Cythera Chronicles: Beyond, Chapter 2

  • The Confederation Regional Annex at the isle of Patjer was an old, proud building, made of stone and framed in timbers. It had preceded the first plague beast attack in its construction, and had long been the traditional house of Surmourdac's ruling king. Now, it housed the island's gubernatorial seat, installed during the reconstruction after the first attack was finally repelled by the then newly-formed confederation.

    The building was almost a castle, its walls carved in the runes telling over a hundred years of Surmourdacish history. More recently, the Governor had ordered murals painted over some areas of the runic scripts, obstinately to brighten up the place, but the deeply hewn characters still showed through the images of the Cytheran coast or the great mountains.

    The main throne room of the castle-turned-annex was done in a black volcanic stone, it had an ominous mood likely intended to give the king an advantage in negotiations. The Governor had his decorators futilely try to make the place more pleasant to modern sensibilities by putting up light-toned Kelsari wall hangings, but nonetheless the old draconian atmosphere soaked through into the place unabated.

    Standing in a group before the great wrought-iron throne, which Surmourdacish tradition held was a divine gift to the king, was a group of people. Five Confederation solders and their commanded stood alongside a pair of scientists. Behind them stood another set of people, and a dwarf. The dwarf was decked in an ornate outfit, clearly a representative of the government.

    Addressing them was a stocky, robust man, his features honed by years of experience. "...It will be a most dangerous mission," The man spoke. "Many of you may perish in completing your noble task. But I have confidence in you, and in your capability to make decisions that will impact the future of Surmourdac, the Confederation, and the fates of hundreds of thousands of innocent beings."

    He paused, and lifted a paper from the hands of the impish scribe who'd been circling him.

    "I have read already the edict from our noble leader, but I will elaborate on that statement. The eleven of you, if you are able, are to sneak into the land of those vile beasts and keep them from coming back. I need not further emphasize the difficulty of this. Given the gravity of the task your expedition will carry, you have been provided with the best equipment available in the Confederation. Do not hesitate to use it."

    The general's commanding appearance did not waver as he continued. "I have here a description of the land form known as the 'Great Sinkhole', which is as you know where you are headed."

    The general lowered his eyes to the parchment.

    Documentary report from the Dwarven exploratory corps. Area, Surmourdac, land formation known anecdotally as the Great Sinkhole.

    The formation in question is a large, mile-wide depression, where a massive underground cavern has collapsed. The locals hold that it formed suddenly as a result of some clandestine mischief by the so-called 'wizard', an old derelict who was known to inhabit the region and disappeared after the formation of the sinkhole. Evidence has since come to light that the sinkhole was in fact the mundane result of a minor earth-tremor.

    Like other, smaller formations of its ilk, the sinkhole connects to the undamaged portion of the cave it was once the roof of. It proved to be a curiosity to the Surmourdacish, and they even organized an expedition into the cave.

    Only one member of the thirty-person troop returned, he was pale and starved. The man displayed signs of mental trouble, and talked erratically about the tiny people who had saved his life. He ended up in an asylum for several years, but eventually regained his sanity enough to be released. He would, however, never mention what he saw in the cave.

    Thankfully, we do have record of the expedition’s travels, the man brought back a journal. It's not his, but rather that of the expeditions leader, a man named Kudur Jax. The journal talks of largely benign cave environment, and gives no hint to what might have caused the loss of the expedition's crew.

    Further study of the sinkhole by the Surmourdacish was not undertaken because of what had happened to the first troop, and any opportunity was snuffed out for decades when the plague beasts invaded. Recent study of the formation indicates it is a gateway to a massive underground cave system, which may possible conceal an entrance to the ethereal void. However, this theory is yet to be proved or disproved.

    The general looked up, and laid the parchment aside. "Your supplies are packed into a zeppelin at the docking field. It leaves at six in the morning tomorrow. I suggest you be on it. Good Fortune to you!"

    The general turned, and left the throne room, followed by the diminutive scribe. As the group of people filtered out of the room, they knew their destinies were now intimately interwoven with those of every citizen of Surmourdac.

    As I heard the general's talk on the sinkhole, and the people who'd dared to head into it before us, I realized for the first time what I'd gotten myself into. I can't believe, in retrospect, I actually volunteered to do this under no pressure. Man's got no business crawling around in an underworld. I must be crazy...
    - From the journal of Belcor Jomara, Confederation Soldier.

    A light rain was falling on in dirt plane serving as an airfield. Pools of mud splashed under the feet of the procession of hooded figures headed toward the airship, plating their boots in dots of clay. The reddish glow of gum-whale oil lamps cast murky reflections on the wet surfaces of the ground and the great balloon of the zeppelin, stretching out through the dawn light. The silence of the early morning was only occasional punctuated by the bray of one of the expeditions mules or a stronger patter of rain when it picked up slightly.

    Talaris walked alongside Akar Nas and one of the dwarven members of the expedition. She and her comrades had all donned the same thin oiled ponchos that were standard issue items. The garments did not work well enough for their only purpose, stopping rain.

    A particularly large drop rolled down her hood and landed on her nose. She raised her hand with the intent to rectify the situation, but she realized that her hand was wet too.

    Blast this weather , she thought. Surmourdac always seemed to be trapped in a state of flux between the cold and raining mode, and the hot and humid mode. Talaris much preferred the weather of Tatrinas, or even Cythera. So much nicer.

    Talaris caught herself. That was her opinion, the people of Surmourdac would probably find the Tatrinaian climate hopelessly cold and dry. As her mother was ever so fond of saying, it was all relative.

