Chapter 24: An Archeology of Giants
We left our heroes on the Munch, hovering above a planet that has
apparently been a battleground between dragonfolk and nephilim for
centuries before humans developed starflight. It looks like a
protracted version of the struggle on Destine -- dragonfolk making
slave-raids on the nephil colony, which slowly loses numbers and
technical level. But where do the dragonfolk take their slaves?
Somewhat despairingly, Tom and Salimar try dowsing on the dragon-made dagger, one of the original artifacts Braeta brought to us in the first place. They get nothing. Ditto the helmet, though Tom does detect a faint psychic residue, as if the helmet had been nearby when some major psychic events occurred.
Technologically, the helmet and dagger are interesting. They are unlikely alloys of copper, zinc, gold, and silver. The microscopic crystals within the metal are carefully organized to help the dagger keep its edge, and to help the helmet absorb kinetic energy. This is like the metallurgy behind macrometal, only more advanced. But there's nothing psychic about them, not even to dowse on.
Salimar tries the helmet on, to see if that activates anything. No, but it leaves an interesting molding on her flexible cranium. From this, we infer that the wearer had a sort of groove down the middle of its skill, a low forehead, and a sort of outcropping at the back. Kind of like a Neanderthal, except for that groove. Not really like anything human, not that this is a surprise.
Salimar retrocogs on the helmet. We get a vision of the streets of Destine City. Two people spring out from behind a corner, guns at the ready. Boom. Ah, so that's how the owner came to lose the helmet... She fails to evoke a vision from the dagger.
We go back to the mountain Salimar accidentally crumbled, pick up Robbie's remote eye. We then check the Map of Here and note an area marked "Ongoing Event" -- probably this world's equivalent of the Great Sucking Noise of Destine, which was given the same label on the Map.
A little surprisingly, the Map shows the Ongoing Event is about 325 days old. We had assumed it was quite recent. We had also assumed the forest fires were quite recent, but Edvard estimates they started at least two months ago, and probably more like four to six months ago. Atmospheric data suggest there have been major fires here and there around the planet for the past two years or so. We seem to have come in at the tag end of a war, the most recent of many.
Confirming this, the Map of Here shows several markers for dragontrooper-style gates, of the same age range as the Ongoing Event.
What we'd really like is to find a remaining local. There are probably some around here, but they are understandably very well hidden. So maybe the ones on the far side of the planet aren't quite so nervous. The Munch zips to the antipodes and we look around.
Lots of forest. Occasional ruined cities of great age. We look for infrared signatures of campfires. We find some candidates and look at the city nearest a campfire. It's like an Aztec ruin, seven eighths submerged in overgrowth. Not at all inhabited. We get out, walk around, and pick up some vegetation samples for the autodoc to analyze. We feel around psychically. Very, very empty. As for the vegetation samples, the autodoc finds some Terran trees among them. Analysis of genetic drift suggests they separated from Terran populations tens of thousands of years ago, but that reading might be exaggerated by selection pressure in an alien environment.
A little more poking around confirms the uninhabited feeling, so we zip back to the other hemisphere, to the point where Tom and most of Salimar landed in the first place. There, we try dowsing for people. Very faint indications, but no directionality to it. Well, it's better than the antipodes. Salimar peers around in nearby hyperspace and detects a slight cant to the local spacetime. She consults with Brunalf, who looks around that those flittery things only cats can see and notes a slight drift in their normally random motion, pointing in the same direction as Salimar's continuum-bias. So we head that way.
Not surprisingly, it's in the direction of the Ongoing Event. Now, we had a theory that Tom and Salimar got cross-sucked out of the Great Sucking Noise to this planet by this Ongoing Event. So it is a little surprising how far away it is from the place where the two of them landed. It's deep in the burned area, in a pile of ruins that were overgrown but have recently been cleaned off by the fire.
In the midst of the ruined city stand some trilithons, though they are more like pieces of a ruined colonnade than chunks of Stonehenge. A chain hangs between two of the columns, with a complexly braided rope hanging off the chain in the middle. We examine the rope and find it is woven of wires and fibers of many kinds. The organic bits are starting to decay, the way dead stuff does so rapidly after dragon raids, but that still leaves metal and plastic strands.
Salimar retrocogs it. We see the cable streaming off at an angle, as if blown in a high wind. Bits of branches and stuff blow by, too. We see two figures hanging onto the rope. They are "climbing" downwind along the ground. They fade out, like witchwalkers. And, yes, they sure look like the people we glimpsed deep in the Great Sucking Noise.
A careful study of the Map of Here shows three little marks in the middle of the Ongoing Event, labeled "anomaly." More feeling about psychically gets very strong signatures but little other information. Tom stands before the rope and uses his Knack of Tools on it, to find out how to use it. Answer: hang on tight. Oh, well.
A close physical examination of the rope shows that the metallic strands are hand-drawn wire, which fits with the way the locals maintain the bits of hi-tech they still have. Examinations of local hyperspace show it is unusually "dark" and disturbed.
Less arcanely, we look for footprints. Markel is our best tracker. He finds a set of large prints, booted, probably with hand-made boots, off in the ashy ground near the chian and rope. He follows these off into the woods, but it soon becomes apparent that this person feared trackers and took measures against them. We alternate between tracking and dowsing, and eventually work our way out of the burn into un-burned vegetation, but finally our luck and talent give out and we lose this mysterious third party. Tom remarks that his dowsing fails in a way that feels actively blocked, and Braeta answers that this is probably nephil work. We are, after all, trying to track a demigod who wants to be sneaky. Think of Loki or Hermes.
Tom suggests reversing the procedure. What if we try to drawn their attention? Braeta is intrigued and develops a plan. She has the Munch fly us to a nearby hill, clear of trees. She then gets out and has the rest of us stay inside. Radiation shields up.
Then accompanied by a curious Brunalf in his egg, she goes up on the hilltop with a large stick. She holds this aloft. Soon, the weather changes. The clouds roll in, the wind picks up, thunder rumbles. She is a daughter of Zeus, after all. The cat heads back into the ship before the gale-force winds arrive. Well, any other nephilim should certainly notice--
A lightning bolt strikes the staff in Braeta's hand and does not stop. It just dances there, continuously, on and on. Braeta puts the stick down slowly and walks back to the ship. We let her in.
With one final blow, the lighting cleaves the top of the hill. The storm dies out. Someone fetches grounding wires for Braeta and Brunalf.
We wait. We let a couple of days go by. No one shows up. Braeta admits that any local nephilim would be able to recognize her and her work as foreign, and, being cautious, might not approach. Or might approach under cover. She goes out and looks around but finds nothing.
Braeta wonders what the dragonfolk do with the nephilim. Tom voices his uneasy suspicions: Not so very long ago by their calendars, the group helped liberate the Marginalia from the City of the Lilim in Chaos' Rim, destroying the city in the process, since it was the enslaved Marginalia that kept it in existence. Tom suspects that the dragonfolk, used to being slavemasters, now seek out nephilim to be substitute slaves.
While explaining things to Braeta, he goes on to tell her how he and some other friends once time-traveled back to the late Cretaceous and there, inadvertently, probably wiped out an entire saurian civilization along with the rest of the Mesozoic fauna. The Crosstime/New Blood crew just don't seem to be fated to get along with draconians.
Braeta blanches at this and reminds Tom that he is slated -- or fated -- to be present at high diplomatic councils in Faerie that will include the ambassador from Patala, the arcane realm of the dragons. Yes, Tom knows. He plans to be the soul of discretion.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.