It has been almost two months since Malcolm and his charges found their way to the continent-city of Gandharva. Despite the climate of war and pursuit that has followed them like a cloud on the horizon, they have found time to collect themselves and enjoy life for what little comfort it allows.
The scene shifts to the academy at Aeon Home, a college reserved for only the most passionate students of history and science. Located in the very center of Gandharva, the Aeon Home and its academy are considered the heart and soul of the city.
High Praetor Tien calls a handsome bespectacled man into his office for a talk. This man is professor Ravi Wachter, foremost authority on most things within the academy and somewhat a close friend of the old man. After some pleasant conversation Tien gets to business, asking for Ravi’s assistance in matters recently brought up within Gandharva. It seems that a tunnel has opened in the city’s waterways that leads to the ruins of a great city. The local authorities have asked for the expertise of one such as Ravi in this matter, being that he would know what to do with long-forgotten ruins better than anyone.
Ravi agrees to the job with some cajoling and is introduced to his companions for the excursion. Two friends from his school days, a Marcus warrior named Hearth and a bubbly girl named Altamira, step forward to greet their acquaintance. A third person, shrouded in shadow, comes forth as well. Ravi sees a smallish woman with short blonde hair wearing the clothing of a typical Moregnon rogue and carrying various weapons on her person. She introduces herself as Jacques in a voice obviously made to sound deeper than it should. Jacques is the toolbox of the group, hired to take care of traps and other variables that could arise during Ravi’s investigation.
After an awkward encounter with Tien’s daughter and another of Ravi’s friends, a beautiful girl by the name of Rosalind, the group decides to meet at the fountain outside the academy when they’re finished preparing. It doesn’t take Ravi long to get his things together and soon the party is on their way to the site of the tunnel’s emergence.
It seems that someone wants to discourage investigation, however, as traps are set along the tunnel opening. Jacques makes short work of the trip-wires lining the opening, triggering a stored spell to plunge the air further in. Adeptly – not to mention mysteriously – the young woman absorbs the magical energy for herself.
Inside the tunnel, the ancient city spreads forth for miles in what appears to be a man-made tunnel that stretches nigh-infinitely in all directions. Damages seem minimal here with only a few toppled pillars and broken down walls marking the passage of time in the unnamed location. Ravi finds a sign hastily stuck in the ground just outside the gates of the abandoned settlement. The words seem to be familiar, but as the professor stares at them they transform into something altogether disturbing- a language he thought only he knew. The sign reads:
Speak not for it listens. Walk not here for it sees. Tell not your secrets for they are as knives. Give not the Behemoth its bread, Its sustenance. For it is ruin
Visibly shaken, Ravi makes a mental note of the sign’s words and rejoins his companions in deciding where to go next. Hearth and Altamira were sent along to take care of a Rakshasa infestation suspected to be growing in the area, so they head off toward a residential area of the forgotten city where the creatures would likely squat. Jacques has an altercation with one such rakshasa who is easily intimidated into running off, but not before mumbling something about the Behemoth and how his people revere her. Meanwhile Altamira uses Ravi’s fear of pushy women to get him to stop talking down to her so much. After diffusing more traps laid in their wake, Jacques and Ravi head off in the opposite direction of their allies, toward a large plaza teeming with debris.
Inside the plaza, Ravi sees what he thinks is a church some ways in the distance displaying religious iconography from the First Age. Intrigued, he continues searching. The explorers hear insidious laughter dotting the landscape as they search, and after Jacques disarms a few more traps more rakshasa appear. Two grunts are accompanied by a leader of some sort with brilliant green-black fur and bearing a star-shaped mark over one eye. He demands that Ravi and Jacques leave the rakshasa’s “sacred space,” but they both disagree and a fight ensues with the creatures as aggressors.
During the skirmish Jacques displays a talent with para-magic, a form of arcane talent that is both rare and misunderstood. While not marveling at his companion’s talents Ravi makes use of his own special ability as a truename scholar to send the rakshasa packing. They put up a good fight, but the grunts are easily dispatched. Each falls into a fiery pit in the center of the plaza as he is thrown down by a powerful attack, causing the alien-looking drum in the center of the area to turn faster and faster with time.
The rakshasa leader manages to pierce the defenses Ravi holds on his mind and extract a dangerous piece of information. Just as Jacques wounds the creature’s right arm severely and blood begins to cake his arm and hand, Ravi sees him change suddenly into a familiar form. It is that of Corin, a very important person to Ravi. The professor is shaken and confused and the rakshasa uses this opportunity to make an escape while Jacques tends to Ravi’s wounds and her own.
