2. The Dig


They had uncovered most of the nearby hills. Teams had staked out their finds. George frowned, leaning on his staff. “This just doesn’t make sense,” he muttered to himself. He glanced across the dig and shouted to his doctoral student, “Jamie, be careful over there! That equipment is delicate!”

“Sorry, Professor!” The young man shouted back.

George sighed and privately wished his student assistants were not quite so young. He stepped down into the dig, reaching a depth indicative of a time of more than seven thousand years in the past. The staff in his hand was the latest DHR model, the latest in Data Humanistic Rapport, made of reinforced molicirc computer crystal. It glowed as he entered rapport and muttered to himself, “Initiate scan of the next section.”

‘Acknowledged,’ the computer whispered in his mind. George closed his eyes and “heard” it state, ‘Initiating scan.’

The catalogued remains of the structure, the geological formation, the very shape of the dirt and rock were instantly reorganized in his mind’s eye. The dig vanished around him. This valley in northern Europe all too suddenly held a series of buildings, which were apparently centered about this location.

The image before him was laid out like a dream as he turned his head, eyes still closed. He saw each building, some six stories tall, with arched windows and doorways that had a natural feel. He had the impression of gigantic interwoven tree trunks and beautifully carved interlacing branches.

The stones had been intricately carved. The roofs inclined, supported by thick wooden beams. Groves of trees had been planted, encircling each structure, almost concealing the town.

The high level of expertise this demonstrated is what confused him most. This should have been a primitive age. However, the technology used to build these structures seemed far too advanced. His peers were ridiculing his findings, and the University was questioning the entire project.

This place should not exist – humanity should not have had the skill to build these particular structures; therefore, his colleagues reasoned his findings were flawed. Yet the evidence was before him – a true challenge to all the knowledge amassed in the Archives. And later that day a team from the University, expert in the history of this area, would descend upon the dig to be shown his evidence to the contrary.

The computer staff glowed for its entire length as he walked within the central building. Arches rose majestically up to the ceiling, supporting successive stories. Each block of the stone foundation had been precisely cut and set, without mortar, which would have left some residue. The stone floor had been polished as smooth as glass.

George walked deeper into the imagined structure and looked about him, trying to ascertain its purpose. He paused and closed his eyes again, wondering if this had been a meeting place or a temple of some kind. Sighing, he opened his eyes, moved to the left, then closed his eyes to “see” the site he was exploring from a new vantage.

There were a number of archways off to the side. One led to stairs that had spiralled upward to the higher floors. All led to chambers, which served no immediately obvious purpose. There was also no evidence that this had been a burial tomb. However, the greatest oddity was across the main chamber.

An archway fronted the thick exterior wall, serving no structural need. Perhaps, he was still missing some vital piece of data that would provide a further clue or even answer to why it was there.

‘Anomaly detected.’

Now that was curious. He followed the anomalous reading to the strange archway and knelt to examine the two remaining base stones. “Split vision, please,” he muttered.

‘Acknowledged.’

He saw both the projections of the arch and the base stone that was its only remnant. Kneeling closer, he unclipped a stiff brush from his belt and used it to clear another layer of dirt. When their equipment had first uncovered this level, there had been no anomalous readings. Exposing the stone further, he frowned. “Identify the base rock.”

The staff glowed for a moment. ‘Unable to comply. No identifiable trace elements detected. Negative identification to substances of terrestrial origin.’

“Could it have come from meteoritic material?” he muttered.

‘No radiation detected. Unable to provide complete evaluation to advance a hypothesis.’ George glanced at the projected arch, more curious than ever as to its purpose and origins.

“Professor Bradley!” Jamie shouted. “The Archive’s team has arrived!”

Great, he thought aggrieved, they were early. Now he would have to show them the site, which they stated did not exist and present them evidence that it did. He rose and looked up at the mysterious archway.

“Professor Bradley!” Jamie shouted, smiling crookedly at the assembled team members and added, “Right this way, ladies and gentlemen.”

The team looked less than pleased.

“I’m coming!” George shouted back, realizing he had lost track of time, the staff still glowing enrapport with his mind.

#

Highmage Alrex knelt for seemingly hours before the Gate, For millennia, the Gate Between Worlds had been closed. Long ago the stars were easily crossed by the Elves. Worlds under many suns were called home. Yet after a time, various worlds had been abandoned – the Gates sealed behind them.

