"Weeeell, 10 levels, but even Arty doesn't like going past 5 alone." The girls went over to the ruin. It wasn't particularly tall, about the size of a one-story house even if you include the part under the dirt. It was surprisingly well kept, with still colored pictographs in a ring around the whole structure. "Oh, I recognize some of these. They look like the creation of the world Arthur told me about. First there's one goddess, then there are three, then they make the rest of the world and the mother goddess births 18 more gods, plus two kings become gods later on. But no one is sure which goddess was the first, and obviously followers of each goddess will say theirs was the first." Love nodded knowledgeably. "Some even claim it was a completely different goddess. And despite the fact the gods communicate with their followers, they never revealed the truth."
Realizing she might have been rambling on a bit too much, she cleared her throat. "Alright, did you pack a torch? It looks pretty dark inside." She looked through the entrance. The earth covered enough of it that even Love would have to duck to enter, but from what she could see in the daylight it didn't seem like there was a lot of dirt further inside.
“Well there better not be any gods in here. I’m not a fan.” Ariana said. Ever since her time with the cult, she had been wary of religion. Churches and mosques made her cross the street, and she was glad Britain didn’t make a thing about open religion like the USA did. An active god was worse than an inactive one, one of the few things she could agree with Huntsman on. “Of course I brought a torch! Eve rigged up a nice one for me.” Ariana took a heavy flashlight from her backpack, made to take a bashing if necessary. She clicked the button as she crouched to hop through. “Nothing fancy, but I could hit a monster with it.”
"There shouldn't be any. They're all supposedly in a heavenly realm, I think." Love told Ariana. Ariana then pulled out her flashlight "Oh wow, that's a big fancy one. I guess having a techy older sister really pays off, right?" Well, Cosmina and Kate might beg to differ. Smiling devilishly, Love stuck close to Ariana. "Since yours is so much better, we should save mine for emergencies."
They proceeded further into the ruin, following a long stone hallway in. The hallway definitely seemed longer than the ruin had from the outside, and when Love turned around she saw they had actually been descending without even realizing it. "Huh, it's a pretty long hallway. I feel like it's getting wider the further in we go though." Her voice echoed against the stones. Eventually, they reached a large room. The path ahead of them was as wide as the hallway they were just in, slightly wider than the entrance, but there was a chasm on either side of the path. Ahead of them was a door and a lever next to it. On their left was a large waterwheel, but there was no water to turn it. Love nudged Ariana's flashlight up a bit and they could see a hole protruding slightly from the wall. When they looked down into the chasms, they saw some faint glowing at the bottom, but they couldn't tell what it was exactly from all the way up here.
"Well, it looks like that door will be our first obstacle. And I'm guessing..." She pulled the lever to no effect. "Yeah, it's not as simple as just pulling the lever." She turned to Ariana. "So, capt'n, what do you suggest we do now?"
“It’s less useful than you’d think. She barely lets me touch anything! I only got this cause she had already made it.” Ariana waved the flashlight, but she still puffed up with pride. It was a nice compliment. As the hallway walk drug on, she began to whistle, trying out various tunes until they reached the room at the end. She fixated on the waterwheel until Love directed her to the hole in the wall. “Hmm. Think there’s a lock in there? Not many places to look for a key.” Ariana leaned over the chasm. Thinking about the waterwheel, she squeezed her eyes shut and felt out with her water control. If there was any water for the wheel here, she would feel it. If there wasn’t any nearby, she would fly over and try shoving the wheel physically. After all, she could push harder than water, probably!
"I imagine that's where the water is supposed to be coming from," Love told Ariana. Ariana could feel she was right. There was a bunch of water in the direction of the hole, although a lot further in and it seemed there was a blockage. There were also a few puddles on bottom of the chasm; clearly it all used to be flooded, but the water had dried up once it stopped flowing from the pipeline.
Loveline noticed Ariana concentrating with her eyes closed. "Oh, did you sense something? If we can get the wheel spinning, that should power the lever."
“Hmm. Yeah, I feel some back there. It’s all blocked up!” Ariana clung to the waterwheel and focused on the water in the distance. She first tried to simply pull the water through the barrier, then if that didn’t work, try to make it wiggle over. She had less control and power over distant water, so any substantial barrier would be impossible to push through. “Hey, if this doesn’t work, you want me to just try like… punching through?”
The water Ariana tried to use strained against the barrier, but all it succeeded in was making a few small gaps to stream out of. There just wasn't enough water for a strong push. "Hm, that's probably for the best. Let's go check out the blockage." Love transformed and the two flew up the water pipe. The opening was a lot bigger up close. The stone pipe was spacious enough that they could fly next to each other, no problem. Soon they reached another room, ornately designed with golden corners and portions jutting out of the walls. Three cylindrical booths were indented in the room, one for each wall. And that's where the issue became apparent. The one booth directly opposite the opening was covered in rubble from a caved-in ceiling.
