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September 4th, 2017, 10.45AM

Atlantis, The First Circle, 4 1/2 miles beneath the surface


The Tethys slid into the dock, great arms reaching out of the glittering darkness to hold it fast. Hundreds of meters from bow to stern, the craft was Atlantis' principal ambassadorial ship, made to resemble a stylized whale. For the last two hours it had made the lengthy, swift passage to the Wizard's Rest, carrying diplomats and representatives from dozens of nations, organizations and  interests. Among them were the supremely British extradimensional envoy Lord Steam and Dol-Druth the Speaker, face of an alien hivemind.


The lounge door opened, admitting Ventures Lina and Atherus. Lina spoke first, saying gravely "We have arrived, thank you for you patience." Uniformed in deep blue, metallic green and silver, the Atlantean envoys looked nigh-identical in their space-age fibers and short-cropped black hair and closed green eyes. Lina tapped a crystal on her left bracer, at which the disembarkment hatch opened up across the lounge's outer wall, letting down a ramp 80 feet down to the dock below, up which a squad of Atlantean soldiers and a blonde woman in flowing red metal began to walk.


There were murmurs and the discreet snapping of photos as the shining expanse of Atlantis, city of science and sorcery, lay revealed. At first blush, it strongly resembled great rings of luminescent sea coral. 


Envoy Lina gestured politely to the approaching party "Princess Thetis will escort you to the Palace of Poseidon, where you will have a chance to rest and refresh yourselves after your long journey. Atherus and I will accompany you and ensure you see all you wish and go where you will. Please collect your personal items before you leave, the Tethys may be called into action and we do not wish for you to lose anything, should the vessel be damaged."


The surfacers wasted no time, many hurrying to their cabins while others collected the luggage that had never left their side. Dol-Druth snorted, heaving his enormous, corpse-white bulk to his feet, his eyes flashing faintly blue as he called on some of the shared brainpower of his people to complete the process. He had carried nothing with him but a small all-metal suitcase. "A hospitable people, Lord Steam," he remarked, turning his cold black eyes and twitching his antennae in the direction of the oncoming Atlanteans "we suspect they will want a great deal in return. Your thoughts?"

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Lord Steam


By Vishnu that was a feat of engineering! It took something rather splendid to impress Lord Lockwood when it came to machines, but when a marvel of sufficient splendour did catch his eye, he would become entranced by it. For it was not merely the appeal to his eye, but the thum and buzz of engine sounds, and the feel of the metal beneath his finger tips. 


Yes indeed, he was impressed by the ship, and he wanted one. 


It was vexing that his companion was of keen mind, in that the Speaker was not merely of keen mind, but one might suspect vexatiously smarter than he was. This was a disturbing blow, a nagging itch. Best ignored, he concluded. Best ignored, but also he must redouble his efforts to dazzle with wit and charm. 


And yet he was a diplomat. Outrageous displays would not do. At least not until a man had taken measure of the land he was in. One should not whip out a pack of cards decorated with illustrations of Primitive tribeswoman of far-away lands and suggest a game of Brazilian double-back. At least not straight away. 


He pondered the Speaker's question further. As he had pondered it for some time. "Most people will want a great deal most of the time" he answered, mulling his own words. "I would wonder what they expect, and I steel myself for what they will demand". Which in his experience were the more pertinent factors in negotiation. 


But they were all at sea here. Or under it, anyway. 


He did not wish to go in armed. Or at least, he did not want the negative connotations of being armed. He had taken his walking cane with him. And, to be prudent, he had taken his slim copper tube filled to busting with oxygen. They were underwater, after all. 


And so, with splendid cane in hand, he gave a deep bow to his hosts and a wave of the hand indicating to the Speaker that they should proceed. 


"And now begins the task of trying to observe and extract those very things!"



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"A fair point, Sri Lockwood," Dol-Druth growled "although from what we have heard this Piscean-offshoot has even less tendency to dissimulate than usual." With a curt inclination of his antennae, the Speaker of the manymind stumped to the  bay doors.


It was probably for the best that Dol-Druth went first, anyway.


The gaggle of humans and the alien were met at the apex of Tethys' great disembarkment ramp by Princess Thetis, who when a few feet away turned out to be a beaming bundle of excitement with heavy green robes draped over her to give a semblance of gravity and royal dignity. 


The soldiers were iron-faced men and women, alike in height(they topped the tallest human by a head) and alike in breadth(they were as big across as Dol-Druth, almost all steely muscle and super-dense bone) dressed in royal teal and olive green livery with the winged hippocampus of House Atlan in bright silver on their chests. They had no weapons, but their fists and legs looked like they could have dented the Tethys' hull.


"Be welcome, washed-ashores!" Princess Thetis gave a deep and sweeping bow that sent her robes swirling weightlessly, before leaping back to attention and fixing the group as a whole with one broad grin "It's been years since we've had a real visit! Mostly it's just the League, and they're no fun at all! This way!" 


