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Shards of Dreams

 

 

 

Video Teaser:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/x60sh4kdbkz2rir/Shards%20of%20Dreams%20-%20Tea...
 

Author's Note:

Although inspired in part by actual in-cavern events
and first-hand accounts from the GoMe archives,
this story is a work of fiction and should be regarded as such.

Any resemblance to virtual people, places, or characters is entirely coincidental.

No bahro were harmed in the creation of this manuscript.

This project is not an official production of Uru2News.

Introduction

The lighting was dim at the desk, barely illuminating the book and various other objects upon it. The room's lone figure sat engrossed writing, compiling notes for the file which sat open in front of him. The hour was late, and he should have already linked home for the evening. Still, the work compelled him to complete his notes for the archive before retiring for the night. To be honest, he found the story to be almost unbelievable...and yet, he knew it to be the truth, at least as Luna and the others had experienced it.

There were so many startling details: Sharper joining forces with Bahro, Leo imprisoned by the Maintainers, Adam as the Lord-Regent, and himself as the Imperial Messenger...and sadly, the sacrificing self-destruction of Lyrobot. Taken at face value, the whole of it simply staggered the mind. Luna was not known for exaggeration, with a keen wit and a skillful hand at technical details, he did not doubt the veracity of the statements before him. Nev'yn could not help but to reread the Cavern Sighting Report once more. This latest pursual complete, he simply stared blankly out of his office. The library beyond was silent, in comparison to Nev's whirling thoughts. The blinking of his KI-device finally returned his mind to his present endeavors. Deciding to check his messages later, he composed his final remarks for the Archive's records. He placed the note into the file atop the CSR. Below this, the supporting interview logs written by both Lyrositor and Max, now the guild's newest Messenger, were also contained within. Nev'yn rubbed his eyes in tiredness, then closed the folder.

He picked up the ring, one of the objects alongside the file, giving it a detailed examination. It bore the seal of the Maintainers with a sparkling diamond in the center of the guild's all-seeing eye. He glanced past this to the Relto book sitting nearby on the desk. It contained only the black linking panel of a severed link. Taking a deep breath, Nev'yn stood. He picked up these three items, then moved towards the row of specimen vaults on the wall behind his desk. Turning to the box bearing the D'ni numeral 17, he unlocked it from a set of pocketed keys. After an almost silent click, the small drawer slid open.

He placed first the book, followed by the ring, and then finally the file folder within giving the contents slightest looking-over before pressing the drawer forward, hearing the locking pop, and removing his key. His work was done for this weekend's excursion. The AGM had once again come and gone for yet another month. This project has been an unexpected addition to his schedule. After all, he rarely ever stayed in his guest suite here at the outpost, preferring to reside in the Waystation, or just head back up to the surface whenever his Crier duties are complete. Either way, it was finally time for him to head back home.

Nev'yn returned to the desk, where he retrieved his KI and placed it back upon his hand. This done, he extinguished the desk's lantern. He closed the gate separating his office from the public portion of the guild's small library here in this Age, as he exited the room. Using the same keys as before, he locked the grating, then headed towards Nexus terminal upstairs. His mind was still on the file he had just completed, however.

It was one of the few a GM had decided to be marked “For Admin Staff Only”. It's title should have been enough to give one pause, if not to explain such an unusual designation. It's label was simple, even if the subject matter within was not. As Nev'yn linked back to the Nexus and towards home, he found he could not help but to agree. “Shards of Dreams”, it read.

Indeed, that is exactly what they were.

Chapter 1

A gentle wind blew, occasionally breaking the place's silence. If one's ears were trained to notice such minor details, one could perceive the shallow breathing of that mountaintop. Not precisely a quiet stillness. Instead, it often seemed like the place was waiting for something. Some sort of signal from an unknown source. But what sign could that little precipice be waiting for? Whatever it may be, it was something one could not be sure about, or speak of with any certainty.

Still, that place possessed other signs of life one needed to observe to be aware of. A small spring gurgled a musical sound as the water fell over the rocks, eventually forming a small pool. Scraggly pines dotted the landscape here and there, with a single majestic specimen valiantly reaching towards the late evening sky. If one strained to hear, in the distance one might notice the rumblings of the storm which steadily approached. Suddenly, a violent gust swept across the landscape, disrupting the illusion of peace which had settled upon that place. The quiet solace of the approaching dusk was irrevocably broken as three figures suddenly appeared on the landing overlooking the darking nightime sky.

The first was a woman in her mid-twenties, wearing a simple yellow tee, jeans, and a pair of comfortable walking shoes. Slightly younger than his fellow traveler, the shirt worn by the next matched the design of his companion. His was a different shade, though, that of black and red. Instead of jeans he wore a cargo shorts, a pair of sneakers, sporting a wide brimmed hat with a backpack slung over his left shoulder. Behind him, stood the last companion of this unique trio, who was perhaps the oddest of them all.

Encased in some type of body suit, one could detect the metallic nature of the figure's clothing. The barely risen moon reflected off of the surface of it's suit, which bore a symbolic seal unlike those of it's two companions. This unusual figure did not seem to move, remaining still as statue on spot it appeared upon. Indeed, it seemed not to breathe, interact, or even be aware of it's surrounding in any way. In comparison, the other two figures were quite animated, moving from the spots they occupied mere moments after they appeared.

“This is unquestionably not the pub,” stated the blonde, her emphasis on the negative. She took a quick glance around her, to take in the surroundings

The young man seemed equally confused. “What? How did we end up here? These are not the coordinates I set.”

“So then what went wrong?” Luna inquired. “Some sort of glitch with the server?”

“I have absolutely no idea.” Lyrositor gave her a confused frown. “For one, location settings for Phil's Relto are not contained in the Nexus's database.” One could hear the bewilderment in his tone. “There's no way we should have been able to link here without a proper linking book, even with Lyrobot.”

Luna was feeling vaguely irritated by the delay. “And yet here we are.”

“Lyrobot: Analyze last dimensional translocation for any anomalies.” Ly gave the command as he moved towards the robot. There was a slightest of pauses, then the machine spoke in a hollow voice. “No anomalies detected. Dimensional translocation successful.”

Ly stopped to ponder for a second, then asked a second query. “Verify arrival coordinates for last translocation.”

The bot complied with his request.“Arrival translocation coordinates verified.”

Ly shook his head, “That's impossible.”

Luna seemed amused by the interaction between the two. “Are we having some technical issues, Ly?”

Ly seemed unperturbed by her gentle joking at his expense. “Lyrobot: Access Nexus lattice.

“Accessing...” another slight pause as the command was carried out. “...Uplink established.”

“Obtain coordinates for Guild of Messengers Pub. Standby for dimensional translocation at my command.”

There was low toned error chime, then the robot spoke again.“Unable to comply. Lattice coordinates for departure and destination locations are the same.”

Ly gave Luna an embarrassed and disappointed look. “Okay, so this might take me a little time to fix after all.”

“Do you have a time frame?” Luna inquired, having the decency not to display an amused smirk. "I'll send message to Leo letting him know we'll be a bit late at arriving.”

Ly seemed to have regained his enthusiasm with ease, “Oh, I'd say 10-15 minutes...” The female Messenger nodded, activating the device on her hand, and started composing a quick KI-mail to one of their counterparts. “...half an hour at the most. Promise!” Ly finished cheerfully.

Luna gave her fellow Messenger a quick glance over the rim of her glasses, before returning to the message she was composing. Ly heard Luna sigh a few seconds later. “For some reason, The KI won't send out a message either.” She informed him. “I guess technology is just not on our side at the moment.” Luna suddenly gave out another sigh to match the first, this one of frustration.

It was now beginning to rain.

 

* * * * *

 

Despite his earlier estimate, almost an hour had passed since Ly had begun a diagnostic of Lyrobot's major systems. The move into Phil's hut was cramped with all three of them housed within. The rain outside had become steady, but now seemed to have abated, at least for a little while.

“I don't understand it. Something just isn't right. The system seems to be functioning normally. But every time I run a simulation, the results are the same. We would be linked right back here. It's like the data up-link to the lattice of been displaced. Why that causes us to end up here instead though? Well, I just can't explain it. Maybe if I tried reversing the system's polarity....”

“Ly, sorry to interrupt you...But, we're now very late for joining the others in the pub. Is there anything I can be doing to help speed things along?”

Ly shook his head. “Not really...If you want to go on head and meet the others, I understand.”

“Well I don't want to leave you on your own, either. Can't we just leave Lyrobot here and come back for him later?”

“Are you kidding me?” Lyrositor look stunned by the very suggestion. “I can't just leave him here! I built him with my own hands...Do you know how many hours I spent compiling code for his AI system alone?”

Luna rubbed her hand through her hair. “Okay, okay...I get it. Guess I'll take a walk...”, another storm echoed in the distance, with a clap of thunder. “...Before more rain hits.”

“Don't worry, Luna. I'll have this all sorted in no time!” How he managed to maintain his positive outlook on such a dreary evening was something Luna could only regards as astonishing. “Then, we'll be off to enjoy some croissants and and a nice tune performed by Musica. Give me another half-hour, tops.” Ly turned his attention back to the laptop in front of him. “Now if I try to....”

The senior Messenger nodded her head absently, then the exited the hut. A pity Phil's didn't have a fireplace like some Relto huts did, she thought. A warming fire could have made a nice contrast to the occasional chilly gusts. She made her way up to the plateau contained the small pond. She keeled, cupping her hand for a refreshing drink of water.

It's taste was crisp, much like one would have found from a freshwater spring of a much higher mountain. She stood, moving to the plateau’s edge watch the water crash from the two small waterfalls. In the twilight, she could not quite perceive where the water met the mountainside below. The place was idyllic,but for the infrequently occurring rain showers.

She never really spent much time in her own Relto, tending towards rushing down to cavern on some sort of GoMe business. It was more like a quick stop between two train lines. In this case, it was her surface life, and the city of Ae'gura. Perhaps someday she spend more time there. The sudden sound some someone linking nearby turned her attention back to the present. She brushed a bit of blonde hair away from her glasses, and squinted to see the newcomer.

What she could make out in the evening's dim light was a breaded man with his hair pulled back into a ponytail. From her current vantage point, she couldn't quite make out his age. He was examining the area around himself somewhat confusedly. Likely it was much the same she and Ly must have looked after their unexpected appearance here...Luna clicked on her KI-light to indirectly alert him to her presence.

“Hello, down there!” she called, moving along the path towards him.

The man looked up, startled for a moment, then visibly seemed to relax. He stepped off the dock, then walked towards Luna, meeting her halfway up the slope. “Shorah.” he said simply.

“Shorah, and welcome...” Luna said in return, waving. There was the distant growl another storm getting ever closer. “...Although I wish it was under better circumstances.” She shrugged her acceptance of the situation. “I'm Luna.”

He nodded his head at her greeting. “By your bright yellow shirt, I can see you're a Messenger. I don't suppose you have any idea how I came to be linked here? The name's Max, by the way.”

“None.” Luna stated, “And yes, I'm with GoMe...One of the Guild Masters if you can believe it. Not a lot of perks, but always lots of work. So by your confusion, I can assume you didn't mean to link here, either?”

Max shook is head to indicate the negative.”My intention was to link to the Nexus. Stayed behind to get some work done in the Hood's classroom after my friends and neighbors had left...Instead, I ended up here.”

