages in his own pack until he finds a few high-calorie ration bars in a variety of flavours that he lays out nearby. The elf does not look happy. She might have managed to accomplish what she came here to do, but the frustrated expression on his face makes it very clear that Walker is replaying the hike up here in his head and cursing himself for not leaving Goliath with strict instructions on the care and feeding of small vulnerable humans.

It takes a while, in which there's only the medpack's bleeping readout of her pulse echoing in that cave, but eventually there's movement from the girl. There's a twitch in that arm with the needle in it, and then in her eyelids. Then, she coughs. It's a nasty, dry cough but it's certainly a welcome sight to see her waking up. Then, she opens her dark eyes, straight up into the dark ceiling. She tilts her head to the side, only now noticing the two mages. She forces a smile with her pale, chapped dry lips. "Tashi deleh," she says with a weak voice, followed by something else in Tibetan. Something tells them that whatever she just said probably didn't make sense in Tibetan either, poor delirious girl.

Holding the medpack up rather quickly becomes tiring, which is why Darius is relieved to discover- after several long minutes- that there is a fold out stand on the back of it. He is in the process of trying to figure out how the catch mechanism works when Pema begins to stir. He decides to simply switch arms, as he turns back to look down at her. "Shh, you're alright." he says as she begins to stir. "We have you now. You're going to be fine." he adds a moment later.

Despite his dark mood, Walker manages a smile when Pema stirs. "Welcome back," the elf says in a soft voice, "Don't try to talk, you're dehydrated. Just rest up." He manages not to scold, in fact his bedside manner isn't bad all things considered. Moving around to Darius, he lends a second pair of hands to setting up the medkit.

Even the few words she managed to say is enough to get her to couch fiercely. She tries to raise a hand to cover her mouth, but it seems she's almost too weak to even accomplish that, so the free arm she has just sort of lifts a bit then slump down on her side again. She whimpers in pain from the coughing, then sets her head down. "Will I survive?" she asks, her voice flat and expressionless.

Darius glances over to Walker when Pema asks the question, and then back down to the girl. "This? Yes. The conversation we're going to have once we get you somewhere warm? I'm less certain." he says to her then. With Walker's help, he manages to get the catch unclipped, and the smart materials spring into a three-footed stand, which he makes steady against the rocky floor, finally freeing up his hands. He lowers himself back down to kneel besides Pema, and he reaches out to take her hand between both of his- the one which just flopped back down. "But don't worry about that, for now." he says to her, giving the hand a squeeze.

Shooting a wry smile at Darius, Walker adds reassuringly, "Oh you'll be fine! We're going camping though and you're getting a crash course in taking care of yourself." He smiles and, guessing that she's going to keep trying to talk whether it's a good idea or not, sets up a mental link between the three of them, even extending the contact to Goliath if he wants to join in.

~At least you'll save your voice this way.~ Accompanying the words is a warm feeling of pride in her for seeing it through, anything else carefully quarantined for now.

Pema makes a bit of a frown. "I'm sorry to put you through this…" she says, then whimpers once more in pain and just lies down, closing her eyes. She is the type of woman that always seem to have cold hand, especially at this point, but she's slowly starting to feel less like a corpse to the touch and more like a human being.

When the mental link is established, one can feel how much clearer she is mentally. ~Hopefully the next step won't be as strenuous as this one.~ Despite the delirium brought about through hypothermia and everything, her inner voice has a clarity and calm as if she nonetheless emerged wiser from this ostensibly foolish endeavour

~Nonsense.~ Darius's voice replies to Pema's spoken comment, ~We assured you we'd support you, did we not?~ he wonders. He settles into a position, sitting in on the stone besides Pema, then. ~Though, I do admit you hadn't taken this ego-death quite so literally.~ he says- the mental equivalent of a long suffering sigh passing through the link, though it can't dispel the warm glow of pride he also feels.

The mental link is practically overwhelmed by a surge of childish joy, then, as Goliath joins it ~Lotus Flower wakes. I worried she had wilted.~ the elemental booms over the mental link.

Wordless agreement from Walker accompanies Darius' response, at least the first part. He's curiously silent on the subject of her ritual, instead turning his attention to Goliath and projecting a warm sense of welcome and reassurance to the giant. ~A little wilted, perhaps, but she'll be fine after a little water. Thank you for looking after her, Goliath.~ There's a brief sense of the elf riffling through his memories before his voice sounds through the link again. ~I'm not sure if it gets easier or not, but you definitely get more used to the strangeness,~ he offers with mental chuckle.

Pema lays down her hands on her chest and closes her eyes, looking a bit more peaceful. There's even a bit of that yellowish flush to her skin again, as her body slowly begins to recover. It seems she'll be fine, though she'll probably have to stay bedridden for a couple of days, and possibly need antibiotics for the pneumonia. ~Wilted in autumn, rising again in spring.~ she says. ~Speaking of which, could we please leave this cave soon? I haven't seen daylight for… I don't know how long. Is it snowing outside? I've never seen snow before.~

Darius nods his head a bit at Pema's suggestion of leaving the Cave, ~I… honestly don't even know. I wasn't paying attention on the way up.~ He admits, wonder at the realization coming across the link ~If you feel strong enough to move.~ He says. He turns towards his elemental, "With this command, I set you free. Sustain my spell. I do not ask this lightly." he instructs it in that same ancient language with which he intones his spells. The Elemental growls, clearly unhappy about what has been said, but dips his horned head in acquiescence, ruby eyes burning brightly. Darius closes his eyes again, murmuring in that same tongue. "Bear us aloft on on wings of ether." and then Pema will feel herself slowly lifting off the ground, as does Darius, his pack, and the medkit still administering IV fluids to the girl. Much more slowly than his earlier flight.

