It's the fifth anniversary of Mortified and... The beginning of the sequel! I did warn you to expect it.
This will not be updated with the same regularity as Mortified was, but I hope that you will enjoy it nonetheless.
Chapter 1: Temple
The Infinite Realms contained innumerable glories, mysteries, powers, and the greatest of these was the Core which laid at its center. It went by many names, but lately it had picked up a very old one, and a very old persona to go with it. Ereshkigal, the goddess and ruler of Kur, the land of the dead, as it was named by the Mesopotamians. Triggered, perhaps, by the long-awaited return of her favorite time-traveling trickster.
But that was neither here nor there. What was relevant that Ereshkigal had given permission to attempt the Pilgrimage, and she had given it to three children.
They, out of the countless hundreds, thousands, millions, billions of living souls that populated the universe, could attempt the Pilgrimage, if they were so inclined.
The Pilgrimage, the completion of which would ensure that they would become ghosts when they died, the next best thing to immortality. The Pilgrimage, which had been mandated a secret that even the Ancients could not speak of. The Pilgrimage, which had not been attempted for a thousand years.
The Pilgrimage, which hadn't been successfully completed for even longer.
The Pilgrimage, which they had just started.
The Pilgrimage had a set starting point, although the route itself varied as much as the people who took it and the ghosts they became. It was a grand temple, built of Earth-native gold, marble, and rose quartz, worn around the edges but preserved from the destruction often wrought by overly energetic ghosts, purposefully or otherwise, by proximity to the core.
Currently, it was being approached by three pilgrims.
Jasmine, Jazz, the living elder sister of the Prince of All Ghosts, the King-in-Waiting. Red-haired and sharp-eyed, she was a burgeoning sorceress of some power. She carried with her a tome of spells and two swords, both named and storied. Not long ago, she had served as a diplomat to the United States and brokered the beginnings of a treaty between them and the Realms. She had fought ghosts and men both and had come out on top.
Samantha, called Sam, an erstwhile representative from the Protectorate of Amity and daughter of another, an activist, a reformer, a clairvoyant. She wielded not one but two esoteric powers, the second a 'gift' from her time as the thrall of Undergrowth. She had overthrown governments and princes with nothing but words and fought the best and worst the Realms had to offer with little more than human strength.
Tucker, the Pharaoh Duulaman reborn, Priest-King of Kemet, adopted brother of the Prince of Ghosts. Sorcerer unequaled in ages past, in his present life he was a technophile, skilled enough in computer programming to defeat ghosts for whom it was their Obsession. His own personal ambition was to spread modern technology across all the Realms, starting with his own.
Put like that, they sounded impressive.
Tucker shrieked as they fell through the green towards the temple. "Slow down! Slow down!"
Falling was, of course, the closest a human, sans equipment, could get to flying, and that was even more true in the Infinite Realms where the laws of physics were often a matter of perception. Where ghosts flew from island to island, structure to structure, or door to door, humans jumped and fell, navigating by changing their perception of down. Those with ample practice could even adjust their speed by deciding how much force gravity had at any given moment.
Tucker was of the opinion that Sam's grasp on gravity was a little too strong and that the temple was approaching a little too fast.
A lot too fast.
His opinion on this was further informed by Sam's firm grip on his arm dragging him with her.
"Sam! Slow down!"
"Jazz! Make her slow down!"
"I don't know what you're complaining about," said Jazz, who had grown up with the driving of Jack Fenton, who had once been the terror of every road in Amity Park, even if she herself had always scrupulously followed the laws of the road. "We aren't going that fast."
(There were no speed limits in the Infinite Realms.)
"EEEEEEEEEE!" said Tucker.
They entered the local gravity of the temple and their trajectory curved down, depositing them in front of the grand arched doorway that led to its interior. They landed on their feet.
"See?" said Sam, patting Tucker on the shoulder. "We're fine."
"I thought we were going to pancake. Do you have any idea how embarrassing it would be to die before we'd even started the Pilgrimage? Danny would never let us live it down."
"Of course he wouldn't. We'd be dead."
"Can you imagine the puns? And that's only if we become ghosts!"
"We weren't going that fast," repeated Jazz, pacing in front of the doors, examining them closely. "Danny goes faster."
"I know Danny can stop."
The doors were tall and golden. It had a reddish tint to it, echoing the quartz used in other parts of the temple. It was a stark difference from the purple of most doors in the Ghost Zone. There was a raised pattern on the door, a large, visible lock at its center, and glowing half-circles to either side, just past the hinge.