Luna move her hand under her chin to reflect on this news. “Hmm...Pretty much the same thing occurred to us.” Luna gestured towards the hut. “The guild's technical expert Lyrositor is in there trying sort out what happened. He built a robot that can access the lattice, then link everyone nearby to any location with a valid Nexus address. I was hoping we had both been trying to link to the same area. It would have possibly given us a better idea what went wrong. But we were trying to link to the Messenger's pub, not the Nexus itself.”

“Perhaps something went wrong with the Great Zero? I've heard the two are supposedly linked somehow via the KIs”

“Maybe. If so, I hope it's fixed soon, so Ly and I can get out of here. I'm simply dying for a warm cup of coffee. I've never much cared for being damp or chilled.”

“Huh. Well sorry to hear about your troubles. Nice to meet you, though. Guess I'll try getting there from my own Relto, and then use the tome to Ae'gura on the bookshelf.”

“Well, nice to meet you, Max. Good luck on your travels. Feel free to visit with us in the cavern sometime.”

“And to you, Miss Luna...Be seeing you!” Max gave a quick wave, which Luna returned. Max reached down, opened the Relto book on his hip, and then touched the panel. Within seconds he faded from view after the link was established. He was likely just as surprised as Luna when he reappeared on the dock a minute later.

“Oh, dear.” The female Messenger said simply.

Chapter 2

Lyrositor reappeared on the dock just as Max had a short while earlier. “Well, that makes three for three.” He moved to where the group had assembled between the pictogram-covered stone pillars. Neither Luna or Max seemed very surprised by this declaration. After all, a precisely similar event had occurred to them when they attempted the same feat.

Luna took the initiative to the break the silence. “So, let's take stock, shall we?” She surmised the lack of comment by the other two explorers as an affirmative to continue. “Any attempt to link sends us back here for some reason, The KI's are powered, but non-functional...As is Lyrobot's ability to link or connect with the Nexus.” She looked at Ly, her fellow Messenger, who nodded. “Lastly, we are very limited on supplies. Thankfully we have a source of fresh water, but unfortunately no food.”

“Umm....” Lyrositor interrupted her at this point, he rummaged through his backpack. “Actually, I have some PB&J's in my bag.” Before continuing, he withdrew something from the bag, holding it up for all to see. “Oh, and chocolate chip-granola bar I carry as snack.”

Luna gave him a quizzical stare. “Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Why, oh why, do you happen to be carrying those?” Luna almost giggled at the thought, likely brought on by the stress of their current situation.

“Well you see, the Cavern Criers have this weird urban myth about bahro being allergic to peanut butter...,” Ly tilted his head to the side in thought for second, then resumed his explanation, “...or was it they like peanut butter as a peace offering?” He shrugged . “Anyway, I figure it's better to be safe than sorry. Besides, thought I might need a quick lunch before we presented at the AGM.”

Max glanced at Ly and pointed at the granola bar. “Would you mind if I had that? Things like this make me need something to nibble.” “Oh, sure...here.” Ly tossed him the bar.

“Many thanks!”Max said, as he caught the candy bar with ease.

“Gentleman, please.” Luna tried to steer them back to the topic at hand, while taking no notice of Max quickly devouring the small snack. “So, any suggestions on how we may be able to get out of here? We're not exactly equipped for an extended stay, even with the hut for shelter, such as it is.” They could all hear yet another storm brewing off in the distance.

Ly was again the first to speak. “Well, we could try to patch one of the KI's onto Lyrobot's transceiver array. At current, I have him scanning for any open channel, while also detecting any changes or other anomalies in the lattice. So far, scans have indicated nothing.” He placed hand on his chin. “We know something is out of sorts, but scientifically speaking, everything indicates the contrary. On the surface, all systems are operating normally.”

Max jumped in at this point, interjecting a question. “So can enlighten me on how will strapping a KI onto Lyrobot will help matters?”

Ly gestured to his own KI-device. “Well, I'm hoping the extra power of Lyrobot's matrix core will be able to push through whatever is jamming the KI themselves...” He was interrupted by the bright blue flashing of the Maintainer seal on Lyrobot's chest, as the android came alive.

“Warning: Connection to lattice has been disrupted.”

The three explorer's attention quickly turned the robot's way, with Ly being the first to find his voice to speak. “Attempt to reestablish connection.”

“Unable to comply. Signal is being disrupted.” Responded the robot to this command without a pause.

Ly was not to be deterred . “Detect cause of the disruption.”

The robot answered in it's usual bland monotone.“Sudden buildup of tachyon particle stream along all primary signal bandwidths.”

Luna gave both Ly and Max an alarmed glance. “Tachyon particles...what the in heek's name does that mean?”

“Don't aske me.” Max could only shrug helplessly, “I'm an explorer, not a scientist.”

“Lyrobot: Can you detect the source of the particle stream?” Ly waited for a reply with vague feelings of helplessness. Once again, the robot's calm monotone inspired something closer to dread than confidence in the three explorers. “Source of tachyon particle stream is a displacement wave aligned to impact current spacial location.”

Ly quickly gave the machine another command: “Analyze wave and extrapolate potential time of impact.”

“Displacement wave is a massive disruption vortex of the space-time continuum. Approximate impact in less than two minutes.” As it spoke, the wind had begun to pick up noticeably.

Ly moved to next to the bot. “Everyone stand close.” Luna and Max wasted no time joining him. “Lyrobot: Emergency translocation on my mark.”

“Standing by.” The bot intoned.

“Wait a second!” Luna said hurriedly over the wind, whose strength has continued to rise. A slight sprinkle of rain began to fail upon the team of explorers. “If we link, we'll just end up back here.”

Max called to the other explorer. “She is right, you know.”

Ly seemed non-paused by this. “Do you really want to stay here?” The wind was approaching gail-force, and rain had begun to fall in earnest. “Hopefully, we'll reappear back here right after the wave passed by. Unless you have a better idea?”

“Good point.” The guild master called back. “And we're simply out of time...Let's do it.”

“Well, here goes nothing!” Max's voice was lost almost completely in the wind.

“Lyrobot: Now!” Lyrositor shouted.

This robot's next declaration was like a sentence of doom upon all three of them. “Unable able to comply. Dimensional translocation system is offline.”

The last thing each of them later recalled was longest, most terrible bahro scream that they had ever heard. It seemed to go on and on forever, echoing in their minds, invading every part of their being. A never-ending droning wail of pain and loss. Mercifully, the blackness eventually claimed them, and for a time they knew nothing more.

Chapter 3

(Nev's Note: Only 2nd draft.)

Leonardo felt rushed as he linked into the entry foyer. It was a a feeling he particularly disliked. Usually calm and collected amid almost any situation, this made the feeling an oddity, which likely only heightened his dislike it. A summons had been delivered by one of the Empire's Messengers. Quickly leaving his command center within Ae'gura, the former Maintainer's pub, he had possessed only a small amount of time to don the tunic of the Imperial Court over his uniform. After all, he reflected upon his appearance in entry foyer, one did not keep the temperamental Lord-Reagent waiting.

Two of his Maintainers were standing just beyond the entrance-way opening into the greater gallery beyond. Almost unnoticeable to anyone else due to their Maintainer suits, he perceived the way they had tensed at his appearance, while still at attention, then visibly relaxed. A third Maintainer stood across the room, his back to the central wall of the circular gallery. He moved towards Leo as he exited the arrival foyer.

Like Leonardo his face was uncovered. from the lack of a proper Maintainer's helmet worn by the rank-and-file. Preferring to wear his only when out in the field, and by virtue to his position, he had adopted the informal tradition. Unfortunately, his second seemed to feel he was also entitled to the practice.

“Grand Master.” The red-haired man of early middle-age said, making the gesture of humble salute. Although the gesture was once the symbol of thanks within the Empire, it had become the official sign of respect to a superior by Imperial decree. It was further not lost upon Leonardo that the man's bow had intended to hide the wide smirk upon his face. He made a mental note to discuss the proper standards of respect with Sandival at length on some future date.

“At ease, Guild Master.” He gave the man a curt nod. “I was summoned by his Lordship. I have been told I am expected.”

Carefully hidden behind his eyes, the smirk seemed to have returned to his demeanor. “Indeed you are, sir.” He made a gesture towards the left, “The Voice of Gehn awaits you. It would not be seemly for you to linger any further with this minor servant, while such august company stands anticipating your immediate arrival.

“Very well. Resume your post.” Leonardo waved the man off impatiently, then made his way to the main portion of the gallery. As he walked, he took stock of the room he had visited many times before.

The gallery itself lay far across the bay from Ae'gura, safely tucked along a side wall in a chain of sheltered of islands. Red tile and brick-work contrasted with the traditional stone of the cavern beyond and the paintings were strategically placed to illuminate the scene. The blue-white light of the chamber's lamps complemented rather than clashed with the other decor, all of this heightening the calming effect created by the gentle lapping from the bay's harbor beyond the gallery.

The parlor's paintings where noteworthy, some more so than others. Portraits of three women and two men dotted the landscape. One of these first three were said to be of Gehn's birth-mother. This was likely a rumor which is apocryphal, created in light of past events. The two bearing men were the newest, the most predominate featuring the Emperor and Supreme Overlord Gehn restoring the Guild-Houses to prominence among the D'ni here in the cavern. Although Leonardo had never laid eyes upon the man, it was claimed he still lived.

Elderly and of infirm health, the Emperor was safely protected in an Age called Riven, which only the Lord-Reagent had access, from when he receives the Overlord's guiding wisdom for the Empire. Much like the story of the painting of Gehn's birth-mother, he had his doubts on the veracity of the tale. Still he safely kept such thoughts to himself, as they bordered on treason. Slowing his gait for a moment, he paused for a glance as he passed the newest painting.

Although in a less prominent place than it's fore-bearer, Leo had no doubts that situation would on day be reversed. The surface of the canvas showed a young man in the prime of health. Wearing the same imperial tunic Leonardo now wore, with a KI upon left hand, bearing an open linking book, appearing to be offering it to the viewer. This painting was of Tsar Hoikas, the current Lord-Regent, and Heir-Apparent to the Ages of the D'ni Empire. In reality, Leo knew this man was already the complete monarch in everything but name. The truth of Gehn's impending death, mattered little either way.

Approaching the center of the gallery, he put away his ruminations. Given to the Reagent as gift by a Journeyman of the guild of writer's upon it's discovery. As his own star rose, Hoikas did not forget his friends. Both Leo and Rustee has been made Grand Masters of their respective Guild-Houses. Since then, Hoikas had turned the location into a study. It was also a place from him to hold informal court away from the Audience Chamber within the Imperial Tower overlooking the city courtyard. Hence, Leo's summons to the place. The surface of the desk, although covered with papers and the occasional nick-nack, the chair behind it was empty.

“Lord-Reagent?” he called out, looking about. He took note the shelves nearby were filled with books and several artifacts from Ages he could not readily identify. A voice spoke from the darkened area to his left and Leo turned towards it.

A male figure stood between two quill shaped pillars, before a protective metal railing. It continued to look out over the glowing water, seemingly a statue made of the same material as he stood upon. Leo noticed in the nearby darkness were standing two more Maintainers, but at a discreet distance of out earshot from their conversation. “Good, my friend. You have finally arrived.”

“My apologies, my lord. I had only just returned to the city from Eder Gira....”

Hoikas turned, and raised his hand to stall further explanations. “You always were one to be fashionably late,” The regent said as a friendly jab, for he knew this would sting Leo far more than any stern reproach he might give. “Besides your second has explained the situation...Tell me more of the rebels.” He moved to stand behind the desk, not taking a chair.