But that wasn't all. Loveline noticed faint runes etched into the booths, shaped like the letter h, with a curved bottom and a wavelike line going through the part sticking out of the top. She recalled the rune meant water and upon closer observation she realized the runes seemed to be producing water droplets that slid down into grooves in the floor that were then supposed to lead out into the pipe.
"I get it..." She said. "These runes produce the water that pushes the waterwheel. One of the is completely blocked up, so we need to clear out the rubble, but I think the runes themselves ran out of juice. They work like the necklaces Arthur gave us. He just engraved a rune and then filled with the space with mana to give them a special effect. Hm..." She pondered for a bit. "You've got water magic, so if you filled up the runes with some of your mana, that should revitalize them."
“Whatever’s blocking it, it’s too much to push through.” Ariana shrugged her shoulders. She followed Love into the tunnel, emerging into the next room. “Woah, cool.” Ariana hovered about the room, looking at everything more closely. “Huh, runes can run out? Well I’ll try to juice that up!” She hadn’t ever done this before, but she had an idea of what to do. She pushed her palm to the wet surface of the rune and felt for that core of power she tapped into to transform. The same way she forced mana into her gem to transform, she pushed it out into the rune.
"These runes do, at least. The patterns make things happen, but they need mana to do it. I don't know how earth runes work though..." Love told Ariana.
When Ariana channeled her mana into the rune, it started glowing and dyed itself blue until it became bluer than a clear sky. But more importantly, water started flowing quickly out of it, sliding down the wall and into the groove on the floor. Touching the flowing water felt like a waterfall was running over your finger and the amount of water seemed way too great for something so small.
While Ariana charged the runes, Loveline used her scythe as a lever and a shovel to unblock the last rune. Once they were all fully charged, water gushed through the pipe they came through once more.
"Hey, this kinda looks like a waterslide, doesn't it?" Love said. "Wanna ride it together?" She asked, reaching out her hand for Ariana to take.
Ariana dropped back into her regular form, losing a foot of height and dropping another when she fell from the air. “That was a lot of mana. I’m gonna stay like this a while to recharge!” She said before crouching by their newly made river. She watched it flow by with delight until Love suggested they take a ride. “What a dumb idea. It’s dangerous and we’ll get soaked.” Ariana kept a straight face for all of two seconds before jumping up with a massive smile. “I don’t have my powers, so I’m gonna have to count on you to keep us safe, alright?” Ariana didn’t take Love’s hand. Instead, she hugged herself tight to her side. Almost as an afterthought, she kissed her cheek. “Let’s go!”
Ariana seemed to like Love's idea. And Love loved her reaction to it. She hugged Loveline to hold on to her and kissed her cheek. "Alright, let's go!" She didn't think twice. She jumped into the stream of water, holding onto Ariana tightly. The water stream was way faster than she expected and it rocketed them forward. The water splashed back as they cut their way through it toward the room.
The straight path didn't make for the most exciting waterslide, except for the astonishing speed the torrent of water provided, but Love's heart was still beating excitedly. Seeing the fast-approaching opening through the splashing water, Loveline got ready and jumped just as they'd reached. She could now see the room in a whole different light, literally. The previously dark cavern was now lit up from all sides. First, the ceiling glittered like bright stars. Then a ring of indecipherable inscriptions covering the walls on the level of the walkway they'd come in on. And finally, where there were previously chasms with faint lights at the bottom, there were now pools of sparkling water with light beams projecting from the bottom. Even the spinning waterwheel had a flower-like pattern lit up in its center. They could see it all from where they were floating. Love was wowed for a moment, before remembering she was carrying precious cargo.
They landed with a pirouette and Love put Ariana down so she could transform back. Finding herself smaller than Ariana again, Love hugged her. "Ehe, that was very fun. I wonder if there's more stuff like this further inside," she mused and gestured toward the previously inactive lever.
Ariana’s giggle of glee swiftly grew into a keen of pure excitement as they sped down the water slide, peaking when they went flying out the end. She was dizzy with excitement when Love flew her over a newly sparkling world, and at the moment Love’s feet touched the ground, Ariana slid her hand behind Love’s head and pulled her lips down to hers. She didn’t let Love put her down until the kiss broke off, and when she was down she immediately turned away to hide her blooming blush. “That was the best waterslide ever.” She half-mumbled, trying to focus on squeezing the water out of her shirt to avoid confronting the fact she just made out with Loveline. “Uh, I’ll see if the lever moves now!” She yelled and ran off to pull on it.
The ride had an explosive finish. Bathed in the shine of the room, Ariana brought Love's head closer and kissed her. Love wasn't aware of the romantic setting though, she was only aware of Ariana's lips against her own. Softer than Ariana's personality let on, but fittingly energetic. Love returned it shyly at first before relaxing a bit. She was caught completely off guard. She wasn't expecting a kiss... At least until they checked out the ruin.
