Authors: D.H. Aire
The dig team had uncovered most of the nearby hills and archeologists 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 graduate student, “Jamie, be careful over there! That equipment is delicate!”
“Sorry, Professor!” the young man yelled back.
George, nearly forty, 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 newest 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 replied in his mind. George closed his eyes and internally 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 that were centered around George’s location.
A mental blueprint of the city formed as he turned his head, with eyes closed. He visualized each building, some six stories tall, with arched windows and doorways. He had the impression of gigantic interwoven tree trunks and beautifully interlaced branches forming platforms and walkways.
The stones that formed the walls had been intricately carved with symbols reminiscent of runes, but not recognized ones. The roofs were inclined, supported by thick wooden beams. Groves of trees had been planted around 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 ridiculed his findings, and the university began questioning the entire project in light of his seemingly contradictory discoveries. This place should not have existed; humanity should not have had the skill to build these particular structures, yet the evidence was before him.
Later in the day he would have the opportunity, if one could call it that, to present his findings to a team from the university, fellow experts in the history of this area who were charged with assessing the academic merit of George’s controversial work. DHR enhanced archaeology was often considered a subjective science, since it depended on the archaeologist’s perception and experience, which made this find suspect in the closed minds of his many rather conservative peers
He felt it was so damned frustrating. The technology was invaluable, yet after thousands of years, new finds of this type were extremely rare. The support of the university was essential to making his making his mark on the historical record, even if it might go against everything they knew of human history of this place and time.
The entire length of the computer staff glowed as George walked within the central building. He could see arches rising 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 temple of some kind. He opened his eyes, moved to the left, and closed his eyes to observe the site he was exploring with his staff from a new vantage.
There were a number of archways off to one side. One arch led to stairs that 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, but 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.
That was curious.
When their equipment had first uncovered this level, there had been no anomalous readings. He reached the unusual archway and knelt to examine the two remaining base stones. “Split vision, please,” he muttered.
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. 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 of substances of terrestrial origin.’
“Could it have come from meteoritic material?”
‘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!”
he thought aggrieved,
He rose, preoccupied with the mysterious archway.
“Professor Bradley!” Jamie shouted, smiling crookedly at the assembled university 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.
George began to turn away, excited by the find, 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 stones. There was a sudden blast, an indescribable sound. Energy arced between the two stones before George could see what caused it.
Wind howled behind him as he found himself paralyzed, unable to move, and uncertain of what was happening.
The Highmage gaped as he saw sudden light amid the brightening stars within the Gate. Incredibly, a distant Gate opened. Alrex jerked to his feet and yelled the Invocation of Entry. The runes flared the length of the Gate as it lowered its veil and opened to the cosmos.
A scaled claw was outthrust from the other side of the Gate and raked the unprepared Highmage. He screamed in agony as he fell backward, clutching his bloody chest. A hulking gray scaled wyvern, its sharp teeth barred, leapt through the portal and into the ethereal antechamber, landing on its four heavily talons feet.
“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, blood smeared fingertips. The wyvern was flung aside with a cry. Alrex reached out and grasped at one of the arch’s flaring runes.
He shouted a desperate command even as his eyes widened, seeing what looked like a shooting star fall across the Heavens. The Gate sealed shut, its runes fading to darkness. The wyvern screamed as the wards set about this place trapped it, momentarily keeping it at bay.
Alrex struggled to his feet and flung himself past the snorting wyvern, 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 watched the wall return to solid stone around the wyvern’s head and one outstretched leg. The creature’s eyes glazed with death, its head and limb jutting forth from the wall like some hunter’s prize.
Alrex lay panting, pale, and dazed.
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 unaffected by the storm raging about Aaprin while they stood in calm daylight.
The young apprentice mage thrust open the hall door and shoved it closed behind him. The duty warden shouted at the soaking wet apprentice for his foolishness.
“The matter that brought you here had better be urgent, boy!”
Aaprin gaped as the Cathartans solidified and the warden faded as would a phantom. The whole Hall had taken on a surreal look. Everything around him seeming to glare, suddenly blinding him. He shook his head in disbelief, blinked several times, and stared at the solidifying image of the Master Healer Ofran, addressing the Cathartan lord.
His lips moved and at first, Aaprin heard no sound. Then came the words, “I can ease his pain, but nothing more.”
“We’ve traveled so far. Is there truly no magery that can save him?” the man pleaded.
Suddenly Aaprin felt a hand come down on his shoulder. He 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 looked about him, feeling dizzy and unsure as to why. “Ignore, Cle’or, she takes her duty a bit too seriously. Best be off before she considers you a real threat,” Me’oh commented.
“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 and her companions, 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 he was soaking wet.
When did this happen?
Standing outside in the courtyard, he paused and glanced up at the clear sky. Vaguely, he remembered a storm but was uncertain when he patted his chest and felt he was completely dry. 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?
The howling wind and darkness took George from his place at the dig. He was falling and desperately held tight his staff. As he fell, the crystal glowed brighter and brighter. Still 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, a limbo. He slowly stood erect in midair, struggling to regain his sense of balance. Only the brilliant light from his crystalline staff allowed him to see at all. That light revealed, out of the depths of the darkness, two rather large hunched slit nosed, scaled creatures with luridly glowing eyes.
They leapt at George, who swung the glowing staff to fend them off. They shrieked in pain, shying away from the light, then charged as the light receded. George struck one on the side of its belly as it neared, at the impact: smoke and searing. 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 George’s guard and tried to disembowel him.
The staff flared to even brighter intensity as he hastily struck out to block the sweeping talons. The glowing staff connected with but a glancing blow, yet at the touch there was a resounding burst and the creature shrivelled as the light danced about its skin.
The next beast raked George’s 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 them.
George fell once more through eternity. He clutched his computer staff for dear life as it flared with light like a beacon across a stormy night. Then, out of the darkness, George struck the ground hard, losing his grip on his staff at last. His only impression before he lost consciousness was of ghastly shocked faces surrounding him, edged by firelight.
Carwina awoke from the strangest dream, which was already beginning to fade from memory. She had seen Gwire falling, the last days nearly upon its people. She shook her head, knowing it was only a bad dream, as she heard her father cry out in agony. She raced to her father’s study and saw light from under the door. She entered and cried “Father!” in sudden horror.
She hurried to her father who lay bleeding on the floor. She recoiled at the sight of the wyvern’s dismembered head and leg on the wall, locked in its moment of death. The servants heard her and rushed upstairs. They stared aghast at the wyvern as Carwina shouted, “Summon Master Ofran!”