Leonardo did his best not to grit his teeth from Hoikas's remarks. He found it more and more difficult to recall those times when they had been close friends. As the years continued to go by, the two had continued to grow more and more apart in both temperament and views of how to best restore the D'ni civilization. Sadly, Leo knew he was slowly loosing ground with each passing day. He knew someday it would be in his best interest to “retire” to some distant Age, or return to life on the surface. Still, that time had not yet arrived. He resumed his report.

“My most reliable informant was able give me reliable intelligence concerning the remnants of the Exploration Corps. For a price, of course.”

“One I hope that was not overly steep?”

“No, my Lord. In exchange for a linking book to Tsogal, the information was readily supplied.”

“Hmm...” Hoikas gave a quick dismissal to such a trivial detail. “...Very well. It is an acceptable trade. Continue.”

“Our informant was able to provide us with a crucial detail of the Rebellion's movements. They were stock piling supplies in the abandoned village near the mines of Gira. With the assistance the Imperial Messengers, Nev'yn was able to confirm these reports.”

“Oh...Are your own people not trained well enough for a simple scouting mission?”

Had Hoikas been any other man, Leo would had challenged him for the smudge to his personal honor. “No, my liege. Quite simply, her people know the the area, and was more discrete. A routine supply and mail delivery, draws far less attention than a second troop of Maintainers suddenly stationed there.”

“Very good, Grand Master. I will leave such matters in your hands. And so your raid was a success?”

“Unfortunately, no. As I have no doubt Sandival has already told you. The site was evacuated even before we arrived. I unobtrusively added more Maintainers during watch changes for a slow build up of forces on Gira over the past few days. I told no one but Sandival and my squad leaders of the reasons.”

Hoikas gave him a look of “And yet somehow they eluded your grasp?”

“Yes, Lord-Reagent.” Leonardo bowed his head in shame. “I suspect a leak in the Maintainers themselves.”

“Would you care to share whom the leak may be? Sandival did not mention these suspicions in his own report.”

No, my Lord. I have not spoken of this to anyone but you. Although I have my own thoughts on who this leak may be, Sandival is not above my own suspicion.”

Hoikas gave him a wide sly smile. “That is good, Leo. That man is ambitious. He will likely replace you...Should the day ever arrive you choose to leave the Empire's service.”

“I am ever a supporter of the D'ni Empire throughout the Ages.”

“Hmph...Sometimes I wonder about the truth of such sentiments, my old friend.” Hoikas gave him a penetrating look, with emphasis on these last few words.”

“Very well, Lord-Reagent. I will not stand here and be insulted at my loyalties to the Empire, and not to you personally...” Leo gave Hoikas the same salute of respect Sandival had given him upon his arrival. “...My other duties await.”

Hoikas face darkened. “I did not say you were dismissed, Captain.” Hoikas used Leo's rank rather that his official title to show his displeasure.

Leo stopped and turned back towards the Reagent, holding back a quick retort, then bowed. “a regrettable oversight on my part, my lord. Was there further matters you wished to discuss?”

“Actually, there are. Sandival reported a second matter to me...I found it most distressing.” The Voice of Gehn move back to look out of the lake, leaving Leo trailing behind. “I have been told you severely reprimanded a senior Maintainer for disciplining on of the Least.”

“Disciplining?” Leo shook his head is disgust. “Savagely brutalizing would be more correct, Lord Hoikas. I will not stand for such cruelty in my officers.”

“Leo, the bahro a mere slaves...little better than highly intelligent animals. To punish a Maintainer for exercising his discretion....”

The Grand Master of the Maintainers boldly interrupted the future Emperor in his simmering rage “The final judgment on the status and deployment of members of my Guild-House is mine alone. “I will not relinquish that right, not even to you.” Leonardo could tell Hoikas's own anger was steadily rising.

“Leo, the Precepts of Gehn must be respected and obeyed. To do otherwise invites chaos and anarchy into the Empire. Stripping a member of your own house to the station of a mere Rivenite? He is now just a mere step or two above one of the Least, himself.” Hoikas gave him a dark look. “I simply cannot allow it.”

“Then I must disobey your order, Lord-Reagent.”

“You disobey my order?” Hoikas voice grew louder with each word. “Leonardo, I trust you did not mean what you just said. Kneel, and ask my forgiveness, and it will be granted.”

“Adam, I will not humble myself before you, not now...Not ever.”

“Do not ever again address me in such an informal manner, Grand Master.” Hoikas voice was barely below a shout. No doubt everyone in the nearby vicinity could now overhear their conversation.. “I give you one one last chance to admit your transgressions, for friendship's sake.”

Leonardo boldly stood his ground. His answer was simple. “No.”

“Very well.” said Hoikas. His tone was acidic. “Maintainers!” he called “Commander Sandival!”

The man came running, as the two soldiers stepped from the darkness to take positions alongside Leonardo. “The Grand Master of your House has displeased me. It appears your ambitions has finally bore dividends. You are now acting leader of your Guild-House.”

Sandival tried not to smile, managing to restrain himself to a slight grin. “Thank you, my liege. I hope to serve you faithfully for many years into the future.”

“Do not count yourself so lucky, yet.” Hoikas was still annoyed by the stubbornness of the Maitainer's leader. “Leonardo is one of my oldest friends.” Hoikas nodded towards the Grand Master as his temper was starting to cool. “All he must do is ask for my forgiveness and all will be as it was. I suspect some time reflecting upon the matter in Garrison's prison cells will change his mind.”

Sandival's likely distaste for the idea managed to show outwardly. “Of course, Lord-Reagent.” His tone managed to not indicate he had not intentions of letting such a thing ever come to pass. “Take him away.” He ordered to the suited Maintainers.

“Oh, and Sandival...See to it he is treated with the respect and dignity his position as Grand Master is entitled to. It is the the same consideration he would show to you were your places reversed. I expect nothing less but the same honorable behavior from you.”

Sandival made an exiting salute. “But of course, my Lord.”

Chapter 4

(Nev's note: 1st Draft)

Max was the first to awaken, although his mind was still fuzzy and confused. “What?” his mouth was dry, and he tried to pull his distant thoughts back into coherence. “Where am I?” His eyes blinked open. He was laying flat of his back. Above him he could see a clear sky full of stars. He struggled to pull himself upright.

The sudden shifting kicked his mind into gear, and everything came rushing back: Lyrobot. The endless scream of the the bahro. The failed linking to escape. He rose, and rushed over to young man slumped on the ground nearby. “Lyro! Are you okay, man?” He gave him a gentle shake.

Lyrositor groaned with a few blinks, then gave a quick mumble, “I don't have class today...it's Saturday...Just goin' to sleep in a little longer....”

“Ly...Wake up! Come one, man!” Max kneeled beside the fallen youth. It was then Max noticed the robot stood protectively over Lyrositor just a few feet away. “Don't suppose you can tell me if he's alright or not?”

The android's Maintainer's symbol lit up for moment, then dimmed. “Creator's life-signs within acceptable safety limits. Scans indicate increased (?) brainwave activity indicative of a regenerative sleep pattern. Active consciousness imminent.”

“Umm, okay.” Max was a been stunned but the overflow of information. It was then a second groan came from nearby. Max sudden remember the final member of their group. “Miss Luna!” he called rushing, over to where she lay crumpled next to the single stone pillar. She had a small amount of blood trickling from her forehead  a few inches above the left temple along her scalp.

Max tried not to become overly alarmed. After all, he knew basic first aid, plus had learned some local remedies. Many of these had been discovered by the D'ni Zoological Society and promoted by the Guild of Healers for explorers visiting the various Ages. He took her pulse, which was a bit thready, but not alarmingly so. He also took note of that her breathing was returning to normal. She groaned again, the tried to sit up. “Ugh...what happened....”

Max reassured her, “Careful there...not too fast now.” He helped her sit up enough to place her back on the pillar. He was glad to note the swelling had stopped most of the bleeding. He pulled a pen light from his his shirt pocket.

...Is everyone alright...” she asked, still dazed.

...Let's concentrate of checkin' you out first, okay?” Max said soothingly “Going to the check your eyes.” She blinked at the sudden light. Both pupils were wide from the darkness, then shrunk to pin points when the penlight were shined into them. Max was pleased by the results. “Okay, now I need you to follow the light with your eyes, and answer some simple questions....” During the exam, Luna become more and more lucid, and Max was satisfied it was unlikely she had a concussion.

So does this mean I'm not dead?” The Guild Master quipped. She gestured towards Lyrositor. “How is he?” Her earlier humor was dismissed, and her tone quickly became serious. “He's not....?” she couldn't manage to say the words.

Max patted her shoulder in reassurance. “No, no....Just unconscious according to the...robot.” the last word was said with uncertainly, then finished his statement “... you seemed to have suffered the worst of it.” he stood.

Thanks be tot he Maker.” She had Max help her regain her footing. “We've never lost a Messenger through misadventure, and I have no intention of starting now.” the two of them took stock of their surrounding.

They were clearly still in Relto, although if it was Phil's or someone else's was still unclear. Most certainly everything had changed. Every sign of life was completely gone. Not a hint of an impending storm, and the eternal evening of the place has be supplement by a nighttime sky. Even the trees were had vanished, and the grass underfoot seemed brittle and lifeless. Even the pond and mount spring had dried up, leaving not a hint they ever existed.

What is going on here?” Luna said bewildered. She moved over to were Ly lay, and shook him awake less gently than Max had a short while before. “Ly, wake up. I need you.”

Hmph, what? I'm awake...I'm awake.” He sat up rubbing the tiredness from his eyes. Seeing the other two standing over him, he rose to join then. “Nice to see we've found a lovely vacation spot for a quick nap.” He said with some irritability of the rude awakening. He lost his snappishness as he recalled the events which lead to their current predicament. “So we survived whatever that...wave...which occurred?”

Luna nodded, “Is seems so, but we seem to be in more dire straits than before. Our water source is gone...” It was then they all noticed the squawking of a bird in the distance. No, not a bird they realized, but a desert hawk, which each of them had encountered before in a place called the Cleft. It was where each of the Called had explored at the start of the Journey.

Max broke the silence, “It seems to be getting closer....”

Shh.” Luna shushed him into silence.

They strained to hear it, and indeed, the hawk's screech was approaching from the east, where the setting sun had been before the bahro scream had occurred. It became louder and louder, until it nearly above their heads, where it gave one last screech, then was gone. It was then the disembodied voice spoke, coming from some unknown source all around them.

...Ah, remnants still remain.... I have not failed. And yet...I could save so little...”

The voice's attention seem to be elsewhere, but then focused upon the small group of explorers.

...You are the last...but not the Least. Their chains have returned, and they are now a dying people...”

This last was said with great sadness, and also bitterness.

...You must save them. And, you must save him...I preserved what his parts soul I could, but not nearly enough...”

The three explorers look at each other, startled. They each knew that voice having heard it many times before.

...A central thread has been snipped. Now the tapestry had become unraveled...”

Luna mumbled the voice's name, so quietly the other two explorers could almost not hear her.

...Yes...” The voice said, then continued. “...You must now restore what has been taken...And in the end, return to this place...Always returning...The closing of the circle.”

 

It took a moment for the three explorers to realize the Voice would say nothing more, and the occasional hawk's screech had resumed. This time it moved steadily back towards eastern horizon, eventually fading away entirely.

Lyrositor was the first to speak, with a youthful quip at the ready. “Always helpful with her cryptic comments, isn't she?”

Yeah...” Luna agreed. “Phil seems to once again be dead. Like we've never heard that one before.” She said sarcasticly.

Max was more uncertain than the others, having only recently complete the first portion of the Journey himself. “Do you always have adventures like this?”He gave Luna, then Lyrositor a searching glance.