This world had become home, its Master Gate still vital, but alone – as alone as its Elvin Guardian felt this day. For more than two hundred years, he had served as Highmage of the Aqwaine Empire. He would likely be the last before the Elfking, now Demonlord, conquered the Empire and in his madness exterminated Humanity.

Even his daughter thought the Gate could succour them from that fate. “But none of them understands your limits. You are a thing of pure magery. We cannot wield you like a sword. You are a doorway – and, whether they understand it or not, you are alive.”

The Gate watched him, understood him. Knew the thoughts of its companion, his fears and sorrows – they were one, Guardian and Gate.

The Gate then did what it had not done for thousands of years. Its runes flared brighter than the light of a sun and it reached out to the beckoning stars of the galaxy.

George began to turn away, his mind still partially envisioning the mysterious archway. “Professor!” Jamie shouted, glancing down the edge of the excavation with the curious archival team.

At the base of the dig George’s glowing computer staff faintly touched the revealed base of one of the ancient unidentifiable base stones. There was a sudden blast of indescribable sound as the onlookers stared. Energy arced between the two stones forming a bridge before George even had a chance to turn back around.

Wind howled behind him as George found himself paralysed, unable to move, uncertain what was happening.

The Highmage gaped as he saw sudden light amid the stars. Incredibly a distant Gate opened. Alrex jerked to his feet and practically yelled the Invocation of Entry. The runes flared the length of the Gate as it lowered its veil and opened to the cosmos.

Without warning a scaled claw was out-thrust from the other side of the Gate and raked the unprepared Highmage. He screamed in agony as he fell backward, clutching his bloody chest, then a scaled wyvern leapt through the portal and into the ethereal antechamber.

“Kill him, My Pet!” the Demonlord shouted from the other side.

The Highmage mumbled a word of power and a bolt of fire shot from his curled and blood smeared fingertips. The wyvern was flung aside with a cry, allowing Alrex the opportunity to reach out and grasp at one of the arch’s flaring runes.

He shouted a desperate command even as he saw what looked like a shooting star fall across the Heavens – and two other dim shapes rose to meet it from his world. The Gate abruptly closed, its runes going dark. The wyvern screamed as the wards trapped it, momentarily keeping it at bay.

Alrex struggled to his feet and flung himself past it and out of limbo. It glared at him, struggling to move as he passed back into his study.

The Highmage abruptly fell gasping to the floor as the wall behind him began to solidify. The wyvern roared suddenly free of the wards and leapt after him. Alrex turned on his side and stared, pale and dazed.

The wyvern’s head and one leg jutted forth from the wall like some hunter’s prize. The creature’s eyes glazed with death as he fainted.

Aaprin followed the phantom Cathartans to the Healers Hall, where the storm kicked up into even greater fury. Wind tore at him as he raced past the huddled phantoms and their carriage inside the courtyard, who were seemingly unaffected by the storm raging about him, while they stood in calm daylight.

The young apprentice mage thrust open the Hall door and shoved it closed behind him. He was soaking wet as the duty warden shouted at him for his foolishness. “The matter that brought you here had better be urgent, boy!”

Aaprin gaped as the phantoms seemed to solidify and the warden to become more of a phantom. The whole Hall had taken on an unreal look. He shook his head as he walked past the phantoms and stared as he saw the solidifying image of the Master Healer Ofran, addressing the Cathartan lord.

His lips moved and at first, Aaprin heard no sound, then abruptly heard, “I can ease his pain, but nothing more.”

“We’ve traveled so far. Is there truly no magery that can save him?” the man asked.

Suddenly a hand came down on his shoulder. Aaprin looked up, startled almost as much as the black liveried woman next to him. “Where did you come from?” she asked.

“Me’oh, get him out of here!” another ordered, ushering him forcefully out and muttering, “Blasted elvin magery.”

Aaprin stared about him, feeling dizzy, yet suddenly unsure why. “Ignore, Cle’or, she takes her duty a bit too seriously. Best be off before she considers you a real threat.”

“Uh, sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb anyone.” Or had he, he wondered. What was he doing here? He shook his head seeing the black liveried women, armed with short swords and daggers, standing guard throughout the anteroom. They watched him warily.

