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- Taetal knows that if she follows the rules she’ll be safe. Her teachers taught her well: dying in the ruins is predictable and usually your fault. However, an ill-fated expedition teaches her that not everything can be prepared for— and accepting failure takes more than blame.
- Taetal knows how important preparation is, and that’s why she packs lovingly. Each item is carefully chosen and thoughtfully organized— food, water, tools, weapons, useful artifacts— everything an artificer needs has its place. She checks and double checks her respirator, her oiled handgun, and her reference material (latest issue, laminated, and tightly bound in a waterproof binder). She makes a few quiet goodbyes to friends and associates. She’s simply being polite. Nobody will come after her if something goes wrong.
- She departs from Slughaven, weaving a small boat with an outboard motor between the white-faced towers. After a day’s travel, she finds what she’s looking for— a scar in the ceramic, where ocean water leaks into cavernous nothing. This is the way in she was looking for. There’s a place to tie off her boat, and a series of blazes, ropes, and supply caches left by previous artificers: this is a common route into the belly of The Shell. With their help, she descends through the mouth of the ruins, which is empty and mostly silent except for the sound of running water. Reaching the moss-covered bottom, she expects a cozy way-station, but discovers that it’s been destroyed.
- After spending the night in the ruined camp, Taetal wakes, stretches, takes inventory, and prepares journey deeper. As she moves past the waterfalls and mossy dampness, the ruins start coming to life. Laylines and glowing veins pulse against the blackness, and the ruins here hum with quiet activity.
- Taetal pauses to pocket a useful component, and reflects on the liveliness of her surroundings. She notes that this section is unmapped. She considers turning back, but there might be something good deeper, and returning information could save the life of future explorers. It’s a tough decision, but she’s prepared. She’s trained and well supplied. Continuing isn’t irresponsible, so she does.
- Taetal is shimmying along a cliff face when she runs into a nightmare: an invisible threshold, a feeling of deep and shaking wrongness, that makes her head hurt and her crest pulse and strain with apprehension. She recognizes the cognitive hazard but can’t resist it— she tries to scramble back, but loses her balance and falls heavily into the aeortal crevice. She hits her head, losing consciousness as she’s swept by the ever-present water into the faintly illuminated, twisting depths.
- She wakes up in a brightly-lit, rounded chamber, half-submerged in a bath of cyan fluid. Tasting the stuff groggily, she recognizes that it’s not the same coolant solution that she’s used to. This has hormonal residue, a sign of The Shell’s innermost workings, and she realizes she’s somewhere very deep and very remote. She’s made a mistake, and that means she’s already dead.
- Dejected, she rouses herself and starts collecting her stuff, which is spread out all over the chamber and floating in the pool. She turns, half way through reaching for an oxygen canister, to see the surface of the pool bubbling and writing. Something is rising from the pool. It’s a custodian!
- Taetal only has a single shaped charge head, which cracks but doesn’t destroy the ceramic carapace. She manages to plant a destabilizing spike, and ends up destroying the thing with her handgun and a grenade. It collapses, half into the pool, staining the pristine, cyan “water” with red. As it passes away, the worm makes a last, plaintive gesture at Taetal. What does it want?
- Badly wounded, she’s drawn onwards, past the Custodian’s smoking corpse, and into the pool that it emerged from. Swimming through the crystal-clear fluid, she ends up in a calm, ominous room. It’s cooler than the ruins usually are. The air is dry and electric. Banks of dimly-lit machines loom out of the darkness, lit in places by glowing glyphs. A bizarre and powerful psychoactive signature draws her onwards, between the banks of machines, which she smears with blue blood as she passes by.
- As her vision fades, the room comes to life. Machines glow and pulse and buzz, she’s never seen anything like it. Something white, bright, and faintly humming descends from a recess in the ceiling. A mass of fluid tentacles, frozen in space— no, moving towards her. She and the Management Engine stare at each other for a frozen second before she succumbs to her injuries and falls unconscious.
- Framework: It’s comforting to have someone or something to blame when you fail, but sometimes it happens for no reason at all.
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