The Cave of Kelpius is overgrown and long has been. Sequestered away in a small section of Fairmount Park and also known as the Hermit's Cave, it's been chiseled into the topography for centuries, since the 1600s at least.
The people who made it, who lived there? They had several names.The Mystics of Wissahickon. The Society of the Woman of the Wilderness. A Translyvanian composer and self-made prophet carved it into the earth, some say, intending to use it as a shelter to survive the end of the world.
Which of course, didn't happen, and time and curiosity and vandalism have made it what it is now: a stone-lined hole in the ground, faint bits of spray paint touching the interior crumbling walls here and there, buried in the flank of a small hill.
On both sides of the Gauntlet, it is equally unremarkable from the outside. Inside, the Cave is one of those Places-That-Aren't, and what should be a scrappy little space of no more than a hundred and sixty square feet instead stretches for what feels like miles into dark corners.
It's active. It's alive. The ribbons of shadow that snake out from the far reaches of that little-big cave practically shudder and pulse.
So all that's left to do is go in. But Sierra hasn't, not yet, she's perched against a lean-to not far from its entrance, casting a look at it and then back down to her phone from time to time, waiting patiently.
Wes is... Well, Wes has enthusiasm at least! She might not be the best Wolf to call on when you need muscle, or presence, but she's a damned-fine explorer. You're not going to get lost in a cave with her around. Well. Hopefully!
After a few more moments of waiting, Wes arrives wearing her signature cherry red bomber, ripped jeans, and hiking boots. She's a little on the short side, but even if she wasn't, the Cahalith has a way of carrying herself that makes her seem even smaller. Unusually so for her auspice. She inclines her head when Sierra comes into view.
"Yooo," her boots scrape the ground as she comes to a halt with her fists shoved into her jacket pockets. "What's up?"
"You ever been here before?" Sierra asks Wes, slipping her green-hued gaze over to the Cahalith and hooking a thumb towards the cave entrance. She doesn't even wait for an answer. "I've been poking my nose about while I get settled. I never knew it was here, back when."
She looks back over at the cave entrance, and draws in a breath before she relates to Wes some of the historical particulars of the place, succinctly but robustly enough for the *Iminir *to get the point: it's an odd spot!
"So," she follows up as she finishes the brief history lesson. "Obviously we should check it out."
"Huh," Wes tilts her head back and forth, peering out towards the mouth of the cave with an unreadable expression. "Would you be surprised if I said I hadn't? I'm really bad at this whole wolf thing, if you haven't noticed." She very briefly sticks out her tongue to emphasize the self-deprecating remark. "... but I can be dragged out of the pit that is my home office with good company. Or an intriguing new thing to -- how did you say it -- poke my nose around."
She pops up onto her tip toes, trying to get a better view... but that doesn't really help her, now does it.
Sierra holds a hand to her chest, acts touched. "Am I... am I good company?" she affects it dramatically, but it is, of course, a joke, and without waiting for an answer or reaction, she ticks her head to the side and beckons Wes towards the entrance.
There's a stone staircase that leads down into the side of the hill through a dark, grim looking entrance. "Don't make that face," Sierra says, even though she's still looking at the entrance. "I'll go first."
"There was definitely an or in there," Wes offers back a jab of her own. It's also a joke, of course, but who can resist trolling the troll when they've got the opportunity?
She follows after Sierra, peering over the Irraka's shoulder, and only really slowing when she reaches the mouth of the cave. "Be my guest," she offers with a little flourish, waiting for Sierra to make the first move.
Sierra waves a hand; she doesn't even hear the correction, or want to hear it. No, she lives in this reality where she is good company, willfully, unrepentantly. She starts to drip down the steps into the mouth of the cave, trailing her fingertips delicately along the stone mouth, and the flank of the short, downward corridor. "Ready or not, here we come," she murmurs quietly to herself, half a joke and half sincere. Lower, and deeper, and step over downward step, the inky blackness starts to swallow her up until only the sounds of her footsteps on the stone stairs and the smell of her indicate she's still there.
... and after a brief moment of anxiety about it, Wes takes a deep breath and follows after her companion. Fists shoved in the pockets of her ridiculously bright jacket, and eyes peeled for possible trouble.
"Come on," Sierra pauses on the steps and calls back up. "It smells... musty," she practically gags on the last word, disgusted by it; it must be assaulting her senses, and indeed it may very well do the same to Wes as she descends further. "Oh, look at this," she murmurs, fishing her phone out of her pocket. Wolf senses are great and all, but why stand in the dark if you don't have to?
