Pain. It surges through bone and blood. It tears at Belmarniss' heart, where the Relic of the Reaper once rested. A hole has been carved in her flesh, just above her heart, and raggedly stitched by an unskilled hand.
"I could not agree more," Safiya says brightly. "I have no intention of interacting with it."
"I wish you luck."
She'll keep the book, why not.
They come to another upward slope, leading into another cavern level. When they ascend, there are three wolves waiting for them. They're not ethereal, but they're clearly not normal wolves either; for one thing they're brightly-colored and glowing, for another thing there's a glint of intelligence in their dark eyes.
The lead wolf speaks. "There you are, Red Wizard. We caught your scent on the empty air, and it shook us from our sleep. But you were alone when you went below..."
Yeah, Rover, that's how prison breaks work, Belmarniss doesn't say.
"Something was trapped in the Cavern of Runes. A poison at the heart of our dream, swallowing memories and names. Anything that emerges from there cannot be allowed to walk free. Those were the words of our god, before he sank into slumber."
The wolf lunges -
and the hunger in Belmarniss rears its head, agonizing, like she hasn't eaten in a hundred years. When her mouth opens to scream, it opens wider - wider - something within her reaches out and grasps at the spirit before her - and it disintegrates into brilliant lights which stream into her ravening maw.
For a single, blissful moment, the hunger is satiated. Then, the moment after, she feels the first pangs of it return.
The remaining wolves turn tail and flee.
Safiya is staring at her. "I... I was about to ask the same thing. It wasn't a spell - it wasn't some, some natural ability of yours... are you alright?"
"THAT WAS IN NO WAY NATURAL!"
Safiya goes over to where the wolf was standing to investigate, and picks up a bit of glowing matter. "Spirit essence. Could come in handy..."
"What is spirit essence, pray tell?"
"Oh - a byproduct that sometimes forms when a spirit is, well, consumed by whatever means. It's semi-inert, it doesn't radiate magic but you can use it to enchant magic items or to animate constructs. Usually you'd get it from one evil afterlife or another."
"I am concerned that maybe I ate the wolf."
"Yes, I concur. If this hasn't happened to you before, I've no idea what's going on - hopefully Lienna has some relevant information. Are you fit to continue?"
"I... seem fine? Except for the concerning interpretation this suggests for how hungry I am."
"I think that in any case it might be best to get you out of the barrow full of spirits as quickly as we can. If you start to feel, well, imminently in danger of doing that again, I can try summoning an elemental, a small one, of animal intelligence, and we'll see if that helps."
"I didn't have much warning, but, sure, yeah. Very, very interested in your mom's forthcoming answers."
"The woman we'll be asking for answers first isn't my mother, it's Lienna, a mage of my mother's acquaintance closer to our current location. My mother is in the process of dealing with a minor rebellion at her academy - nothing that should particularly endanger her, but not something we should distract her from, either. She'll contact me when it's -"
Suddenly, her face contorts in pain. "Stop it! Leave me alone - not here, not now -"
"- Safiya? - Kaji what's wrong with her do you know?"
Kaji pipes up, "No! Never like this!"
After a few seconds, Safiya untenses and straightens up. "I - I'm very sorry about that, Belmarniss. I think... I should stay out of spirit-infested barrows in the future. The chattering of the dead isn't fit for mortal ears."
"Okay, let's get out of here, then. I haven't heard anything -?"
"I might be unusually sensitive to it," she says ruefully. "But I agree we should get out of here. The Rashemi say a powerful spirit dwells at the entry to this barrow... a bear god, who does not wake lightly. Rashemi tales are colorful, but they're always true in part. Let's be on our guard."
"Bear god, uh-huh." She is not sure exactly how to be on guard against a bear god but the usual staples like mage armor probably work.
When they reach the exit, it's a large chamber containing a raised dais upon which rest the bones of a truly massive dire bear. It also contains... a bear, appropriately sized for the bones and garishly colored in shades of red and blue. He growls low in his throat as they approach.
"What stirs the air and smells so foul? Go back and die in the silence and the dark. I am tired and ill of temper."
"We'll be out of your way much quicker if you let us by."
"I'll not sleep while you yet live," the bear god rumbles. "I know what you are, little one. I smell the hunger that wakes inside you."