    The shelter of the zeppelin came to them soon enough. Talaris stepped into the warm enclave, and shed the wet poncho onto a wall hook. It was quickly joined by those of the other members of the party.

    She took a seat in one of the wicker chairs used aboard the zeppelin. It was stark and unpadded, as was typical of a backwater transport. There were actually several types of wicker chair in use on this single craft, aside from their material the only thing they had in common was their lack of any pretense of ergonomic thought. She sighed. Someone at the institute should be working on something lightweight and comfortable for airship seating before back soreness claimed its next victim.

    But how could she be thinking about uncomfortable chairs at a time like this? The fate of a major state of the Confederation hung in the balance, and all she was thinking about was chairs. Insignificant, mundane wicker chairs.

    Next to her sat Karon Dalis, one of the institute's scientists, an elementologist. Talaris looked at his face. She could see an expression of deep thought, perhaps he was concerned about the mission. Who could blame him? She was concerned herself. Everybody here obviously was. Even the commander of the contingent of soldier, who had seemed unshakably confident yesterday, was now morose in his manner.

    Commander Das seemed to be engaged in heavy introspection of some sort, one that seemed common in the calm before the storm. On the other hand, he might have been thinking about the chairs, or the weather, or some other mundane irrelevancy. It was a funny thing about people, you couldn't tell if they were thinking about chairs or the end of the world.

    They had a certain sense of fate about them, as if they knew what a difference the expedition would make... I could also see on their faces that they realized not all of them would be coming back.
    - Tadar Norian, Confederation Pilot.

    A light bout of turbulence caught the airship. Akar Nas sat in her chair, nervously twiddling her finger in the grooves of the wicker as she looked out the portal. Her mind was on a friend of hers, who was stationed at Delmor. She'd planed to see him next month, but the plague beasts had had other plans.

    It was still a painful memory, receiving news from another comrade there that he’d been killed in a surprise attack while on patrol. Nas tapped the arm of the wicker chair. What terrible motive could the infernal beasts have for creeping out of their hole and executing the wholesale slaughter of innocent people? Was it feeding? Or did they think they needed more space for a growing population? Who knew. Who cared. It had to be stopped, that was what mattered.

    "Altitude eight-hundred bars," The Pilot announced. "Leveling off."

    Das noted the statement. "When do we reach the sinkhole?"

    "Thirty minutes, about."

    It was almost over.

    Rain and humidity are rarely, if ever, compatible with armor. It was a truth that any of the unfortunate soldiers stationed at the loosely held post near the sinkhole would attest to, and Brey Hax was no different. As he wiped the almost ever-present rain from his brow, Hax stood uncomfortably, waiting at the mooring area for the zeppelin whose passengers he was to escort.

    "What a day, eh?" He asked his partner, Kadal Harmin.

    "Long, and hot. What else is new?" The black-haired man responded.

    "Ah, your just not used to the rainy-season weather."

    "No, who could be? A fish?"

    Hax gave a slight grunt.

    "Come now, Hax, are you saying you are? You're always whining about the heat, or the humidity, or the rain, or..."

    The dialogue was interrupted by the herald of the dockmaster.

    "Craft sighted!"

    Looking up, Hax saw the incoming zeppelin. Finally. He was wondering if the thing would ever decide to show up.

    The dockhands caught the mooring ropes dropped from the airship, and secured them to hooks sunk into an array of large boulders. In a few moments, the crew of the Zeppelin was disembarking, followed their passengers, and mules laden with supplies.

    Hax figured it must have been some kind of expedition, they looked like they were going to be away from support for awhile.

    He approached the Confederation commander leading the group. "Lieutenant Brey Hax reporting."
    Commander Das nodded. "Very well. How far is the great sinkhole from here?"

    "About two hours in good weather, when it's raining it takes about twice that. The trails are muddy, and this time of year the river's too swollen to take the low path."

    The Commander considered for a moment. "Fine. We'll set off tomorrow morning then, perhaps the weather will clear up, and even if it does not, we'll be in a better position anyway. Where are our quarters?"

    Hax replied quickly. "We'll escort you and your party to them now."

    Das gave his affirmation and the group followed the two soldiers down into the heart of the outpost. It was going to be a sleepless, worrisome night for him, or anyone who understood what they were going up against... which was just about everyone on the expedition, Commander Fardal Das realized.

    Except the mules. They had it good.

    (to be continued)

    (This message has been edited by moderator (edited 10-07-2002).)

  • Good job, Bryce. I hope that you decide to finish this series. It is quite entertaining.

    Slayer's guide to Cythera:

  • Yes, it was a good read. There are even some slight connections to Cythera, in this part ;)

    I hope you do finish this sometime, even if it is on the Coldstone board.

    Nothing good ever comes from secrets and lies

  • Very nice, Bryce; I liked it. One thing- watch the names that you use. I noticed a Dalis, a Das, and a Nas. It can get really confusing when they're so similar.

    Other than that, though, you've left me with nothing to complain about. Good job. ^_^

    The stars will fade and flowers will eventually die, but eloquence shall never fail to blossom on the tongues of the gifted.

  • Das and Nas are similar becuase they are both Surmourdacish names, which are normaly three letters and often as (Constanint)(as/ax). Witness Ordal Pax , Akar Nas. et cetera.
    Dalis, well, you've got a point there, it is rather similar. But hey, I'd imagine people with common names run into other people with their name frequently. (Although there is no excuse in a story ;) )

    In general, what exactly makes a game good isn't that easily
    quantified - perhaps the absense of things that make it bad? - Words of Wisdom from Glenn Andreas

    Where do you want to (url="http://"")teleport(/url) today?

    (This message has been edited by Bryce (edited 10-15-2002).)

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