~There was a light dusting this morning, but it's melted by now,~ Walker supplies with a hint of sadness that she won't get to see it herself. He also sends a memory though: the first light through the trees dusted with snow, the grass glittering with frost. ~It was very pretty this morning.~ The surly elemental gets a raised eyebrow from the elf, but he lets the mage deal with it.

~I think getting her somewhere warm is a good idea. The kit doesn't seem too upset and getting her temperature up will help a lot. Hot bath then put her in front of a fire.~ A memory of doing it himself after falling in an icy lake illustrates the point for emphasis.

Pema's body slowly rises from the floor like a bundle of blankets, making her look bigger than she is. Considering she seems to have lived on nothing but tea for over a week, she's probably even more skinny than she already was. ~It's beautiful. I'm sure there'll be more chances to see it very soon.~ Pema's hand slumps down from her her chest and is left hanging. ~If you can, please bring my other things. I'd carry them myself, but… oh, and Goliath. I'm sorry to cause this drama in your domain. I wish to thank you nonetheless for the care. I owe all three of you my life now. Thank you.~

Darius hovers over to tuck Pema's hand back under the blanket, and wraps it around her, tucking it in on herself to make a Pema burrito- since they are going out into the cold, fussing like a mother hen again. ~I could have done without seeing you in the bath.~ Darius retorts to Walker's mental imagery, perhaps trying to inject a little humour to the situation. He frowns a bit in concentration, and Pema's pack begins to float as well. Finally he, Pema, their collected gear, and the surly elemental begin to float back towards the entrance of the cavern. The elementals warmth thankfully follows as it moves with them.

~You are Friend to Goliath. You are welcome.~ the booming voice of the elemental calls back. They soon approach where Goliath remains near the entrance, holding the roof up after his hasty remodelling job.

Walker's mind registers confusion for a moment, before he remembers that some people have nudity taboos. ~I'm sure it's nothing you haven't seen before,~ he replies amusedly, happy to play along, ~You're just lucky there weren't any full length mirrors in the room.~ He stoops to recover his and Darius' packs, slinging one over each shoulder while letting
Darius concentrate on the multiple levitation problem.

Once ready, he follows the others out of the cave, stopping only to pat Goliath's immense back. ~Thank you, friend,~ he sends, along with a mental hug to the free spirit before glancing to the sky and peering around. After a few moments, another mist-veiled figure drifts down to wrap the group in clouds for their trip down the mountain. The elf glances down at Pema and gives her shoulder a reassuring pat. There aren't any words to what he sends, just a silent acknowledgement that he could not have done any differently.

~I'll come back to visit soon,~ Pema says Goliath before eventually leaving and heading out the cave. She tries to open her eyes to see the daylight, but so many days spent in total darkness has rendered her eyes sensitive and she closes them again. ~I never thought I'd see light so bright,~ she says, making it unclear if she's talking about the actual daylight or some lights she saw while slowly meditating herself to death. She coughs some more, the pain she feels from her lungs spreading across the mindweb like a static, never mind how sore and emaciated the rest of her body is. Apart from that, she can't do much but lie still and float, and be the main attraction of this very curious-looking flying ensemble. ~You had a house rented down in Twin Forks, yes?~

Darius wordlessly expresses his Gratitude to Goliath along the link. Once all of them are safely out, the stony giant releases his hold on the broken stone, and the entrance to his mine promptly collapses. He doesn't look particularly bothered by it, though. Given the age of the mine, this probably isn't its first cave in.

Darius floats down past the trees, keeping a brisk pace, aiming to get Pema back to the warm Chalet sooner than later, but mindful of going too fast and buffeting her with unpleasantly cold winds. The elemental continues to drive the worst of the chill away, though, as they descend the slopes. He winces slightly at the mental static, but doesn't loose his concentration- thankfully- and then answers her question. ~A chalet, yet. Actually-~ a thought occurs, and a Merlin Hawk manifests in midair alongside them. With a glance to it, it keens out a call, and then soars on ahead. ~Tlali will get the bath running.~ he explains.

Walker remains fairly quiet during the trip, projecting sympathy over the link and acknowledging that sharing the discomfort tends to help in these situations. His mist spirit deflects the worst of the wind, reducing the chilly gusts to little more than a light breeze. Added to the fire elemental, it's almost like a warm day as the strange aerial procession flits onwards.

Despite her obvious physical pain, fatigue and illness clouding her mind, it is clear that Pema has nonetheless emerged from the cave a somewhat different person, just as she promised she would. Obviously she's been through something in there. She seems less anxious than before, although it also seems that she experienced something in there that was scarring to some extent. Apart from the obvious, being on the brink of death and all. She remains quiet for the rest of the trip, her eyes closed, just trying to keep herself from coughing.

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