|Date of Cutscene:||27 February 2018|
|Cast of Characters:||Shadow|
Part 1: Pilgrimage.
Scene: A Tibetan monastery, high in the mountains. Snow on the ground, wind tugging at the banners hanging from the walls. A figure in a modern-looking parka comes walking up the trail that leads to the gates. She knocks, then stands back to wait for a reply.
No one answers. The doors remain closed.
Scene: The same monastery. The sun has visibly moved in the sky. There's more snow, now, including on the hood and shoulders of the figure, who is standing where she stood earlier, waiting.
The doors remain closed. She continues to wait.
Scene: The same monastery at night. The moon is bright, but barely manages to illuminate the standing figure that's bracing herself against the snowstorm that obscures all vision.
The doors remain closed. She continues to wait.
The same monastery in the light of early morning. There is quite a lot of snow, now, reaching halfway to the figure's knees, but at least the wind has died down.
The doors remain closed. She continues to wait.
Flicker. Day. Night. Clear sky. Snowstorm. Day. Night. Day. More wind. More snow. The doors remain closed. She continues to wait.
Scene: The same monastery, at noon. The snow now reaches to the figure's knees. The doors remain closed. She continues to wait... Right until she pitches forward, falling on her face in the snow.
The doors open. Several monks exit, gather around the figure, then wordlessly lift her and carry her inside. The doors close again.
Part 2: Negotiations
Scene: Monastery interior. A young Natasha, minus her parka, is sitting by a burning brazier, trying not to shiver too much as she lets warmth soak back into her bones and cradling a mug of something that steams visibly in her hands. Her attention is on the monk sitting across from her, and while the scene lacks sound it is clear from her expression and the cadence of her mouth movements that she is bringing her business-school-taught negotiation skills to bear as she pleads her case. From the monk's stony lack of expression and his curt replies it's equally clear that she's not winning.
Natasha seems to know it as well; while at first she manages to keep her face smooth to conceal her dismay, as the discussion goes on it shows more and more in her every line of her body. Clearly, the thought of having come all this way for nothing doesn't sit well with her.
Scene: Still the interior. The brazier is burning much lower - it's been a while. The monk is still expressionless. Natasha, on the other hand, has moved from calm negotiation to outright pleading -- but her lack of success remains unchanged. The monk says something that makes her entire body twitch for a moment, and she needs several seconds to visibly pull herself together before she opens her mouth to formulate a response - only to be interrupted by another comment before she finishes forming the first syllable. The monk's reply this time is not curt. Whatever he's saying, judging by Natasha's repeated twitches and flinches his words are cutting deep... Until finally something snaps. Flush with rage, she flings her bowl at the monk's face -- but the monk was never sitting in front of her; he was standing between two pillars quite some distance away. She whirls to face him, anger still lining her features, and her next words are not spoken with a negotiator's care or a desperate woman's plea; they are shouted in unadulterated anger that, as the rant goes on and on, clearly has been building underneath for quite some time.
Eventually, she finishes, still breathing heavily, tears streaking down her face as she realizes she likely just burned any bridge she might have had here. When the monk starts replying, she closes her eyes, shoulders slumping in resignation... But then something changes in her expression. Her shoulders straighten, her breathing steadies, and as she opens her eyes a strange tranquility comes over her.
The monk's reply ends with a question and a sweep of his hand that takes in the room and the shattered remains of the bowl. Natasha's face is entirely composed, but unlike the smooth courtesy of her negotiator face, the peace now seems bone-deep while still radiating a leashed power, like the calm at the heart of a storm.
Her response is one word long... And the Tulku nods.
Part 3: Training
Scene: Monastery interior. Natasha, wearing initiate's robes, sitting on her knees and facing a monk across a brazier. Flames flicker, but neither figure moves, aside from quiet breathing. The only sign that something more is going on than meets the eye is the sweat beading on Natasha's brow. Suddenly, her fingers twitch.
Slowly, trembling as if with great effort, she raises her arm... And pinches her own nose.
Scene: The same interior. Natasha, still wearing initiate's robes, kneeling in a slightly different position, facing a slightly different monk. This time, however, both of them are sweating. Very occasionally, one or the other's fingers twitch, but no more.