The junior Messenger gave him unreassuring shrug, which stated pretty much all that he felt needed to be said regarding the matter. “So I see we still have our Relto books.” Ly opened his, noticing the linking panel displayed the same mountaintop and starry sky where they now stood. “It seems using them will just link us back here.”

What about Lyrobot?” Luna inquired.

Lyrobot: Is the dimensional translocation system still being disrupted?”

Negative. System operating within normal parameters.”

Wonderful,” Max said with enthusiasm. “So that means it can link us out of here, right?”

Not so fast,” said Ly, “That is only half the equation Lyrobot: Establish connection to lattice server.”

There robot gave a short pause as it executed the command, returning an error a few seconds later. “Unable to comply. Lattice network is encrypted by unknown security protocol.”

I wonder...” Ly thought for a moment. “Lyrobot: Hypothetical situation; Can you eventually decrypt and bypass the security protocol.”

The robot was quiet as it ran the simulation. The symbol in it's chest blinking erraticly during the process. “Affirmative: Statistical models give a 97.2% chance of success within 10.6 standard hours.”

Begin decryption. Alert me with a report upon successful decryption.

Command acknowledged. Initializing decryption process....”

Ly was all smiles, “See now all we have to do is wait.”

Luna activated her KI's holographic display. “Hmm these are still not connecting to the network either, It's likely the same encryption.”

Max was not pleased. “So we're just going to hang around here until Lyrobot succeeds? There was almost 3% he might not ever succeed.”

Lyrositor defend his creation. “Actually that was a 3% chance in about 10 hours...If given more time he will likely...”

Luna cut him off. “Yeah, it's a maybe either way...but I don't intend to wait around to find out. Let's go.” she motioned for the other explorers to follow her into the hut. “We have an entire bookshelf of linking books at our disposal.” she gestured at the bookcase

But the book locks are latched.” Max said. “Doesn't that mean they're pretty much unusable?”

Luna shook her head. “I don't think so. We've had reassurance from a very reliable source we were sent here for a reason. I doubt she intended us to sit on our hands while doing so.” She moved closer to the bookcase, and tried withdraw the book to the nexus. It held fast. She then tried the one to Ae'gura itself. This book too failed to budge from it's slot.

See? I told you.” said Max.

'Yeah, come on Luna...” Lyrositor was almost to the door when latch to the Hood book suddenly release at her tug.

Max blinked “Well, that was unexpected.” he admitted.

See? Faith provides.” Luna said triumphantly. She let go of the book, which sprung back into it's slot, but security latch remained in an unlocked position. “Now we have a immediate way out of here.”

Max nodded. “So question is now, how many of us should go?”

Ly gestured to Lyrobot outside. “Well, I can stay here until his translocational system is fully functional again. The two of you should go on ahead.

Luna disagreed. “Sorry, Ly...but I want all three of us to stay together, if possible. We can always use our Relto books to link back here once his system is restored.

Lyrositor frowned, but agreed seeing the wisdom of her course. “Alright then, let's go, I guess.

Max clapped him on the shoulder. “It won't be so bad, we're off to do what we surface dwellers do best.” he said helpfully.

Oh, and what's that?” Ly asked, his voice not very cheerful.

Why exploring, of course!” he grinned. “So, Miss Luna, what hood did this Mr. Phil chap belong to, anyhow?”

Oh, nowhere too exciting.” she said withdrawing the book from the shelf once more. “Ly, Max...Time for us to head back to Kirel.” She placed her hand on the panel and vanished, with other two following closely behind.

Lyrobot continued his solo computations in silence, and the quiet stillness decended upon Relto once more.

Chapter 5

(Nev's Note: 1st Draft)

Anything?” Luna asked, as Ly returned from the far side of the book room,

Nope.” he shook his head in disappointment. “The other side is locked fast, too. ”

Why would someone want to seal off the book rooms?” Max inquired.

I'm not really sure.” Luna shrugged her shoulders. “Then again, nothing has been quite the way it should be since early this morning, has it?” She and the others gave Kirel another good scan.

Speaking of which, I noticed you all sure do break down from a party pretty quickly.” Max remarked about the absence of tables, balloons, and other items which were usually scattered about.

I was sort of wondering what happened to all that stuff...Like our free guild-shirts for explorers.” Ly admitted.

Well, the two of you might not remember, but back in the old days, this is exactly how the neighborhood looked when the DRC was based here.” Luna paused for a second, then continued. “ They opened Kirel to explorers and use by the Guilds when they moved into the Tokotah building in the city. I'm not sure why everything has changed.” Her voice sounded puzzled. “It's almost like we've went back in time.”

Let's hope not...”Max looked alarmed by the suggestion. “I am more than content in visiting distant Ages, then returning to Earth for a nice cool Arnold Palmer, or warm cup of London Fog.”

Ly found his statement amusing “Oh, so there are limits to you onward spirit of exploration?” he teased.

Max gave him a sheepish grin, “ I'm all for adventure, but let's not overdue it.”

Ly could only agree with some bit of mirth...”Of course, of course....”

 

*****

 

Due to their conversation, the three explorers didn't notice a forth person linking into Kirel nearby. He wore the standard uniform for administrative staff of the Imperial Court of the restored D'ni Empire. His left hand held the recognizable KI-device, while goggles covered his eyes to protect it from the harsh glare of light in distant Ages away from the cavern proper.

He moved to place the newest declarations on hood's imager. As he started to do so, it was then the Imperial Messenger noticed the unusual activity on the visitor log. “Unregistered KI# - 07:51.” It read read the first, with another two each registering a few minutes later. He paused in his work, turning to examine the area for these unusual “guests”. It was then he spotted them on the far end of the bridge, near the linking room he had come to unlock for the day.

...Well, the class room is unlocked here. That's a bit unusual, isn't it?” Asked the youngest of the three.

Not really.” said the blonde. “The only reason it's locked is because the various groups agreed to use their respective hoods such as Bevin, Seret, Tehren, Dorehn, and all the rest. The same goes for the auditorium, it's mainly reserved for the AGM. There is the occasional seasonal Fair for explorers to present projects they're working on, or for recruitment to guilds. Other than that, various explorers use the place for informal meetings. No DRC, no harm, no foul, I'd say....”

The Imperial Messenger moved closer. He was surprised to see two of the explorers wore shirts bearing Kerath's Arch, in differing colors. While the other wore simple jacket. All three carried some sort of linking book at their hips. He decided to contact the Nexus Command Center in Gahrasheen for instructions on how to proceed.

Messenger #37 to Garrison.”

Garrison responding. Staus Messenger #47.”

Unknown intruders identified in Kirel while performing regular duties. Should I move to intercept them until Maintainer detachments arrive?”

Negative, do not make contact without reinforcements. A Maintainer first team is being dispatched. Stand by for assistance.”

Affirmative, Nexus Command.”

 

 

*****

 

The Imperial agent continued observing the trio, carefully moved closer, attempting to remain at a discrete distance to avoid being noticed. So far, his efforts were successful, remaining unnoticed by the small group.

“…Hmm, now that I think on it. There may just be a way out of here. Do either of you remember Bob Ogoboo?” Luna gave the other two a searching look.

Max shook his head, “Can't recall ever meeting an explorer named that.?”

Me, either.” Agreed Ly. “Who was he?”

Luna smiled. “He's not an explorer, but....What was that?” Luna noticed some rock crumble and fall from the darkened tunnel on the other side of the bridge. Max and Ly turned, then moved toward the debris.

The Imperial Messenger started to stumble and fall, but caught himself just in time. His movements had jarred loose a bit of stone from a crack that had developed in the tunnel's wall.. He moved backwards as quickly as he could to avoid being seen. “I've been detected.” He reported, as he exited the far end of the tunnel, then depressed a button on his KI which activated an emergency link back to Garrison. He stepped tot he right and placed his back against the wall, waiting for the panic link to take effect.

They just barely missed the linking sound of the departing agent. At that remained at the spot where he previously stood in the tunnel were a few chunks of rocks of various sizes. There were no other sign the Imperial Messenger had been about.

Something of note?” Luna asked joining the two men.

Nope...nothing.” said Ly.

Eh, likely just the old rock settling. Just the cavern breathing.” Mac said sagely.

Luna nodded. “Well, anyway...if you'll kindly follow me...” She moved over to the controls for the below. “As I was saying. Bob Ogoboo. He wasn't an explorer, but a code.” She depressed the various buttons, the pattern was less random than it seemed. It an outside observer, she seemed to making making a dazzling show of light and music with the panel. As she finished, there was a mechanical sound of something shifting nearby. Luna smiled in satisfaction. “There we go. That old trick still works.”

So what did it do?” Ly looked about expectantly. He didn't notice any major changes.

Well, it unlocks the door next to the...” Her speech was interrupt by the sounds of booted feet on stone.

Halt citizens!” said a person wearing full Maintainer suit. He black the tunnel to the fountain area. “Do not be alarmed.” Said the second. “We are here to serve and protect.”

Don't should like very friendly sorts, if you ask me.” quipped Max. The first pair then start moving towards them. Thankfully their encounter suits were heavy enough to keep them from being able to do more than walk.

Agreed.” said Ly. Then he pointed. “And there's more of them.” Another pair of suited Maintainers moved to intercept them via the stairway behind the book-room.

Luna also was backing away from the advancing pair. “In that case, I think it's time for us to go. Or better yet, run!!!” She didn't waste any more time. “This way!” she shouted. The other two dashed after her. She stopped before the Egg Room door, depressing the button to open it.

She spared a glance backwards. The second pair had reached to top of the stairs, while the first set had made it as far as the end of the bridge near the book room. “Inside now!” She gestured as the door snapped open. Ly and Max all but jumped through the entrance, and she followed quickly on their heels. The door snapped shut with the Maintainers halfway across the courtyard. The trio continued moving forward the far end of the hall. They knew when the Maintains reached the door, as they begain to pound against it. IT seemed to be holding against their on slought at least for the moment.

Okay, that buys us a little time. Glad to see the lock resets after each use.”

Yeah, but now we're just trapped in here instead.” said Ly.

Does this mean were joining to back to Phil's sometime before they break through?” Asked Max.

Luna shook her head. “Not quite. This area was sealed off for a reason.” She took the other two to the front egg room. The pounding on the metal door grew more distant and indistinct. She gestured inside. “Look.”

Ly blinked, while Max stood amazed. “Another bahro tablet!” he said excitedly.

Where will it takes us?”

Luna was a bit smug. “Oh that's not all, there's one in each room of the chamber.” She took them to the second alcove. The pounding had ceased. Apparently the maintainers had decided they would find other means to open the door. Or, were simply waiting from more reinforcements.

So we can now link back to the city. The questions is where?”

Who do you think were those people in Maintainer suits?” Ly wanted to know.

And why did want to apprehends us?” added Max

All good questions. None of which we have answers to.” Luna's head was throbbing a bit from their narrow escape. “Don't supppose you have some aspirin in you bag?”

No, sorry. I left it on spare bookcase along with my laptop. Didn't want to lug it around if I didn't need to.”

Are you going to be okay? All this casting about can't be good for you.”

The distant pounding had resumed...only it was much louder than before. It was not helping her head. “I'll be fine, but we need to out of here. Our luck has just about run out.”

They both nodded.“What's the plan?” Ly asked for them both.

We need to know what's going on. Has someone stolen Maintainers suit for Gahrasheen...Or something else?”

Won't be the first time people has used them to play tricks and cause mayhem in city.”