When everything has calmed down, Jacques hears a strange noise coming from inside the old church at the corner of the plaza. They both approach and enter the building and see a strange sight. Numerous books are floating in place within the church’s assembly hall, turning in lazy circles with their pages flipping madly back and forth.
The church itself holds unusual imagery, even in Ravi’s experience. At the far end of the assembly hall sit three large statues carved in excruciating detail. Two warrior-angels flank a female angel holding tight to a large silver spear. She has raven black hair and ice blue eyes that stare down in quiet judgment. Under her shadow sits a small throne made of bronze and copper.
Turning his attention again to the books, Ravi grabs each in turn and reads them. He finds pictures and words he isn’t familiar with, but is nonetheless intrigued by. The female angel depicted in the iconic statue is known as Evidia the All-Father – Evidia being the name of the very world on which Ravi is standing. Another book holds a vague picture of six shadowy human forms standing in a pattern on a giant stone tablet, the caption reading “VISHNU.” The third book holds an image of Evidia slain on a giant lance much like the one the statue holds, the caption reading “Longinus, Corrruption.” Finally, the forth book shows a picture of a hulking form bathed in darkness, holding the still-shining Longinus lance. The caption reads “Behemoth.”
As soon as Ravi has garnered all the information he can from the books, they seem to die off and fall loudly to the floor. As they do, Ravi and Jacques hear a gentle voice in their head that beckons “speak my name, pilgrim.” Ravi unconsciously mumbles the word “Evidia.”
Suddenly, the statue at the back of the hall drops the silver lance she was carrying. As she does, the throne before her sinks into the floor to reveal a stairway descending into darkness. Jaqcues investigates but finds no traps attached. She does see a handsome, dark-haired man with a bleeding arm sauntering down the hall below, however. When she shares this information with Ravi he becomes suddenly eager to advance, heading down the stairs without delay.
Downstairs lies a shadowy hallway, narrow and ensconced in moss. Jacques’ intuition tells her to stay put and investigate the area before moving another step. Sure enough, the entire hallway is lined with more than adozen trip-wires, some of them coated in fresh blood. With a quick display of para-magic, the young rogue trips the trap and sends each wire taut enough to snap. Suddenly the entire hall’s floor becomes a bed of spears that shoot instantly to the ceiling and stick there for a long time before falling back down. Ravi marvels at his companion’s abilities before remembering the vision of Corin and going on ahead.
At the end of the hall lies a small foyer room with a stairway leading further down. Hearth mysteriously stands guard before the staircase, looking relieved at Ravi and Jacques’ appearance. Apparently the two warriors had a fairly hard time in their area of the city and Altamira was spooked by something pretty bad. Hearth explains that they found a large meeting hall in fairly good condition and decided to stop there for a rest, but ended up finding a passage to the church and its own hidden path themselves. He further explains that there’s something very curious down the stairs that he thinks Ravi should see.
Downstairs, Altamira is huddled in a corner with a sad look about her. She appears to be nursing a wound on her torso, but there is no blood. She shoots a look in Ravi’s direction but avoids eye contact altogether. Ravi pays it no mind and investigates the room in which he finds himself.
Two huge ivy-laden posts sit in the center of the room with what appears to be a man shackled to them by his wrists. Upon approaching, Ravi and the others notice that the person is indeed not human but an automa – a very old model, apparently. The automa awakens and greets his visitors, stating that his name is Padme and he believes himself to be nearly seventeen thousand years old. Despite the apparent audacity of the statement Ravi is unfazed.
Hearth calls the professor’s attention to a plaque sitting on the far wall. As Ravi stares into the worn metal he again sees the words writhe and contort to form their own special language – the one he thought only he would know. The plaque says:
Let not the Behemoth see your heart. Let not your universe be slain. Longinus is key to eternity. Longinus is key to pain.
Confused and frustrated with the various crypticisms of the forgotten city, Ravi turns his attention to Padme who has now been set free by Jacques. The automa is very polite and tries his best to help the others understand what’s happened here, but his memory is impartial and all he can recall is his own name. Padme asks for someone to help him open his chest-plate so that he can repair some of his more derelict functions, and Jacques agrees, pushing a small button on the automa’s side to pop open his chest cavity.
Suddenly the air becomes thicker somehow. No one sees or feels anything different other than that. Hearth conjectures that it could be the waterways pushing moisture into the city’s confines, but Ravi still has an uneasy feeling. The party decide to quit their work for now and take Padme to the academy to be studied and repaired further.