She pulls her phone out and activates the flashlight setting, pointing it at the walls. It's scribbled graffiti nonsense, most of it completely illegible and faded, and there may have been a few valiant attempts to clean it. There are some stone piles on the floor - maybe once furniture? Hard to say, but it's a trick to remember to step around them. It's a large chamber, with a handful of small hallways that shoot off into other, smaller chambers, one of which looks quite old, and the other of which look substantially newer.
"So, the guy that led the cult that made this place," she gestures around in the dark as she moves along, stepping around a pile of debris, "Claimed to have actually had a philosopher's stone at one point, but for some reason - because why would you do this - he threw it in the river," she narrates, poking her head around the corner of one of the slim corridors.
After a few more feet of following, Wes does in fact make a very audible blegh as the scent hits her at the level it must've hit Sierra. "Oof, that's- Ugh." She reaches towards her back pocket, fetching her own phone and turning on the flashlight mode. "My, what a lovely smell we've discovered, huh?"
Rather than pointing the light at the walls, she keeps hers angled down at the floor, holding her hand aloft as if she were carrying a lantern to light the path forward. No tripping over nonsense for this woofer.
"I mean. Maybe he was tired of living life on easy mode, and decided to turn off the cheat codes?" There's a little puff of laughter as she paces over to the "older" hallway. "Wonder what the heck's off down this way -- and who the fuck tried to do renovations on a tagged-up cave?"
Sierra turns the corner of that short hallway, cutting out of sight, but Wes can still hear her voice - active listening and all. "Yeah, I don't know... hang on, I'm gonna check this out. One second," she trails off, focused on what she sees, whatever she sees, and the crunches underneath her feet get further and further away as she follows her irrepressible curiosity.
A chattering sound tempts Wes from another corner and corridor of the cave.
"Mkay," Wes calls out -- but it's probably too far for Sierra to hear if the fact that she can barely hear a response is any indication.
Holding her phone up above her head, she closes enough distance to (hopefully?) illuminate the chittering corner of the cave. What could possibly make such a sound?
As Wes draws closer to the sound in the hallway of its own, across the way from where Sierra had plodded off, she sees a small spirit in Twilight , like an animal of some sort, a woodland creature. It has a banded tail and a puffy little body, ephemeral fuzz covering it, and it seems to be chirping brightly as it shuffles down the corridor. It's not any larger than a fat raccoon, and the sounds are definitely coming from it.
They're not quite First Tongue, but more animalistic than that.
"Awww," Wes coos at the seemingly innocuous spirit. "You're a bit of a little chonker, aren't you?" She's still skittish (and new) enough to keep a bit of her distance from the creature (and it's poofy little body) but she does take a few tentative steps closer. "What're you doing down here, little one? I'm sightseeing, too..."
The spirit pauses, its spine goes rigid, and it turns around towards Wes, beady little eyes wide like dark, glassy marbles. It works its little jaw, and looks like some cross between a raccoon and a weasel. It reaches a black paw out towards Wes and scrapes at the empty space, and chatters brightly, excitedly. It's adorable. It's clearly beckoning her closer, making a pitiful pleading little face like it needs help.
It squirms closer to Wes and flops onto its back, showing the Cahalith its belly in a clearly submissive gesture.
Wes might be a wee bab, but momma didn't raise no fool. She does not step closer. Cat-owner logic holds. Her free hand dips back into her pocket, and she sticks out her tongue at the little spirit.
"Oh, come on. What do I get out of scratching your tummy?"
Wriggle wriggle wriggle. It scrooches closer, paws held out like a baby begging for a hug, wide eyes searching for comfort. Closer. Closer.
And then it happens so quickly. The little spirit doesn't even move, but a wave vibrates out of it like a whipcrack, hurtling at Wes, a psychic fuck-you flung right in the Cahalith's face from a deceitful little rat bastard of a spirit that saw an opportunity to cast sand in the eyes of an Uratha and seized on it, to hell with the consequences.
There's a moment's pause as that look washes over Wes like a fucking tidal wave, and then...?
There's a little puff of laughter. Just a giggle-snort, at first, but it soon devolves into a fit of mad cackling and wheezing. Of course this little chonky boi wasn't gonna try and bargain for belly rubs. She should've just rubbed his tum right off the bat like a good friend, huh?
She takes a few steps closer, eyes wide as she considers the best angle of approach for this herculean task, shaking with -- was it fear? Adrenaline? -- with every step closer.