Yeah, and likely not the last.” Agreed Max. “I remember that time someone released several swarms of Kemo fire flies here recently. They kept swirling around various explorers all confused of how they came to be there. I think a few have settled around the lamps all over the place. Sorry kinda digressed there for a minute.” He looked embarrassed as he admitted this last, having noticed the pounding again the distant door again. “You were saying you had plan?”

Luna nodded. “As much as I don't like it, time for the three of us to split up. We need need to collect more information. Since we can't use the Nexus currently, each stone will take us to different parts city. I'm going to take the one to the Concert Hall, then make my way down to Canyon Mall. Max, link to Tokotah Ally, blend in with the people in the courtyard to see what they are saying. If you get a chance, take a tour of the museum too.

Righto!” said Max.

And me?” asked Ly

Head for the Great Library. It's been kind of abandoned the last few times I've visited. I want to know if that has changed or not. Now, everyone be careful. If you get into any trouble, link back to Phils. If the KI's start working again, send a message alerting the other two of your progress and status. Otherwise, we'll meet back @13:00 at the Ferry Terminal...Sound good?

Yes, ma'am.” Said Ly with a officer's salute.

Got it.”

Luna directed them to the appropriate alcoves, first Ly, then Max. She further instructed them to seal the room after they entered. This was to further slow the Maintainer's progress, if and when they breech the steel entry door. She heard it groan as yet it took yet another pounding when she passed by the entry way.

As she sealed her own alcove she hoped it would be a good long while yet before they did. She then dismissed such hope from her own thoughts. She figured it would be quite a while before she had to worry the those Maintainers again. With only one alcove unsealed, the best they could know is where she wasn't, and that suited her just fine. She had her own scouting mission to complete. The pounding continued unabated in distance, matching the sound of both her head and her heart. With very little knowledge to go own, or what to expect on the other side, she touched the linking panel of the bahro tablet with a steady hand.

“Faith manages,” she mumbled and once again was gone, leaving the officers of the Empire cluelessly unaware their quary had escaped to safety.

Chapter 6

(Nev's Note: 1st draft)

Lady Ainia surveyed the scene below her, as her balcony overlook afforded her a prime view of the proceedings.

Yet another team of Maintainers had joined the several pairs already gathered. They were accompanied by Commander Sandival if the distinctive red hair was indeed his. Ainia found it difficult to be sure at this distance. The man conversed with the various Maintainers. After several short conversation, he departed. She had no doubt he would return soon with even more reinforcements.

By chance she had been standing upon her perch enjoying a cup of tea when the strangers has appeared. She took no notice of them until she saw them flee from the Maintainers. She now wondered who they were, and what had brought them out into the cavern before evening curfew had ended. With frequent recent sabotage by the rebels, the regulation had become rigidly enforced. She was glad these unknown explorers had manages to escaped. She hope they were able to continue to elude capture. At best, they face interrogation as sympathizers of Least, imprisonment as dangerous rebels at the worst. The Empire would tolerate none to disobey the edicts of the Imperial Court. Still, as mush as those three piqued her interest, she had many errands to still accomplish for the day.

She placed a light shawl on her shoulders, pulling it upon her head. She had a short walk through Eder Delin to reach the linking book to Ae'gura. The eder was still experience the winter chill, just as spring had not yet arrived on the surface. She linked to the garden, made her way along the path as quickly as she could. With hardly a thought, she linked to the city. Arriving near the Hall of Kings, she nodded to the maintainer standing nearby. He did not make the returning gesture. She made her way to the nexus terminal and placed her KI device into the slot to register her arrival in the city. Unlike Rivenites or the Least, her standing in the Imperial Court allowed her to link directly to the city instead of first visiting the checkpoint in the Maintainer's fortress on Gahrasheen. A very small freedom in this difficult times. Still, she had no illusions that several other members of the court did not keep very careful track of her movements.

The nexus terminal flashed, a signal it had noted her arrival. The second maintainer waved, showing he had taken note of her actions. He was clearly either a new recruit or friendlier that most. She gave him him a quick nod and polite smile return. She placed her hand on the Nexus book, which linked her to the enclosed Nexus within Garrison. Moving forward quickly, she placed her hand in a KI-slot for the second time that day. Unlike the first time, this it was not to register her location, but to activate the holographic interface. She was very limited on her choices of locations. Mainly the various public parts of the city, the Lord-Reagents private gallery, her own office in the Mount, the Imperial-Archivist's residence, and the like. She choose this last one as her destination and depressed the button on the console.

The machine activated and began whirling, as it locate the appropriate linking book. After a few moment there was a click, and snap, and the book folded out before her. She pressed her hand yet again on a linking panel to be magically transported to that faraway place. As she appeared on his balcony, she noticed Ahalmnaht sat as usual writing at his desk. She turned and survey the grand view of the cavern and city in the distance. It was much grander than her own balcony, being located in a noble quarter with vies of Ae'gura itself in the distance. It was likely rivals only by the Lord-Reagent's own private residence on K'veer.

Ah, Lady Ainia. Shorah, and be welcome in my home.” The man had moved to stand behind quietly. She was startle for a brief moment, then relaxed. “Enchanting is it not? A pity such beauty if marred by ugliness hidden beneath...

Ainia mumbled a long forgotten passage. “...A shallow glimpse can deceive. Look deep, ponder, and recognize all that is hidden...."

The Imperial-Archivist looked shocked. “I did not realize you had ever read the Regeltavok.”

She shook her head. “I haven't...Only snippets from a journal on rocky mountain...Before the Great Uprising which transported so many of the Called back to the Cleft.”

We live in dangerous times, Lady. It is not prudent for one to speak of such things, or dwell upon the past.”

Strange words, coming from the Grand Master of the Archivist’s Guild-House.” her tone was more than a bit confrontational.

Ahalmnaht sighed, for he knew she was right, and because he accepted her disappointment. “My power wanes more and more with each passing day, Ainia.” He moved to stand beside her, and look out over the city. “Only my extensive knowledge and research into all aspects of the D'ni civilization keeps me safe. The Lord-Reagent may well decide upon some future date, my services are not longer required. Still, I would be more careful with your words. Such a statement to the wrong ears could easily get you branded a heretic, or worse, an enemy of the Empire.”

Ainia nodded acceptance of his wise words “I will try to curb my tongue in future.”

That is all I can ask,” the Archivist said “now shall you join me for some morning coffee?” He took her arm in a gentlemanly way, and motioned her inside towards the table from two below some paintings in his small sitting room. A french press of coffee sat upon it, and two cups.

No coffee for me, a had some tea just a bit ago.” she declined, but did take a chair nearest to the balcony's doorway. The archivist poured himself a cup, then sat to join her. “It is just this type of matters that brings me here.” She withdrew a note, unfolded it, then passed it to her table mate. He took a sip of the coffee, the lifted the note for for inspection. He read it quickly, then placed it faced face-down and took a second sip, placing the cup upon the message after. “It may well be a trap.”

Possibly,” she agreed, “but I doubt it.”

Still we would be risking much. We may well be exposed.”

I think this matter is well worth the risk.” Ainia tried to contain her building excitement at the prospect. “Imagine the visibility of his joining our cause might bring.”

Your cause, Lady Ainia.” He corrected her. “I serve the D'ni Empire, collection of it's lost knowledge, and restoration of Ae'gura and the cavern beyond. Your mission is to make all citizens of the cavern equal, be they Rivenites, the Least, or members of the Imperial Court. You also seek freedom for the bahro.””

Surely to two are one and same, Ahalmnaht?” she said shocked, unable to hide the astonishment at his statement from her voice.

And so they are, for now. But I wish to have no misconceptions between us. It furthers my goals to assist you and rebels for now.”

Then I should perhaps speak nothing more of these matters to you then.” she said with a bit of distaste.

Judge me not so harshly. I do sympathize with you sentiments. But I am a bit too set in my ways to become revolutionary now. Still, I will aid you when and where I can...and it is safe for me to do so.

That s all I can I ask. Can you...”

She was interrupted by a chime from Ahalmnaht KI. “Someone comes....” He said with some alarm, but not overly so. “...You were the only guest I was expecting this morning.”

You KI alerts you when someone is linking in nearby?” the chime started for a second time “Mine certainly doesn't!”

Of course not. I doubt Lord Hoikas wishes for you to have such an advanced KI function.” he said matter of factly. The chime began for the third time. “Be ready. Whomever it is...” He stood, looking toward the balcony, with Ainia doing the same right behind him. “.. .arrives now.” he finished.

A female in golden uniform of the imperial Court appeared a few steps away from the doorway upon the balcony. “Shorah, and greetings.” the figure said, making a respectful salute. “May I enter?”

the Imperial-Archivist returned the sign of thanks, recognizing the figure's voice instantly “Be welcome in my home, brethren. I am ever at the service to the Court. What brings the Imperial-Messenger to my small dwelling?”

Nev'yn entered, and surveyed the scene. Her left eyebrow rose slightly upon seeing the Lady-Speaker of Ae'gura there. “Ah, Lady Ainia. I had not expected to meet you here.” She made the salute of respect, as she had to Ahalmnaht. “The Messenger dispatched to find you had reported you were not in your residence or your office...Although you had arrived in city. It is good to know we will not have to labor further to locate you.”

Ainia returned the salute. “My apologies. I had asked our esteemed Archivist for records...” she paused clearly searching something which would not be too suspicious. Thankfully, Ahalmnaht came to her rescue with ease.

...On alternative harvesting techniques used in the various Ages. We hope to use the techniques developed by the D'ni to improve production levels in Teledahn. I invited her to discuss it over coffee.” The Archivist gestured to the table next where they stood. Nev'yn glanced at the table, noticing the cup was empty where Ainia had been sitting, while a piece of paper lay beneath the Archivist's own cup.

Is that perhaps a message you need to have delivered, Grand Master. If so, I can insure it is dispatched personally this afternoon...” she started to retrieve the note. Ahalmnaht turned, jostling the table, knocking over the nearly full cup onto it as he did so. “Oh, how clumsy of me!” said the Archivist. He used the parchment to sop up the remaining liquid, then righted the cup, and crumbled the mess into it. “It was nothing of concern. Just some odds and ends about things I mean to research.” Nev'yn wasn't quite sure if the spill had been intentional or not.

Ah, very well then.” said the Imperial-Messenger, “Be that as it may, the Lord-Reagent has issued a summons for both of you to the Gallery this evening. He wishes to have an informal consensus concerning the recent...” the Messenger groped for the right wording, “...developments...within the Court at the time of sundown upon the surface. I trust I can tell his Lordship you will both be in attendance?”

Ainia nodded her understanding “But of course. It would be unseemly to defy the request of the Lord-Reagent for one's presence.”

Very good, Lady...Now if you would excuse us, I have other matters to discuss with my fellow Grand Master.” Nev'yn made it clear from her tone an invitation for Ainia to stay would not be forthcoming. “Private matters concerning Guild-House business. I trust you can understand.”

Oh yes. I have my own Court matters to see to before this evening.” She gave them both farewell salute of thanks. “If I many Grand Master?” she gestured the Nexus book upstairs.

He nodded, “Safe journeys, Lady Ainia. Now Nev'yn, sit and have the coffee Ainia rejected. Let me get a new cup for myself, too. ” The Archivist smoothly deflected attention from his departing guest, as he maneuver the Imperial-Messenger into the spot where Ainia had previously sat. “If you'd prefer, I think I have a bottle of that wine from Sahru you like...” She silent thanked him for that as she moved up the small stairway and linked away first to the Nexus, and then on to her office in Ae'gura.