As they breach the hidden stairway and gather in the church’s assembly hall, the party is confronted with a most unusual sight. A small girl with dark hair and bright eyes, dressed like any other girl of the sort, stands in the church’s front doors wearing a wide smile. She asks after the party and what they were doing underground, to which Ravi replies with questions of his own. Namely what such a small girl is doing alone in a government-protected area.
“I live here, silly,” the girl replies, all the while smiling.
“That’s preposterous,” Ravi says. “How could someone live down here, especially you?”
The girl takes a step forward, speaking to Ravi but eyeing Altamira for some reason. “I’ve lived here forever…my name is Nandi. Do you want to play?”
Despite the party’s protestations the young girl wants to play. Out of the blue she summons preta to her side, but they appear to be no normal preta. They are “high preta,” a form of atma saturated human that has evolved unnaturally due to continued exposure to the material and become as powerful as a gaki. The girl also summons two caryatid pillars to her side, each sporting a mass of writhing, silently screaming faces that gnash and butt at each other and the air around them. Whether they want to or not, the party is forced to fight this creature they now know to be inhuman.
Nandi is extremely tough and resilient, displaying a tenacity and constitution that no person could ever have. Each time she’s hit her body suffers for a moment but immediately knits back together, recovering from even the most grievous of injuries.
The high preta take to the party, clawing and biting at them furiously. Hearth contributes to the fight with his swordsmanship, but Altamira is too frightened. Her eyes constantly locked with Nandi’s, the woman retreats to a corner of the assembly hall and watches with a hint of madness.
Nandi uses her pillars as weapons, it seems, bringing them to bear on people to crush or impale them. Unceremoniously, Altamira is killed by a sudden blow from the ghostly weapons and slumps to the floor, lifeless. Ravi notices that Nandi seems to be siphoning Altamira’s atma when the poor girl falls dead. Something clicks inside the professor’s head and he knows what she is. Speaking his own true name, Ravi disappears in a flash and observes the girl-creature for an opening.
Over time Altamira’s body fades away, her very soul being eaten at by the sadistic girl Nandi. Jacques manages to pierce the creature’s defenses and steal a few arcane arts from under her, sending them flying right back at the little one and injuring her greatly. The preta fall one by one, but not before merging with each other into gestalt preta, dangerous amalgam creatures with a lust for violence. His own mind working in unison with the professor’s, Hearth chases down the preta and destroys their bodies as soon as they fall dead, preventing Nandi from draining their essence as well.
Soon it’s just Nandi and the party, facing off among the crumbling church’s plastered walls. Ravi is highly incensed by the death of his friend, striking at the girl-creature again and again with the help of his atma-infused abilities and truename arts. Jacques blasts away with her para-magic and Padme does what he can to contribute. Nandi is soon reduced to a pitiful heap, one arm and leg blown off and an eye socket left empty from the force of Ravi’s harming words. The girl screams, a shrill and disturbing sound that pierces the souls of the party. Millions of ghostly faces appear in the church’s ceiling and transform into a hail of spectral swords that rain down without mercy. Everything goes white…
Ravi awakens in an infirmary inside the academy with Tien and Rosalind at his side. The rest of the party, Altamira a sad exception, have been seen to medically as well. Without words, Ravi is livid and bitter at his experience, but Padme’s kind words make up for the rough holes left in everyone’s hearts.
Tien informs the party that the creature they fought against is known as the Behemoth. Naught else is known about her, but she is a devastating destructive force who uses the power of atma to sicken and consume other living things. Apparently Padme was the medium used to seal Nandi away, but he was enchanted by her with a spell that would compel him to release her when the forgotten city was again discovered. It appears that Padme is correct in his assumption that he is seventeen thousand years old, which only raises further questions.
Without hesitation, Padme rises from his seat and declares that he will hunt down Nandi and subjugate her again as penance for his crime. If anyone wishes to join him, he continues, he would welcome the company.
Suddenly, two people rush into the hospital room unannounced. One is a tall, dark-haired young man with an innocent face who wears the clothes of a Guran. The other is a blonde woman carrying a parasol and a satchel full of books. Milo and Charlotte, of course.
“Excuse me,” Milo says sheepishly. “Sorry to interrupt, but we heard that we could find a professor Ravi Wachter here?”
As Charlotte’s eyes scan the room, they come violently to rest on Jacques, sitting up in her hospital bed. The young rogue’s brow furrows and her lips purse, and both women’s hands come up to point virulently at each other.