When the kiss finally ended and Ariana turned away, Love was red like a rose and all giddy. She played with her hair nervously while Ariana turned around, clearly also red.
“That was the best waterslide ever.” Ariana half-mumbled.
"It... It sure was." Love answered, trying to suppress a giggle. She was cute, all embarrassed like that. But she was glad Ariana wasn't looking at her jiggling with excitement. She took a few deep breaths to calm down while Ariana ran off to pull the lever. And this time it worked! A symbol appeared on the door when the lever was pulled and then it opened into a well-lit hallway.
Three differently colored lines stretched through the hallway for the girls to follow, one green, one brown, and the last red. "Ehehe, that line's almost as red as you," Love said, ignoring the hypocrisy in her own words. After a bit more trekking, they reached a fork where every line went down a different hall. Different symbols followed each line, but Love could only recognize the one along the brown line.
"That one says soil, but I never saw the green or red one. Which way do you think we should go?"
“Shut up! You’re red too!” Ariana shoulder checked Love, just blushing harder. She pouted and refused to talk until they reached the split path, at which point it was impossible to remain silent. “It’s really cool that you can read these. Can you teach me any? Anyway… let’s go with the one you know, first. That seems smart.”
"I only know a few," Love admited bashfully. It wasn't that they were beyond her ability to memorize, she didn't think anything was, but she never cared enough to want to. "Alright, to the soil we go!"
And so they went. It wasn't a long trip. They reached a door, much like the one they found before, and this time the lever worked right away. "Hey, I think the waterwheel powers this whole place. That's really impressive."
beyond the door awaited them exactly what was advertised. It was a room, a giant circular room to be fair, with the floors covered completely in dirt. Different types of soil seemed to be here, split into 3 parts like a pie chart. A cool breeze and bright rays of sunlight flowed into the room through a series of holes in the roof, a result of time and weather and various critters beating against it until it gave in.
Some of those critters even seemed to like what they'd done with the place. In the center of the room, where the soil intersected, lay a big fuzzy bundle. Giant hairy bunnies, with humanoid front paws and kengaroo-like back legs. "Blutneku. They're very cute, but... They're also very bloodthirsty. And they're strong. We are on the third level for sure here..."
Aside from the dirt and the creatures sleeping in the sun, the only thing of note was a door further beyond. "Hm, you want to try sneaking past them, or should we try a different path?"
“Water has a lot of power. Trust me, I’d know. I know a lot about water.” She boasted, trying to match Love’s understanding of ancient carvings. She paused at the entrance and listened to Love, looking out at the giant fuzzy rabbits. “...you sure we can’t take them? Or at least… pet them a little?” Ariana pouted and coughed, clearing her throat. “Uh, no pets, obviously. But seriously, you don’t think we could handle them in a fight?”
"Take them?" Love pictured Sapphire Sea cuddling one of those giant things in her arms. Cuuuute! Ahem! "Um, I don't know. I never fought them myself, I just watched Arthur fighting them. But if we try, we're gonna want to be gem form for sure." Ariana was the guest here, or more of one, so Love was going to let her decide how to proceed. She was ready to transform and provide support right away though.
“Nah, if you think they’re tough from fighting Arthur, you’re probably right.” Ariana took Love’s hand before she kept sneaking forwards. After thinking for a second, she looked for well-worn tracks on the ground, areas where the bunnies had already packed the dirt hard. They should be quieter, without crunchy loose dirt. She might not be particularly clever, but she knew dungeon survival skills!
Loveline didn't have Ariana's dungeon survival skills, but she was observant enough to notice what Riri was doing. She nodded in approval; she would've never thought of it herself. She even complimented her on it once they reached their goal.
The two snuck past the sleeping bunnies successfully. Love noticed, as Ariana probably would too, that the ground they were walking over was... Different. It was full of mana. Each section of the piechart felt slightly different, but they were all definitely saturated with magical energy.
They reached the room on the opposite end and inside they found... An office? It was once an office at least. There was a pair of rotten and decrepit tables, and a few chairs in similar condition. A stone workstation followed the surface of a wall and there were a few yellowed pages scattered about it. Love looked at them and, as expected, they were written in the same symbols as the floor labels from before.
"Um, I recognize the word mana here... Soil... And the names of some of the gods." She said. "I'm guessing this was some sort of... Farming research station? They probably wanted to make extra fertile soil. Though we didn't see any plants here, so either they failed or they all withered away in all this time."
If Ariana explored the room while Love failed to read the document, she'd find a couple of small vials with some of the dirt in them. Aside from that, the room was essentially barren.
“...you guys had ancient offices?” Ariana tilted her head as they entered. This was weird. It was like walking into a Ruin and finding a regular living room, complete with modern furniture. “So you guys are like… apocalypted? An apocalypse got ya?” She asked, poking around the space until she found the little vials. “This dirt special, or just dirt?” She asked, shaking the vials in Love’s general direction.