Upon arrival, She moved to her desk and sat to review the day's reports. The overseer's report for Teledahn was unfavorable. Known locally there simply as “The Mechanist”, his knowledge of D'ni technology was impressive, not the least of which was the ability to keep it functioning. She returned her thoughts to the report. Spore harvesting was down another 3%. The result would be shortages in bread and ale production for the Least. She also knew the cause. Supplementing human laborers from the Least simply wasn't making up enough for the gap in able-bodied bahro field servants.

The current ones scattered throughout the Empire were looking more and more sickly with each passing day. Tai'lahr and the Guild of Healers had been tending to them as well as could be expected, but it was reported it seemed like they were willing themselves towards death. For some unknown reason, the bahro had also recently begun a severe decline in reproduction, as well. Within two to three generations, bahro as a species would be completely wiped out. At this rate, they might well take the Empire with them, without some severe changes in policy.

So far, such changes had been slow to non-existent in arriving. The realization of such knowledge upon obtaining her position cemented her resolve to aid the Rebellion. Although staunchly not claiming membership with them himself, Ahalmnaht secretly aided many of the rebel's endeavors. He was the one who had first made contact, and guided her steps. Lastly, it was he who put her name forth to be the next Speaker for the city. Without him, she would have likely already made several grave mistakes and been stripped of her position for her often outspoken opinions. Instead she had now been forged and tempered, a blending of fine steel and rock-hard nara.

She checked her KI. It was time for her last appointment before her summons to the Imperial Court to discuss the fate of former Grand Master of the Maintainers. The point of that meeting was moot in importance, she knew. The time was now for the Rebels to act, before the Empire's stranglehold was complete, and D'ni civilization fell once more to complacency and hubris. She was a tool for the Rebellion's cause within the heart of the Empire.

She stood and moved to the open linking book to Teledahn. It was up to her to persuade D.S. and remnants of the Exploration Corps it was past time this unknown weapon needed to be put to use. She paused for moment before firming her resolve and pressing down upon the panel. She knew what she had to do.

She would save Leonardo from the prisons of Gahrasheen.

Myst: The Book of Lothias

 

 

 

The Guild of Messengers Presents

An unofficial novel to suppliment the Guild of Messengers waystation project's backstory, written by Doobes.  Story and concept by Doobes and Nev'yn.

Disclaimer: Myst, D'ni, and all related entities are property of Cyan, Inc.  This story is not officially endorsed by Cyan and is not to be used for financial gain.  It is for entertainment purposes only!

00A - Foreword by Ashley Rose

    Every story has a beginning.  This tale began on February 5th, 2006.

    I had just come back from Maryland, where I had a job designing the surrounding grounds of a prolific billionaire's mansion (due to legal reasons, I can't say who this was).  It was a rare opportunity, so I approached the project with all that I had.  I put three months of work creating what I thought was a masterpiece of artistic and functional botanical bliss.  It was something that I felt would rival the functionality of Central Park, yet contain the beauty of the Champ de Mars or the hanging gardens of Babylon.

    Okay, so maybe that was a bit of a stretch.

    Needless to say, the aforementioned billionaire brought me back down to Earth very quickly in our first (and only) face-to-face meeting. While some of what they said was completely wrong, a lot of what they said was, to my dismay, completely right.  Although I begged to be given a second chance, they didn't see fit to give me one and I was replaced by another landscape architect in waiting almost immediately.

    I returned home to Vermont the next day saddened, dejected, and otherwise miserable.  Hearing your work is not good enough despite the immense amount of effort you put into it is always a bitter pill to swallow.  So it was a relief when I found my boyfriend, Walter Clarke, waiting for me at home.  He had been away in New Mexico for over two months and I had missed him terribly.
    
    After we hugged and greeted each other, I could see right away he wanted to tell me something big.  Walter has this habit of biting his lower lip when he's holding something important back and his front teeth were almost about to break the skin.  Bless him though, he was quiet the whole time while I vented about my lost client and utter failure in Maryland.  The end of my tale was rewarded with a hug and a kiss on the cheek (the only time he stopped biting his lip, I might add).  Just to tease him, I sighed and paused very dramatically before I gave him the go-ahead to tell his story.

    And what a story it was.

    Walter has a degree in Archeology, of which he is quite proud.  It has taken him all over the world in search of fantastic ancient civilizations and artifacts.  Before he left, he had told me he'd been asked to take part in a dig by a non-profit organization called the D'ni Restoration Council (very odd name, I remember thinking), but didn't know more then that before he flew out there.  As he explained to me that day he came back, a very large cavern several miles below the surface in Eddy County, New Mexico was discovered sometime in 1987 and many had gone down there to study, catalog, research, and hopefully restore what was in that expansive cave: the remains of a civilization called the D'ni.

    The whole thing sounded like something out of a fantasy novel.  I couldn't believe my ears when he told me about special books written in a strange dialect that you could put your hand to and it would instantly teleport you to a distant, fantastical world not of this galaxy or possibly of this universe.  And apparently, this same culture had left behind a treasure trove of artifacts down in this unforgivably dank cave - and he wanted me to come down with him to see it for myself.

    I'll be honest: I briefly thought he had gotten a hold of something illicit and potent in the New Mexican desert and he was still coming down off of it.  It all sounded like a joke, really.  Still, Walter is not one to make fun of me when I'm in a sour mood, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.  With no new projects in the pipeline and the Maryland job scrapped, my schedule had opened up considerably at that moment.  So after a few moments of thinking it over, I agreed to join him.

    I was sure we'd need to pack, get airline tickets, hotel reservations, and everything else that involves traveling out of one's comfort zone.  Walter put all that to rest when he cryptically said we would not need to buy anything to get to New Mexico and to pack only what he and I could carry.  I threw all my design equipment, a decent selection of clothing and a couple of books into bags and met him in the living room - where he proudly showed me a book of his own.

    Now keep in mind, Walter is not one to get what you would call “giddy”.  Sure, he's been very happy many times, but I have never seen the man giddy in the purest sense of the word - but with that book in hand, open to the front page where a very detailed picture was displayed - he smiled from ear to ear with giddiness.  

    I didn't know whether to be excited along with him - or frightened by this.

    “Put your hand on the picture,” he said, looking directly at me with that ecstatic smile still plastered on his face, “and hold on tight to your bags.”  Glancing at the page like I was about to pet a live cobra - I grasped my bags firmly and then slowly placed my palm onto the picture.

    And that's how my journey into D'ni began.  Everything that Walter had told me in our cozy living room that day was completely true, quickly dousing my skepticism and revealing to me wonders the likes of which I had never even dreamed!  I quickly learned about the D'ni, The Art of Writing Ages, the Fall of a once great people and what they left behind in this massive, yet largely dormant cavern that the DRC was trying to restore.  And of course, I met our friends.  Our allies.  Our fellow explorers.  Those who had also taken an interest in this forgotten utopia tucked far beneath the earth.

    One day, Walter and I, along with a friend of ours named Chris Stevens (a regular colleague of Walter's), ventured into the labyrinth of tunnels surrounding the massive cavern of D'ni.  They had found something interesting along the lake at the southeast end, away from the capital city island of Ae'gura and the City Proper (what they called all the neighborhoods along the cavern wall at the northwest end).  Unfortunately, the DRC soon left after this discovery (lack of funding, they said), so we could not count on them for help in this.  We took it upon ourselves to research this location and hopefully restore it.

    From the materials we were able to find, it was called “Vahgahsen Kotsah”, roughly meaning “The Eighth Gateway” in the D'ni language.  We simply dubbed it “the waystation”.  It was a port used by the D'ni as a hub for transportation of cargo and citizens for the outer tunnels and those that lived and worked within them.  It wouldn't sound like it would have an interesting story to tell.  At first glance, it would seem like nothing more than the D'ni equivalent of a train station in Kansas.  We soon found that, like everything in the cavern and the Ages beyond, there was a history to find everywhere you sifted through the debris.

    The book you are about to read is one such story.  It is a body of work assembled by myself, Walter and Chris, and recovered and presented by our colleagues in the new, explorer-driven Guild of Messengers.  It's the story of a D'ni man named Lothias.  From his birth on the Age of Teshafee to his final end after the Fall of D'ni - his life is our subject.

    This book represents years of research, restoration and understanding into the everyday life of the D'ni as they once were.  As we, the explorers of D'ni, both new and veteran, slowly continue to bring the cavern back to life for future generations, so too shall we look back at those that once lived within these hallowed hallways of the cavern.  Hopefully in this, the spirit of what D'ni was shall live on in those of us that experience it.

                                    - Ashley Rose

00B - Prologue

F’gortee tren, tseemahen b’yim kam dolmishtahenij t’gortee mahlahin.
T’gortee mot, tomot kat erthsheegah bregortee mahlahahl bohoorenij.

Sometimes, one must take a look back to what has happened in the past.  At such moments, it is only there where one will find a way into the future.

        - translated by Korov'ev from Signs and Portents, a book of D'ni proverbs

 

 

    As the Guild outpost faded into view, Geran's excitement returned tenfold as a grin spread across his face.  He often wondered offhand what exactly happened within the Link - if the mind and body were suspended or if such things as powerful emotions traveled through the void unaltered, like a current of electricity transmitted through a wire.  He felt such a force could conceivably transcend time and space; it certainly felt like it could now.  Even today, at 179 years of age, the Art still mystified and fascinated him in many ways.

    Almost immediately, he was greeted by a telrov of the Guild of Messengers, with more Guild members, Masters and attendants in usual attire milling about in the background, the quiet drone of multiple conversations echoing off the marble walls of the great outpost.  They had been the ones that had summoned him from his office in Sahru to come back to Teshafee.  He had wanted to stay with his wife Veora during this crucial time, but she insisted that he get back to work as she would be attended to by others in his absence.

    That hadn't put his mind at ease one bit.  He had wanted to be here for this very important moment.  Thinking on that caused a pinch of guilt within his heart.

    “Greetings, Guild Master,” the young guildsman said nervously, bowing slightly.  “Welcome to - I mean welcome back to Teshafee."  The young man looked up quickly, then back to the floor, clearing his throat and stuttering out,  "I-I hear there is great news from your home.”

    Geran laughed inwardly to himself.  Such a large Age, such a diverse mix of D'ni peoples - yet such a small, tightly-knit community.  News traveled fast around here, even without the Messengers' assistance.

    “Why yes, there is,” he replied, a hint of amusement in his voice.  “Did the entire Guild attend the birth or did some reluctantly stay behind to tend to the outpost and its business?”

    The telrov's head shot back up to stare wide-eyed at Geran, thinking he had overstepped his bounds.  However, a quick wink from Geran told him all was well, and the recruit smiled awkwardly.  Clapping the young man on the back, he followed him down the steps from the arrival platform through the massive stone hallways.

    “This is a great day, young apprentice.  There is no need for chain of command or authority in this instance.  We should all celebrate the continuation of life freely today.”  The young man nodded eagerly, still looking slightly away.  "What is your name, my new friend?"

 

"Reh'sal, Master."

“Well Reh'sal, esteemed telrov of the Guild of Messengers - have you heard if it is a boy or a girl?”

    This question was returned with a sly smile and a shy glance from the young man.  “I have been strictly ordered not to reveal that information to the father, even if he begs me to say.  I was told he would have to find out for himself.”

    Geran laughed.  “Well who ordered that, I wonder?  You can answer that, yes?”

    “This order comes from the Grand Master himself,” was the reply.  Geran quickly looked to him with a confused stare.  “Truly!  He also sends his regards and congratulations.”