The little shithead of a spirit is up and off his ass back and onto his little feet, opening his maw in a wide hiss at Wes, showing her rows of tiny, sharp ephemeral teeth as she angles closer, and then it turns on its heel and sprints down the corridor, cutting the corner to get out of view as quickly as possible, chattering like a mad thing the whole way, practically screaming its shrill squeaks.
Fucking spirits, man.
The laughter had drawn the Irraka's attention and the crunching under her feet got louder as she drew closer. "Wes? Hey!" she calls out, nearing the corridor and appearing around it. "Hey," she says again.
"Fine! Go'on, git! I didn't wanna rub your stupid, fluffy belly anyway, you rat bastard!" Wes hollers down the corridor, but her anger already feels distant -- as fleeting as the odd little asshole spirit currently sprinting away from her.
That duller frustration quickly turns to laughter again, and she doubles over, hugging her stomach as she starts cackling. By the time Sierra is back in view, Wes has tears in her eyes from laughing so hard. "He-" She tries to wrangle it in long enough to speak, but another spasm of mirth cuts her off. She looks more than a little frazzled, and very unlike herself. "H-hey," she finally manages -- stopping to giggle again. "You, h- You find anything down your hallway?"
"Uh, nothing this funny..." Sierra replies, dark eyebrows furrowing as she takes in the sight of Wes doubled over, hugging herself, eyes wet and glassy from laughing uncontrollably. "Are you, are you okay?" she asks, looking down the corridor and then back towards the way she came, searching for whatever the source of this disposition might be.
"Yeah, yeah-" Wes waves her hand, snorting again. Honestly it'd be pretty adorable if it wasn't so fucking... disconcerting. "I'm good, just a stupid little puffball of a spirit. I'll live, but I'm a little... invigorated by the encounter?"
Manic, more like, but go off I guess.
"Right..." Sierra trails off, regarding Wes with a combination of suspicion and concern, and gingerly guiding her back towards the entrance and the bright column of light that shone down the narrow, steep stairway. "I don't think there's that much to see here on the hard-top side. I checked the other hallway, too, just graffiti and old rocks" she replies. "We should come back, in the Hisil." She points again at the stairwell and starts to corral Wes towards it. "Invigorated? What happened?" she asks, keeping up the chatter while she steers the frazzled, giggly Cahalith back topside.
"Oh, I dunno that anything really happened?" Wes is more than okay with being corralled, and allows herself to be moved as easily as if she were sculpting putty. "He was just a chonky little fluff-ball. He wanted a belly rub, but I didn't really get close enough for him to do anything but whine and complain about it -- and then it all just struck me how... fucking funny the whole situation was, right?"
Sierra spares another look around as she uses both hands to guide Wes towards and then up the stairs, perhaps suspecting that distance might break the weird affectation that's taken root in her Iminir companion. "How funny it was," she repeats, making a face to herself but nodding anyway. "Okay... and it didn't attack you or anything, it just... asked for rubs and then... ran away?" She glances back over her shoulder as if still leery for their apparent little friend, little bit of company.
"Yeah, he just... asked for belly rubs, and then hissed at me and sprinted off down the corridor in the other direction. No claws, no bites, no nothing. Just... gone." There's another little puff of laughter as she, too, looks back over her shoulder.
Fortunately, once they're topside, she seems a little bit less nutty. Fresh, not-musty air seems to be helping.
Sierra gives Wes the once-over, her skepticism legible on her face. "And you just couldn't help but be overwhelmed by how... funny... that is," she repeats, carefully, slowly, like she's repeating it back to the other woman, and she can't help but glance once more down into the hole of the stairwell once it's behind them.
She doesn't bother to pause or languidly lean on something, as is her way, but keeps walking down the little path back towards the central nexus of Fairmount Park, following the little stream that branches off from the Wissahickon and flows here.
"Yeah," Wes offers simply, continuing to allow herself to be steered towards the center of Fairmount. "You get it. It's like my momma always used to say when I was a little kiddo. I was overcome with a fit of the giggles. Y'know, at the absurdity?" There's a beat. "You sure you didn't find anything down your hallway? No spirits or anything?"
"Absolutely nothing," Sierra replies, still notably skeptical at Wes' take, but since the Cahalith seems alright, and improving, she lets it alone. "And honestly, if that was an apocalypse shelter, I rate it as pitiful," she quips. "The Wi-Fi wasn't even very good."
"Absolutely pitiful. Nothing canned, even?" There's another little puff of laughter from Wes. "Speaking of, you wanna maybe go to Maddy's or something? I'm fuckin' starving..."