“Me’oh, how did he get in here?” one of her blonde-haired companions asked.

She propelled him past her Sisters. “That’s simple, Se’and, by magery, of course.” The other black liveried women glared at Aaprin.

“Something that apparently involved a water spell,” the youngest woman remarked, frowning at the water dripping from his clothes onto the floor.

The Sisters laughed as he quickly exited the Hall. Me’oh closed the door firmly behind him as he looked down at himself and realized that he was soaking wet. When had this precisely happened? Standing outside in the courtyard, he paused and glanced up at the clear night sky. Vaguely, he remembered a storm, grew less certain, particularly when he noted that he was completely dry and not drenched. He shivered and hurriedly returned to the Academy.

The young woman, Fri’il, glanced out the window and watched the elfblood youth run off. She blinked and shook her head, why ever did I think he had been soaking wet?

One moment he was standing at the dig in broad daylight, then the howling wind and darkness took him. He was falling and desperately held tight to his staff. As he fell, the crystal glowed brighter and brighter. Enrapport with the computer, he had the sense of falling forever, past stars, even past planetary masses.

Abruptly the fall ceased and he found himself off his feet, suspended in stygian nothingness, in limbo. He slowly stood, struggling to regain his sense of balance. Only the brilliant light from his crystalline staff allowed him to see at all. Then two hideous leathery scaled creatures leapt out at him from the depths of the darkness.

He swung the glowing staff using it to fend them off. They shrieked in pain, shying away at its very nearness, then they charged. He struck out and at the impact there was smoke and a searing sound. The creature hastily fell back with a cry. Yet they were not long deterred and returned to their attack. Their powerful teeth gnashed at him as he beat them back. They swiped their horrible talon-like claws at him as he ducked aside. One of the beasts finally broke past his guard and tried to disembowel him.

The staff flared to even brighter intensity as he hastily struck out to block it and connected with what should have been merely a glancing blow. This time at the touch, there was a resounding flare of brilliance and the creature shrivelled as the light danced about its skin.

The next nearest beast raked his exposed flank with a powerful swipe of its claws. He screamed in agony, twisting to defend himself from further attack. The creature’s fiery eyes gleamed in delight even as the ground seemed to suddenly give way beneath him.

He fell once more through eternity, clutching his computer staff for dear life as it flared with light like a beacon across a stormy night. Then abruptly he fell out of the darkness and struck the ground hard, losing his grip on his staff at last. His only impression was of ghastly shocked faces surrounding him, edged by firelight before he lost consciousness.

Carwina awoke from the strangest dream, which was already beginning to fade from memory. But it had been of Gwire falling and the last days were nearly upon them. She shook her head, knowing it was only a bad dream, then she heard her father cry out in agony and raced from her room to her father’s study and saw that there was still light under the door. Entering, she stopped in sudden horror. “Father!” she cried.

She hurried to where her father lay bleeding on the floor and gaped up at the wyvern’s head and leg jutting from the wall, locked in its moment of death. The servants heard her and came rushing upstairs. They stared aghast as she shouted, “Summon Master Ofran!” Then she summoned her own courage and began a healing chant.

The Cathartan lord, Sire Ryff, was led to a cot. He sat dejected as his black liveried Mother Shaman took her place beside him and hugged him. “It was all for naught, De’ohr.”

“No, Ryff, it was not,” she whispered.

“The prophecy brought us here. It’s been the only hope I’ve had to cling to, yet to learn that they can provide no help at all?”

The woman shook her head. “I cannot explain it. The prophecy was quite explicit. ‘When the Secondson descended of the Shattered House falls to the Curse, to the Empire its lord must take him, else succour of House and world fall with him.’ Here is where I foresaw we must come if there was to be any hope. Destiny demanded our presence here, at this very moment. We are here for a reason, Ryff – and as long as your son still lives, there is hope of healing him.”

Tears misted his eyes, “You are truly crazed – I must be too to cling to such a forlorn hope.”

“The Curse warps our whole nation, Ryff. Today there are only thirty-six men in all of Catha. The first second son in generations is a great blessing. We cannot afford to lose him… I feel the current of fate. Our trek here has not been in vain.”

“What would you have me do now?”

“Rest for a day or two, accept what help the Master Healer offers young Vyss. After that, we shall see – events will make matters clear.”

Copyright © DHR2 Believe