Dol-Druth cleared his throat and stepped forward, nodding dourly to the princess as he began "Sri Thetis, we bring greetings from Dotrae, the manymind wishes to thank-" his voice was abruptly cut off at Thetis' pressing his lips together with one hand, the Atlantean waving away the subject with the other and a wrinkle of distaste.


"Oh time enough for all that later! Come on!"


A step, and suddenly Lucien found his left arm locked neatly with Thetis' right, the princess of Atlantis humming as she led the troupe along to a collection of stagecoach-like craft pulled by animals formed of shimmering energy. 


"Tell me, Lord Lockwood, is it true that in your world you get most of your power just from boiling water?"


Dol-Druth scowled, harrumphed, and hurried after, the rest of the guests following with mostly wry amusement on their faces, Thetis' behaviour being far unlike the howling madwoman from mere months back.


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Lord Steam


"Ah the league. They have all the virtues I abhor, and none of the vices I admire" bowed Lord Steam. 


Maybe he should play a game of cards with the princess. She looked like she had admirable vices. 


"I am not sure I could say, my dear lady" he mused, spinning his stick in a jolly way as he contemplated her question. "Boiling water is just a stage in transformation of energy, you see. One does not get energy, one harnesses it. From burning coal to boiling water to the delightful spinning of well oiled wheels and the tinkling clatter of tiny levers" he said, soothingly. 


"And all harnessing of energy begins with a purpose, does it not? The light of the human mind, the blood of a beating heart? The best engineering is like a fine music! Why, look at your splendid ship! It is like an opera!"


The manymind? he noted, pondering the slip. Some kind of gestalt?


"A song that brings people to harmony, of purpose and will, I should think!"



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"That's a beautiful idea, my lord!" Thetis patted one of the crackling energy-beasts "The boltagons are a lot like that. Like Tethys, we made them to not only serve their function but to look majestic and kind." Indeed, the horse-like thing made of blue, shimmering arcs of power looked more like a proud, daring destrier than any of the broken, gloomy horses pulling London's hackney cabs back home. The carriage as well had a refined, Platonic kind of beauty as well. Something larger than life superimposed on the small, frail world of the flesh. Like the soldiers, all the craft were in the royal colours and emblazoned with the winged fish-horse.


The other dignitaries were being escorted into their own vehicles. Four of the representatives, along with Dol-Druth and Lucien, went into the apparent royal conveyance. Christian Pitt, from the USA, the PRC's  Chan Dengxiu, the EU's Daniel O'Collach and France's Gerald Avant. The Frenchman was all effusive politeness, but kept a slight distance from the princess all the same. The American and the Chinese ambassadors quickly set to work trying to make up for their comrade's chilliness.


"We're glad for your invitation, miss," Christian's fatherly, weatherbeaten face under his Career Politician's conservative haircut creased into an easy smile "After the messiness earlier this year, I was worried Their Majesties wouldn't be so quick to ask me back. It's good we can all move on after that mix-up."


"I quite agree, Mr. Pitt. The attacks were caused by understandable mistakes that cannot be held against anyone of this city or the house of Atlan. My superiors in the Party assure me this will not damage our relationship." Dengxiu's rounder, younger face was more reserved than his counterpart, but he had been looking around in fascination at the wonders of the strange undersea kingdom ever since the gaggle had come aboard the Tethys. Shorter than most of the rest by a good few inches and with an awkward gravitas, it was hard for Dol-Druth not to consider him a juvenile. Leaning forward, he went on eagerly "By the way, I have heard that some of your older colonies are being resettled in the Pacific, relatively closer to my country. If I could meet with-"


"Ah ah ah!" Thetis waved a stern finger in front of a sterner face, though it was impossible for her to hold it for long "None of that talk! That can wait for the Palace of Poseidon which is a delight! Over five hundred rooms, and so many ghosts!" The princess hugged herself with glee and snuggled up against Lucien, attracting irritated and concerned glances from Venture Lina "Some of them even remember your first empire, on the Dragon's Tail, Mr. Chan!"


Denxiu couldn't help but smile "I will be sure to ask them about it, so many questions. Well then, what can we talk about right now, princess?"


"If it's possible, a little insight on your family business wouldn't go amiss" Daniel O'Collach said, proddingly, his thick mustache, sharp-features, rounded head and smooth, parted brassy hair giving him the appearance of an American banker to Lucien.


Thetis considered for a moment.


"Well, there's been a lot of Deep Ones active in the Atlantic, so Mother's been out with Telly and the Royal Fleet to make sure they don't get too close to our lookouts or colonies. Father's busy right now hearing the grievances of some Lyonesseans who had their clans raided during the Shackling, and Grandmother is busy going to an UNPEC conference to discuss reparations. But what about the surface, what's going on outside?"