    “Indeed,” Geran mumbled, still a bit in awe that one of the Grand Masters would think to congratulate him.  Surely there were many births in any given year, even though D'ni couples didn't have many children.  The fact his two children were born so closely was unusual.  He briefly wondered if this was done for every birth brought to the Grand Master's attention.

    Geran soon parted company with Reh'sal on his way out of the building, getting a firm handshake and warm regards from the young man before he trotted off to his other business within the outpost.  He was sure he'd see the apprentice again, as he would need to Link back to Sahru soon and the Book was stored in the outpost's library.  The fields there needed constant tending and care, the workers required constant supervision - not to mention the near-unimaginable amount of paperwork that needed to be done.

    He groaned inwardly at that last thought.

    Stepping through the main doors of the outpost, greeted by each Messenger he passed, he stopped just outside and stood in place, breathing in the fresh air of Teshafee.  He smelled the flowers blooming in the gardens, the scents of food and cooking fires drifting up from the village surrounding the lake.  The evening sun was setting below the natural rock wall that encompassed the land, shielding the area from most of the harsher elements of the Age.  Taking it all in, he decided that now was not the time to think about his work waiting for him so far away.  He grinned, put on his protective goggles to shield his eyes from the sunlight, and hurriedly made his way to his home.

    The dwelling was modest, something you'd see in one of the common neighborhoods of the cavern like Bevin or Ru'shantee.  Still, it was a comfortable life he led with his wife and son, Tomus.  This was another reason he hated to leave: carrying a child and raising an eight-year-old, no matter how many friends and family offered assistance, was still a daunting task for a mother.  And Tomus could be quite a handful in his own right.

    Pushing the front door open, he called into the house, each room warmed by fire-marble light and the smell of cooking drifting towards him.  He soon realized how hungry he was, having not eaten since early in Sahru's day, which was about three hours longer than a Teshen day.  Before he could check on the meal, a blur of activity came right towards him and hugged him around his midsection.

    “Father!” Tomus squealed happily.  Geran was just as jovial as he knelt to meet his son and hugged him close.  He could swear that the boy had gotten taller in his absence; he would grow to tower over his father someday, that much was certain.

    “Hello Tomus!  I have missed you,” Geran said happily, peering directly into the boy's blue eyes.  He shyly looked down as Geran ended the embrace.  “Where is your mother?”

    Tomus smiled and gestured for his father to follow, leading him further into the house.  Even though he knew well where his wife would be, he gladly let his son lead him where they needed to go.

    “Shorah b'shehm, Geran!” a female voice came from the kitchen.  As they passed the door, Geran caught sight of a couple of friends from the village cooking dinner at the hearth.  Geran had time for a quick hello and a wave to them before Tomus dragged him away.  The women could only laugh at the sight.  Many in the village had offered their assistance to Veora while Geran was away, something for which he was eternally grateful.  He would have to catch up with them later as Tomus would not let him wander.

    Climbing the stairs, they eventually came to Veora's door.  Anxiety soon filled Geran's senses.  He had had this same moment with Tomus when he was born; the utter excitement and exhilaration that comes with the anticipation of meeting your child for the very first time.  There was nothing in all the Ages that could compare with such a moment!  Taking a deep breath, Geran slowly opened the wooden door, peeking inside.

    Veora lay on the bed they shared, looking very tired, but blissfully peaceful as she cradled the newborn in her arms.  She whispered soothing words to the child as it cooed in its sleep.  She glanced up to see her husband standing in the door with a very broad smile on his face.  She quietly gestured for him to come in and grinned as well.

    Geran gingerly stepped into the room and walked over, Veora noticing how he took great care not to make a sound and wake the baby.  She glanced at him, smirking in amusement, before looking back down to the child.  Tomus slowly followed into the room behind his father.

    “Geran,” she whispered, not looking up, “meet your newborn son.”

    Geran quickly stifled the urge to scream with joy loudly into the night as he sat in a chair next to the bed, staring intently at the sleeping boy.  Tears began to well up in his eyes as he placed a hand gently on the child's head.

    “Hello, Lothias,” he whispered.  The boy squirmed a bit in his mother's arms before settling again, a quiet acknowledgment.  Geran beamed with pride as he leaned in and kissed his wife.  This moment would be remembered until their final days.

    Wiping the stray tears from his eyes, Geran looked back towards his eldest son.  He found that the boy had a blank look on his face as he stared at his infant brother.  He could not quite read what Tomus was thinking, but there seemed to be no joy, no elation, no pride - no emotion at all in his glance.

    “Tomus?” Geran said.  His first son slowly looked up to his father, the same blank expression covering his face.  Again, nothing Geran could read.  “Would you like to say hello to your brother?”

    Tomus looked back down, pausing for a long moment, before he slowly shook his head.  He quietly backed up towards the door, turning and disappearing before his father could call him back.  This was not a good sign at all.  Exchanging a worried glance with Veora, Geran knew they would have to talk to Tomus very soon.

    Returning his attention to Lothias, Geran quietly bent down to kiss the baby on his forehead - a silent vow that he, along with his brother, would be protected from all evils so long as he carried a breath, by any means necessary.  

    Nothing was more important than that.  Nothing.

01 - The First Steps

Retahgahmtahv votahnaht tso kerahth gloen terthlenah treriltahgahmineth.

The true understanding of courage begins with a journey into the unknown. ”

                     - translated by Korov'ev from Signs and Portents

 

 

    Blue.  

    All he could see at that moment was the clear blue sky above him, a deep azure that, while unremarkable, had the desired calming effect for which he'd been looking.  Occasionally, a small cloud or two would slowly drift by to break the endless canvas above him, but otherwise, it was a clear, warm day on Teshafee.

    At eight years of age, Lothias favored these moments the most.  With the bustle of activity in the village and the outpost nearby, these quiet times spent in the picturesque fields of lush green grass and sparse trees were cherished.  Sometimes, he would bring a book to read as well, one of the many great works of D'ni literature his father brought back on occasion.  For now, however, he was content to simply stare and be lost in his thoughts.  

    The grass beneath him served as a comfortable spot to lay while the soft wind nearly lulled him to sleep, his head cradled upon his intertwined fingers while he gazed upward.  While they normally wandered, his thoughts today were on one thing only: he would soon be called to come back home, as today was an important day: it had been delayed for what seemed like forever, but for the first time in his life, his father would be taking him to D'ni - to the home Age of his people.

    All he had heard of the great cavern was from his parents, the other villagers, and through the stories he had read.  The mystery of D'ni was slowly unraveling to him via secondhand knowledge, but to actually see it in all its splendor?  He could not put into words the excitement that coursed through his body just by the mere thought of it!

    And this was no ordinary trip to see the home of his people.  Today would be the day he would choose which of the famed Guilds to join.  While normally in D'ni society a child would start Guild studies at half his age in a Guild chosen for him, his parents, as well as most of the D'ni who called Teshafee home, felt separating a child from their parents at such a young age was detrimental to the child, and that they had a right to choose themselves.  It was a view not shared by the five Lords of D'ni or most of the cavern's inhabitants.

    Still, since all eighteen major Guilds and many minor ones constantly required all the help they could get, they reluctantly accepted any latecomers into the fold.  As a requirement for this, those that chose to hold their children back until a later age were asked to teach to their young the basics of the Guild system to prepare them; the children would then be tested for admittance.  Lothias had received such instruction from his mother, who had worked closely with many Guilds years ago, and he now felt he was ready to join their ranks and serve his people.

    Now the question was obvious, yet difficult: which Guild to join?  The Guild of Writers seemed to be the most exciting, as they Wrote the fantastic Ages to which the D'ni traveled and explored.  It required the most discipline and dedication, however, and while Lothias did not shy away from such responsibilities, it was something that needed to factor into his decision.  The Guild of Surveyors was also an idea, as it would allow him to be present to help build new construction, not only in the cavern, but in other Ages as well.

    One thing was certain: he wanted to travel.  See all that he could and explore the mighty D'ni empire, both in the cavern and beyond.  Any Guild that allowed him to do that would be welcome as a choice - and whatever the choice, he would work to make his family proud.

    As midday approached and Lothias began to doze off, he heard his brother Tomus call out to him from further down the field, in the direction of the village.

    “Lothias!” Tomus cried, his voice deep and authoritative.  As the older brother at sixteen, Tomus took it upon himself to keep young Lothias in line in their father's absence, much to Lothias' mild annoyance.  He never acted out or defied his mother or brother whether their father was away or not, but the older boy still looked down on him and kept him under strict supervision.  It's what older brothers do, as his mother had told him.  Even so, it was a nuisance he reluctantly obeyed.  Despite his feelings about his brother being a bit overbearing, Lothias still respected and loved Tomus greatly.

    Lothias sat up and stood quickly, brushing himself off a bit.  He turned to look at Tomus, whose face was expressionless.

    “Father is here,” the older boy stated.

    Lothias nodded, unable to hold back a smile.  Something told him Tomus was just as excited at seeing the great cavern again.  He'd already been there a few times, the last time being just after Lothias was born.  Tomus had been given the chance to join a Guild as well, just as Lothias was about to, but chose not to join one.  He preferred to prepare to work with his father in Sahru instead, not as part of the Guild of Ink Makers, but more freelance.  While Geran had encouraged Tomus to be sure and follow his own path, the boy had insisted that that is what he wanted to do.  Their father was proud and looked forward to the day his son would join him.

    The two brothers wordlessly made their way back to the village.  The field that Lothias had been daydreaming in was only a short distance from there, but far above on top of the protective rock wall, near the river that flowed down via waterfall into the lake the village surrounded.  Further back were the fields that grew the various crops, plants and livestock that made up the settlement's food supply, an excellent alternative to having supplies Linked in.  The Teshens prided themselves on their autonomy from their native cavern.

    Tomus and Lothias reached the ledge and carefully made their way down winding steps carved directly into the stone near the waterfall, which provided a cooling mist to accompany the spectacular view of the structures below.  Many would come up these very steps to the top to see the sight of it all at sunset, sunrise, and all points in-between, so the steps had been well-worn by that time, but well-maintained too.

    The village, Guild outpost and surrounding rock "wall" sat nestled in a large valley, the surrounding mountain range offering even more protection.  A narrow opening in the wall opposite the waterfall allowed the lake to slowly drain further into the valley, a cycle that provided constant fresh water to the people.  On the other side of the waterfall from where the steps were was a very large and sturdy platform that could raise and lower the large amount of crops and supplies from the top “shelf” to the village below. 

 

    At the base of the waterfall were two mills; one processed some of these crops, the other provided power to the various buildings along the shore using the strong current.  This made the water treacherous, and so children could swim around the shore of the lake, but swimming too far out into the center was forbidden, as the water there was too strong to swim back.  It would push even the strongest swimmer over the edge and to their death at the jagged rocks below.

    The centerpiece of the area was the outpost that belonged to the Guild of Messengers, its massive golden dome a stark contrast to the modest houses near the base of the structure.  It was one of their out-of-cavern “hubs” that received and sent messages to citizens across the Ages and in the cavern.  With millions of D'ni sending countless messages and cargo, minor and urgent, offloading some of them to a site like this was greatly needed, as space within the cavern was needed for other things.  Occasionally, it would also host dignitaries and other guests, who utilized the main hall for meetings and the living quarters if they chose to stay longer.

    Lothias followed behind his brother as they finished descending the stairs and walked along the path near the shore towards home.  Each step to Lothias felt like a step closer to his future.  He would soon be a telrov, a Guildsman, something that was very distinguished in D'ni and Teshafee alike!  Most important of all, however -
    
    “Father!” the younger boy yelled out in joy.  There stood the man he'd not seen in quite awhile, who smiled broadly at the sight of both of his sons.  The importance of the ink made in Sahru and the constant need to supervise and inspect the fields kept Geran away from his family for long periods of time, something they all knew was necessary but saddened them nonetheless.