"We didn't get a key, did we?" asked Tucker.
"No, we did not," said Jazz, tapping her chin with the knuckle of her pointer finger. "But I think this might be a puzzle."
"Can't we just phase through?" Sam pressed her hand against the door. "Oh, it's not ectoplasmic."
"Probably to keep Pilgrims from getting in too easily," said Jazz.
"Wouldn't ghosts be able to get in, though?" asked Sam.
"Maybe there's a backing or something with ectoplasm in it," suggested Tucker, approaching the door, and rapping on it. He grimaced and shook out his hands. "Well, it sure feels solid."
"I don't know that it would matter very much if ghosts could get in," said Jazz. "The Pilgrimage isn't much use to ghosts. I mean, you can't become a ghost twice."
"I guess not," said Sam. She reached up and tapped one of the raised, decorative pieces, then flinched away from it when it rotated with a deep scraping sound, like two ceramic dishes rubbing against one another.
"Huh," said Tucker. "You know… this reminds me of a puzzle game I played once."
"Well," said Jazz, "that wouldn't be the weirdest thing we've ever encountered. Still, this is an ancient ghost temple… thing. Actually, did anyone ever say what this was a temple to?"
"I think it's just a generic temple," said Sam.
"Can a temple be generic, though?" asked Jazz. "Maybe it's a temple to the Pilgrimage."
"It's a temple for the Pilgrimage."
"Guys," said Tucker, "I think I know what we need to do. We need to make a path from the lights to the keyhole."
"Oh, that's some interesting symbolism. Light, life, on one side, to light, life, on the other, and within is the key to making that transition."
"If you say so," said Tucker. "The game I played was more, um. Plumbing."
Jazz shrugged. "Water's a good metaphor, too. You guys don't see any kind of timer or countdown, do you? Number of moves? Anything else that changed?"
"No," said Sam. "I don't see anything." She took a couple of steps back, sweeping her gaze from side to side. "I don't see any other changes."
"Okay, then we'll just try to connect the paths."
"Yeah, but I don't know how we're going to get to some of the pieces up there," said Tucker. "From what I can see, the pattern will be sort of serpentine." He pointed, tracing the path up and down with his finger.
"Not a problem," said Jazz. Glowing hands flickered into being around her and then all but one faded out, with the remaining one becoming brighter, more solid. Just tell me what to touch."
Tucker took a couple of steps to the left and pointed up at the segment closest to the left-hand half circle. "Let's start out over here. Just to check if we've got the right idea."
Obligingly, Jazz tapped the piece he's pointed at. It rotated by forty-five degrees and settled into place.
"Okay, try it again," said Tucker. "Needs another quarter-turn."
This time, when the piece settled, one end almost brushing the glowing half-circle, it began to glow softly in the same color, as if the light had poured into it.
"Well, it looks like you were right," said Jazz. She tapped the next piece in the sequence, turning it. When it stopped, it began to glow, too.
"I'll see if I can do the lower ones on this other door," said Sam.
The pattern was much more complex than it had originally seemed, branching and twisting to cover the whole door with light, like a broad tree with no roots. But it wasn't a terribly difficult puzzle, overall.
"I don't understand what the point of this is," mumbled Sam. She had gotten as much done near the bottom as she could, and was now standing back, out of the way. "It isn't like this would actually keep anyone determined out."
"Maybe that's the point," said Jazz. "This is fairly close to the core, so maybe the time it would take to solve it would be enough to make most ghosts destabilize."
"Or there could be other things going on, like maybe the tiles can only be moved by humans," said Tucker. "Or there's something in there spying on us."
"Thanks for that thought."
"You're welcome," said Tucker. "I think the next one is there, Jazz. And then there."
"Right, I think I see the next few…" Jazz activated the tiles in quick succession. The last light path reached the keyhole in the center, and the keyhole and seam between the doors lit up, decorative embellishments near their edges glowing as well to complete the illusion of a tree. Then the doors swung slowly outward.
Jazz, Sam, and Tucker all stepped forward, looking into the temple. The space inside was open and bright, with clouded quartz windows letting in a surprising amount of light, along with glowing inscriptions and simple line carvings.
But the carvings only took up the front part of the room, and as Sam watched, they extended back, further and further, all the way to the back wall, where the lines converged in a rounded rectangle over a quartz statue raising its right hand in a gesture of benediction.
"Is that a buddha?" asked Jazz.
"Isn't Buddha supposed to be fat?" asked Tucker.
Sam sighed heavily.