Dol-Druth's eyes lit up, and the man who occupied roughly half of the coach's rear seat leaned ponderously forward.


"In our republic among the stars, Sri Thetis, we have a new Imperator, a rank not granted since the days of the Empire. As well, the manymind is considering a new home, and is considering your system. If so, we would be honoured to establish regular contact with your people."


"Reconstruction of the docks at Marseilles is going smoothly." Gerald put in with a faint, grim smile "Terror attacks have been increasing, but France will not bend to petty fears."


"That show you like that's filmed in British Ireland, it just finished its latest season." O'Collach patted a small paper-wrapped package with a grin "When I told the producers you watched ''Dragon's Daughter' they got me the next series collection ahead of the pack."


 "President Carhill's been having a rough year, we're in hurricane season and even Siren can't be everywhere at once." Pitt frowned deeply "There's been harsh words exchanged above the sea, and I worry they can't be put aside or forgotten easily. In fact, I'm hoping Atlantis can help with some of its old weather tech."


"I'll be sure to ask the Science Master. But a hurricane..." Thetis shuddered "that may be beyond us, my friend."


As if a switch had flipped, she spun to beam at Lucien "And you, my lord? What new developments in your world of singing invention?"

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Lord Steam


"Oh I don't know. A bit of this, a bit of that. A couple of new Turing Battleships. A Trans-asian railway. William Blake has escaped from the Tower of London, is the word. But its all rather hush hush, don't you know..." 


To be honest he was not entirely sure the Ministry of Extraordinary affairs was giving him entirely accurate information. 


"It was a difficult position, you see. It would be possible, although extremely difficult, to aide this dimension. Due to our specific pecularities, we can open dimensional portals" like my own "but it is most hard to do any large scale transportation"


"We would of course come to aide if we could. From the Terminus, or the like. But the truth is, this was a civil war, essentially"


And if we did interceded it would be for humans rather than fish-men...at least, that was the official line. As for Lord Steam, war was an unpleasant business however you cut it. 


"But you will appreciate however that our government has an interest in stability. For humanitarian as well as pragmatic reasons. Come some interdimensional crisis we all need to pull together, say I!"

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"I quite understand, my lord Lockwood." For once, Thetis' face grew grave, her eyes solemn "Even if not by our will, it was our hands that made such suffering. Both the humans on the surface and the Deep Ones are owed a great deal of blood by us." Turning to Dol-Druth, she said


"Thank you for the thought, Mr. Speaker. I've always wanted to meet more people from space! My friends Changeling and Mega are wonderful, but it's just not the same."


"Mr. Blake is...is a criminal, in your world?" O'Collach looked little short of poleaxed. Literally. It was the exact same kind of expression as that Company man in Liverpool who had come under the axe of that clockwork assassin, one of those cases that just sort of burst in on you. 


Shaking his head, the Irishman turned to survey the passing scenery. As well he might.


Atlantis had lost much of its old glory, but in the eons since had been rebuilt into something wholly itself, all but vestiges of its surface past washed away. It was a coral reef shaped and refined into living architecture, great rings of wonder under a shimmering dome of mystic power. Heading along the great roads that quadsected the undersea citadel, the carriages passed throngs of well-wishers, squadrons from the royal army, ahorse, aloft or on foot and even knots of looming and aloof triton mercenaries. The sea above and air within the bubble were packed with craft and creatures made or tamed by the empire of the sea, each stranger and more magnificent than the last, spires or hammers of crystal and gods of muscle and fin. But even the enormous, milling throngs they went by, and the packed city streets they saw as they went through ring after ring, each vast enough to contain a city of its own, could not disguise the emptiness.


In its day, over three hundred million people had lived in Atlantis. Now, there was perhaps a hundredth of that. 


The French ambassador had long since become enraptured, taking pictures with his phone and murmuring something with a smile tugging at his face.


For the rest of the trip there was little more than idle chatter, until the party pulled up before a palatial assembly of gold-capped domes and towers formed like monstrous beasts, the bodies made of pure white stone. It was dark and silent, unlike the bustling, buzzing city all around it. Jumping lightly out, Thetis gallantly helped Lucien disembark from the carriage, ushering the rest of the dignitaries to follow her. "The Palace of Poseidon!" she announced gleefully "Most of it is beneath our feet, bonded to the very living rock of the Earthshaking Seafather's dominion. But you will have the run of the towers! Make sure you don't get lost, and always go in pairs!" The two Envoys and the princess sufficed to carry all the baggage the surface ambassadors had taken with them, and Thetis loudly complimented the humans for traveling so lightly and austerely.