    “Lothias!  Shorah b'shehm.  It is good to see you, my son.”

    “Shorah b'shem, father,” the boy replied as they embraced.  Tomus walked over slowly, Geran laying a firm hand on his shoulder instead.  The older boy had grown out of being hugged at around age 13, preferring more to be treated as an adult as the years went on.  Geran respected that and acted accordingly, but still did what he could get away with to show affection and admiration for his oldest son.

    “How is Sahru fairing?” Tomus asked.  The elder son had apparently gone directly to the fields to retrieve Lothias when Geran arrived and had not gotten caught up on the latest news from the other Age.

    “It is busy as ever,” their father replied, an amused grin on his face.  “The paperwork continues to flow just as readily as the ink and wine.”

    Both boys laughed at this, although Tomus' was more subdued.  The amount of forms for ink production in particular was notoriously laughable, but apparently needed, as the special ink made there and elsewhere was the life's blood for the Guild of Writers and Linking to new Ages – and thus, new avenues of supplies and commerce for the always-expanding D'ni empire.  Even so, it had long been a running joke within the Guild of Ink Makers that one was more liable to be buried alive under piles of paper than the large quantities of stone in the cavern.

After spending several minutes catching up just outside the house, Veora appeared in the doorway to tell them that the midday meal was ready.  Assuming Lothias chose a Guild, this would be the last meal with all of them together for awhile.  After joining, a telrov was first sent to dormitories in one of the many halls of their chosen Guild, away from family and under the tutelage of Guild Masters.  While Teshafee had many books for learning in the outpost's library, it was a mere fraction of the precious materials the great cavern contained.

As such, Lothias did what he could to thoroughly enjoy this time with his family.  He could tell that, while his mother was excited for him to possibly join a Guild, it would break her heart to see him go.  She too was doing what she could to make this time last and to remember every detail.

There was much conversation interspersed with jovial laughter while they ate at the dining table, and it notably avoided what would come later, until Geran finally asked, "So Lothias, have you narrowed your decision at all since we last spoke?"

"A little," Lothias replied, his face with a look of concentration.  "I really want to travel and see many Ages."

Geran grinned.  "A worthy endeavor, my son.  If you join the Writers, you may even create Ages of your own."

"You mean establish Links, my dear," Veora corrected him.

"Yes, of course, of course."  There was always debate within D'ni society about whether The Art actually created a new world or merely opened a gateway to a world existing somewhere in time and space.  It sometimes caused heated discussion with some members of the society, but while Geran and Veora differed on that belief, they merely took the other's opinion in stride and agreed that the question did not have a definitive answer.

"That would be wonderful," Lothias agreed.  "Some of the other Guilds also have such opportunities.  I will need to talk to members of each."

Geran patted his son's hand.  "You shall have that chance."

Tomus had been listening quietly up until then.  "You could always work for father, brother," he said, his voice monotone and his glare slightly insinuating.  "He works far too hard to provide for us...and we are his sons."

Geran waved his hand dismissively.  "I am still fully capable of handling the workload Tomus, although I do still welcome the day you will join me in Sahru.  Lothias is free to choose what he wants and we all shall support him in his endeavors just as we support you."  He gave Tomus a look that meant that would be the final word on the matter.

Tomus continued to stare at Lothias a moment longer before looking down at the table.  "Yes, father."

Geran's stern look morphed to one of concern until there was a knock at the door.

"Ah, that must be Reh'sal," Geran stated.  "He's here to escort us through the outpost."

With wide eyes, Lothias looked around at his family with a mix of excitement and anxiety.  This was it.  He would be going to D'ni, and he was unsure when he'd return.  All four got up from the table, and Veora quickly walked over to Lothias and embraced him tightly.

"Good fortune to you, my son," she whispered, her voice choked with emotion and her eyes watering. "Choose the path you feel is right.  I will wait here patiently for you, no matter how long it takes."

Lothias also began to get emotional, a stray tear rolling down his cheek.  Even so, he shook it off and smiled bravely for his mother as he reluctantly pulled away.

"I will make you proud."

Veora smiled as well. "You already have, Lothias.  Many times over."

******

Reh'sal had exchanged greetings with Geran, Tomus and Lothias at the door and quickly began to lead the way to the outpost, Veora watching them as they walked away.  Lothias kept looking back to her, stealing one last glance to keep with him.

Since the three were not Messengers like Reh'sal, access within the outpost was restricted.  Items, some of them very sensitive, were so carefully organized, and the books in the library were so highly valued.  As such, non-Messengers were required to have a Guild escort with them.

As the group walked along the path single file, Geran asked, "How are you, Reh'sal?  I did not see you upon my arrival."

The Guildsman smiled.  "I have been well, Geran.  I have been waist-deep in the constant pile of messages and parcels, sorting and filing as those that are not yet Masters often do.  A young Messenger's work is never done!"

"The same can be said of the Ink Makers.  You have my sympathies, my friend."  He then grinned.  "And while I'm glad you are so dedicated to Guild code and procedure, I am still relieved you call me by my name instead of 'Master'."

Reh'sal laughed.  "Yes, I am no longer that anxious telrov you met so long ago, and I have you to thank for that."

Lothias walked up beside his father as they skirted the end of the village, and Geran put an arm around him.  "Can you believe young Lothias is now on his way to also joining a Guild?  You've known our family since he was born, after all."

"Yes!  It seems only yesterday the entire village was enthralled by baby Lothias.  By the Maker, how time flies!" Reh'sal replied loudly and theatrically, causing Lothias to blush as nearby villagers looked on and laughed to themselves.

While Geran and Reh'sal didn't seem to hear it, Lothias distinctly heard Tomus scoff at the Messenger's words as the older boy trailed behind the rest of them.

Moments later, they arrived in front of the large, wooden double doors of the Guild of Messengers outpost, their symbol of Book and wings adorning the wall just above.  The front of the building extended upward three floors, but aside from the front side of the structure and the golden dome, the majority of the outpost was built within the rock wall itself.  Lothias had only ever been inside the foyer to see his father off when he left for Sahru, but as the doors slowly creaked open, it still excited him to enter such hallowed halls teeming with such history and splendor.  This was truly the gateway to the rest of the D'ni empire.

Geran and Reh'sal continued to make small talk, with the Messenger occasionally prodding Lothias with a question or two about his decision, and Lothias in turn asking basic questions about the Guild of Messengers.  The outpost was large and the marble hallways were a labyrinth of confusion to those who had never navigated them before.  Dozens of Messengers crowded the way, some working, some talking to others, some rushing by to get somewhere else.

There was so much commotion in here, Lothias wondered if Messengers also escorted visitors because one could become lost without a knowledgable guide.

Eventually, they made their way down the winding pathways into the library.  The chamber was circular, with open hallways leading down to the main floor on either side, a small observation balcony between them at the top.  Below, inset into the balcony was a small, caged room, which was kept locked and secured.  It contained the most important Linking Books, including several that went to various locations in D'ni.

Looking all around the library, Lothias had never seen so many books!  All available wall space was used as shelving to house the massive amount of literature and Linking Books in the outpost.  Encircling the bottom floor were standalone shelves packed tightly with more Books.  Several pedestals held a few select tomes as well.  Only the large support pillars were solid and devoid of any storage space, although Lothias suspected there might be hiding places in them for even more security.

Down on the main floor, off to each side were entryways to oval rooms with even more great works.  An entryway to another Book room was at the bottom where both paths down met.  Even a single D'ni with hundreds of years to spare would never be able to read all that was contained in just this relatively small space.  Even so, many Messengers and a few visitors were partaking of the bevy of reading materials, while a couple of people were using Linking Books to Link out of Teshafee entirely.  Despite the amount of activity, it was respectfully quiet as well.

"This is amazing!" Lothias whispered to Geran.  His father and Reh'sal smiled at the look of wonder on the boy's face.  Despite seeing it previously, even Tomus was still a bit in awe of the great library, although he did his best to mask it.  While the boys looked around, an attendant was unlocking the cage, sliding the heavy metal door open.  He quickly scanned the shelves and selected a book at about eye level, bringing it over to an empty pedestal.

Lothias swallowed his nervousness as the Book was brought over and they made their way to the pedestal.  In moments, he'd place his hand on the page and be whisked away from the only home he had known.  He looked to his father, who merely nodded.

"There is nothing to it, Lothias," he said in a calming voice.  "Don't worry."

Lothias nodded slowly, then turned back to the pedestal.  The attendant carefully laid the Book down and opened it to the first page.  A rectangular image of crisp detail sat before him.  It showed a stone courtyard, surrounded by ancient, intricately-designed buildings. It looked rather dark there, but still bathed in a soft, amber light.  The picture centered on a large stalagmite in the middle of the courtyard, hollowed out to allow passage through its center.

"Well then," Geran said, shaking Lothias from his trance, "onward to Ae'gura."  He placed a hand on Lothias' shoulder.  "I will see you in D'ni, my son."

With that, he placed his hand on the image...and vanished.

Lothias breathed deeply, once again gathering his courage...and placed his hand onto the page.  His hand began to tingle, and the library, outpost, and all of Teshafee slowly faded from his view.

Lothias Journal Excerpt 01

Excerpt from the sixth journal of Lothias

Dated: Leebro 10, 9397 DE.

Translated by: Doobes

 

"While I know it has not been long since we last spoke, to my weary heart, it has felt nearly a millennium has passed.  My thoughts are jumbled and I must put them to the paper of this book for my own sanity.  It is why I write this entry to you: my beloved.

"We of the rock, the D'ni, are a long-lived people.  Blessed with longevity by the grace of Yahvo, this has become both our blessing...and more often, our curse.  While we have conquered the elements around us and achieved mastery of the Art that sustains us, only a select few have even come close to conquering matters of the heart.

"Many regrets weigh heavily upon mine, but none as potent and crippling as you.

"Perhaps it is poetic justice then that I now find myself in this quiet, almost forgotten corner of the great cavern, whittling away at the now-mundane business of the Guild.  I have become nothing more than an empty figurehead; a relic from a former era, propped up to keep the younger recruits in line.  The bustle of activity around quickly becomes a blur, one that passes me by with gaining momentum...and I find myself unable to care.

"I think often about the things that were said.  I think about all that was left unsaid.  Much of it was my fault.  Through past betrayals, the capacity for me to trust has been greatly diminished.  Still...I let you in.  Something inside told me this was the right thing to do.  My head may have still held old mistrust, but my heart knew of the kind and pure spirit you hold.  Even so, my mind continued to override logic...and finally, it cost me dearly.

"In times together, we flourished, and whether you saw it or not, in me, you caused an awakening.  It is one thing to merely engage a person in everyday conversation, but to revitalize their soul through kindness and generosity is another matter entirely.  It is what brings a zest to life that only a fortunate few can experience.  It's a spark of comforting light in an otherwise cold and dark existence.

"It is true: without that warming light, it has become a dismal existence indeed.  The great sights of the cavern, a bright day upon the land of my home of Teshafee, and so many more breathtaking wonders bequeathed to us by the richness of our society and many millenia...will never be enough to replace that light that you brought to me every moment we were together.

"And so...I wait.  A sliver of hope still remains.  I may be foolish to think so, but in the end, it drives me forward.  I will continue on, but always hope...for in the end, hope is all we have.

"Someday...I will know."