"What? What did I say?"
"There's more than one buddha," said Sam. "Not all of them are fat, and some of them are women."
"Oh," said Tucker. "Who's this one, then?"
"I don't know," said Sam. "I'm not Buddhist."
"Let's just go," said Jazz, walking in. Her footsteps echoed loudly, and Sam hurried to follow her, with Tucker entering next.
"Anyone recognize any of these things?" she asked, looking at the carvings.
"Not really," said Tucker. "I'm not a polyglot like Danny."
They reached the back of the temple, and the robed statue, spreading out in front of it so that they could all see it clearly. The rectangle over its head flared brighter, and words began to appear inside of it.
YOUR PAST MUST BE YOUR OWN
"What does that mean?" asked Sam. "Is it a riddle of some kind?"
The writing continued further down, after a gap.
TO CHERISH OR TO SCORN
TO FORGET OR TO LEARN
TO REFORGE OR TO RETURN
THOUGH THE ANCHOR STILL REMAINS
LET NO OTHER HOLD YOUR CHAINS
It stopped there, the last line just over the statue's head.
"I guess we're supposed to do something with this," said Jazz.
"Sure, but what?" asked Tucker. "Are we supposed to confront our pasts or something? Let go of them? Make peace with them?"
"That doesn't sound very ghostly," said Sam, wrinkling her nose. "It'd make more sense if we were trying to hold onto the past even more. Unfinished business and all that."
"Maybe that's the cherish part," said Jazz. "Or the anchor part. I'm just… not sure what we're actually supposed to do with this. It doesn't say anything about where we're supposed to go next, or what we're supposed to do." She turned around to look at the carvings on the side walls. "Maybe there's something here, in these?"
"It'd be too much to ask that there be someone to tell us what this meant, wouldn't it?" asked Tucker, wryly.
"Yeah, having no idea what's going on is pretty typical, isn't it?" asked Sam in the same tone.
Then, the statue started to move.
Weapons came out. Swords, a handful of seeds and a bat, a staff.
"I believe I can be of assistance," said the statue. "My, you're all very eager, aren't you?"
"What the heck, there's actually someone here to answer questions?" asked Tucker, delighted. "That's so cool."
"That is indeed my role," said the statue, inclining its head ever so slightly. "Please, ask your questions, pilgrims."
"Who are you?" asked Jazz, edging out Sam by a second.
"I am merely one who desires to help those who come after," said the statue. "I need no name for this."
"Okay," said Tucker, drawing out the word. "So, what is up with that… poem? Thing?"
"Your instructions," said the statue. "What you must do before beginning the Pilgrimage proper. You must claim your past. It must belong to you."
"And what does that mean?" asked Sam. "My past is already mine."
"But do you define it, or do others define it for you? Have you always acted freely, or have you been held in thrall, and does it hold you still?" The statue's head turned to look at Tucker. "Do you know yourself, or only what you have been told?" Then, it looked at Jazz. "Have you forged your own legends, or do you borrow those of others, without knowing their significance?"
"Oh," said Tucker. "I get it."
"You do?" asked Sam. She didn't.
"You've got to deal with Undergrowth. I've got to deal with Duulaman. Jazz… You have those swords. They're borrowed, aren't they?"
Sam shook her head and stepped forward, crossing her arms. "Isn't baggage part of the package of being a ghost?"
Sam huffed. "Obsessions, obligations, and unfinished business? Shouldn't we want to keep hold of things, instead of resolving them?"
"You do not have to resolve anything," said the statue. "Merely face it, fully and completely. Understand why it might keep you… And if it is worthy of doing so."
"That… shouldn't be too bad," said Tucker.
"Do you have anything more specific?" asked Sam. "Like, what we, specifically, are supposed to do?"
The statue spread its hands out. "I do not know your histories."
"Well," said Sam. "Thank you." They probably would have been arguing about the meaning of the words for hours with no resolution if it wasn't for the statue.
The statue nodded once, then resumed its original position.
"So," started Tucker.
"We're doing yours first."
"Because yours is easiest."
"I don't exactly feel that way."
Sam pointed at herself. "Undergrowth."
She turned her finger to Jazz. "I don't even know where to start with yours."
Jazz sighed. "With Fright Knight and wherever Danny got Calesvol from, I suppose."
"Talking to Danny is easy."
"Not even twenty-four hours after we left, though?" asked Sam.
Tucker opened and closed his mouth several times, then nodded in agreement. "You're right, all the Phantoms would be insufferable. We'll do mine first."