Scene: The same interior. Natasha, once more kneeling, and looking down at a kitten playing with some string. The kitten's ears perk up, and she stops playing to look at Natasha. Its ears flatten, its fur stands on end, but it becomes more and more motionless as time passes. Then, slowly, it raises one paw and places it on its nose. Natasha's expression breaks into excited glee for a moment, and she lets out a laugh -- and breaks her concentration. The kitten, freed from control, immediately launches itself at its tormentor. Natasha takes an enraged kitten to the face and falls over backward, flailing.
Scene: Monastery interior. The floor has been cleared of braziers, and Natasha - still in her initiate's robes - is 'sparring' with a monk, although perhaps 'being beaten up' is more appropriate. Her form is decent and she's moving with an impressive speed and grace for someone her age, but the monk has been training in his fighting style for decades, and she never manages to lay so much as a finger on him, not because she's faster but because he already knows every possible move she could make. Finally, she overextends a kick - again - and he sweeps the remaining leg, depositing her flat on her back. She grimaces, then rolls back to her feet and stands up.
Scene: Still the interior. Another 'meditation' session, but this time Natasha is facing two monks at once. Judging by the occasional minor tremor, she's on the defensive -- but she remains motionless.
Scene: Still the monastery interior. Natasha is sparring with a pair of monks, and actually holding her own. Her form hasn't improved that much over the last time, but there is a degree of indecision and uncertainty in the monks' movements as if they aren't completely sure what she's doing. Eventually, one of them mistakes a feint for the real thing and Natasha drives a knee through the resulting opening in his defenses, knocking him out of the fight. Now that she no longer has to divide her attention, the other monk does not last much longer. The Tulku observes silently from the sidelines.
Part 4: When you look into the abyss...
Scene: A different monastery interior chamber. Of special note is the rough-hewn passageway in one end. Natasha stands in the center, barely recognizable - her hair has been shaved off, and rather than her parka or even the initiate robes she's wearing what's best described as a jute sack with holes for her head and arms. From the way she's shivering, it's clear that it isn't sufficient to keep her warm. She's been stripped of everything that could help her -- her wealth, her dignity, even her hair -- leaving only herself facing the entire assembled senior monks, standing in a curve between her and the passageway, with the Tulku at the center.
The Tulku speaks a single word, authority and command radiating from his expression. Natasha replies in the negative, quiet but unyielding in her defiance, then replies with a command of her own, and it is on.
The massed Will of all the senior monks backs the Tulku, pressing his command down on Natasha with their full strength, the very air rippling before them.
Natasha staggers. But that is all.
Slowly, agonizingly slowly, she straightens, then raises her head to look the monks in the eye. The dust on the floor between her and the monks trembles as unseen forces clash... And one by one, each of the lesser monks flinches, bows, and stands aside until only the Tulku and Natasha are still standing
Finally, the Tulku exhales, ending the contest. Natasha almost staggers forward as the pressure releases, and she's clearly breathing heavily with the effort... But the Tulku stands aside as well, and Natasha walks into the unlit passage without a sideways glance.
Scene: A dark, rough-hewn passage, lit poorly by the exit behind Natasha, who slowly proceeds into the darkness. With a suddenness that startles her, even that light vanishes when that passage is closed off, but she continues on, feeling her way along the walls.
Suddenly, she stops, head whipping around as if reacting to a sound. A question. She pauses for a moment, but then continues on... And stops /again/ as she hears something else, from a different direction. There are hints of movement in the darkness behind her, staying out of sight even if she could see anything, but her head whips from one direction to another, trying to follow the noise. She opens her mouth to speak, then glances around to look for the source of the reply. This continues for a little longer, until the passage widens into a cavern. She hesitates at the threshold, feeling a presence.... And then glancing up at the unheard noise. She answers one last time... And in front of her, closer than she'd expected, a pair of inhumanly blazing eyes open right in front of her.
There still isn't enough light to see clearly by, but there is a sense of size and power that's looking down upon Natasha's small form as another question is asked... And answered.
Scene: The previous monastery chamber. The senior monks, Tulku at the center, are watching the boulder that now covers the entrance to the passage, waiting expressionlessly. Time passes... And then the boulder trembles, shakes, cracks... And crumbles, revealing Natasha, her blue eyes blazing with power as shadows ripple and coil at her feet, not quite matching the motion of the flames in the brazier. The camera gradually zooms in on her face, until all that's visible is her eyes, still blazing blue as shadows flicker over the rest of her features... And when it zooms out again, those features are hidden underneath a black slouch hat and crimson scarf, while her coat and opera cape billow out behind her.