The tower Lucien and Dol-Druth turned out to be sharing was shaped like a horned squid, was sumptuously decorated and furnished and gave them a breathtaking view of the palace of the Atlan family a few kilometers away. This distant, all that could be seen was its size and color, making it resemble a crouching golden dragon, sleeping on a bed of onyx and jade.


Breaking the silence, Dol-Druth asked bluntly "Sri Lockwood, what exactly are...ghosts?" His few worldly possessions were laid out carefully on the end table in the form of a Doric pillar supporting a flat map of the world from 150,000 years ago. A strange, gun-like object was in his hands, humming and clicking beneath his tapping, twisting fingers.

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Lord Steam


Unnerved but unshaken, Lord steam studied the...well, what was it exactly the Speaker was fiddling with....?


"Ghosts? Why I am no expert on ghosts. Spirits of the deaday. Stories. Myths. Hallucinations, for the most part. Memories perceived as real. For the most part, that is. I, for one, have never seen one. At least, not since Mr Edwards spiked the rum with amazonian mushrooms at the philosophy club at Oxford. And I am fairly sure it wasn'the real. Pour Edwards, got thrown out of University for that. The Dean was seeing frogs for weeks afterwards..."


He was babbling on a bit. He refocused and directed a question at the Speaker. "Why do you ask? And what the devil are you playing with?"

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  • 1 month later...

Dol-Druth's black eyes nearly vanished into the folds created by a truly colossal grin.


"Ah, spirits. We used to have faith in those, simpler times. Harder times."


Turning to Lucien, the extrastellar ambassador showed him a sleek, silvery device that would have fitted elegantly and ergonomically in any hand less pudgy than the Speaker's. It vaguely resembled a pistol, though the handle was tilted the wrong way so the majority of the thing rested on the hand and wrist, with only a small two-pronged aperture extending from the contraption's seeming-barrel away from the user. 


"It is called a frazzer, most of it is a battery that stores energy released with this trigger," the alien tapped the side of a swooping wedge jutting from the handle "in the form of electricity. That has enormous effect on almost every known form of life, as all of us need a steady, consistent stream of electrons to move and think. Too much in the wrong place can be dangerous, even deadly. Hopefully that will prove to be the case with these 'ghosts' you describe, being incorporeal may mean nothing more than less corporeal."


With a hissing click something on the frazzer was set in place, and the thing began to hum faintly. Dol-Druth put the weapon inside his voluminous golden-beige jacket.


"Of course, it is my earnest hope that negotiation will suffice, and such entities will listen to reason. But, if they should not..."


He sat down gingerly in one of the ornate seastone chairs. "What do you think of our hostess, thus far? She seems...happy." The Speaker of Dotrae's left eye twitched ever so slightly at the word.

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Lord Steam


"A frazzer, is it?" asked Lord Steam, studying the device. "Well, I for one hope it is not needed" he added. "Violence is rather unpalatable, I find. And lamentably, often violent" he said with a wink. 


"As for a hostess, I dare not say. Idel speculation, at most. Anyone in her position is likely to be, arguably, required to be, deceptive. And not even deliberately. But skilled in masks, if required. Any surface impression must be acknowledged but discarded. It might be true, or it might be designed to mislead. One can neither take it as true, or false"


"Besides, to every soul, an infinite number of facets that glint in an infinite possibility of lights. The most common error in judging the character of a gentleman, I conclude, is to reduce that character to a unrealistic and inaccurate equation. And above all, we are prone to attribute state rather than trait" he concluded, mulling the issue. 


"Eyes and ears open, then. Wait for the jigsaw to assemble!"

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  • 2 months later...

Dol-Druth was silent for a worryingly long time. His antennae twitched once or twice, great black eyes remained fixed on the lurking hulk of the royal palace shining in the depths of the ocean. 


All at once he cleared his throat. "A fair argument, Sri Lockwood. It would be unwise of us to attempt any survey of Sri Thetis' character or motives this early. But we have considerable information about her past and present circumstances. For instance, the abortive invasion of the surface Terresi, her time among you, so on. You are more familiar with this history than we are, but all of us would benefit from such insights."


The eyes were like black mirrors "The manymind retains all knowledge, all memories. If we so wish we can all focus our attention and psychic energy on a particular point. It is theorized we may someday learn to influence past and future events this way. But the result of such introspection emphasizes and strengthens that already indelible memory. We feel very strongly the shame of our many adolescences."


Those mirrors turned to catch Lord Steam's own "We are sure there is a lonemind analogue. We suspect they wish to erase or heal some shame or hurt."

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Lord Steam


"Your suspicions are not unfounded, but they remain speculations" agreed Lord Steam, pondering the matter. "As for a history lesson, I am afraid that my knowledge of history, whilst considerable, is also of little use!" he said, with a smile on his face. 


"I am not from this dimension. Past about 1800 I am quite useless" he gave a jolly little laugh. 


"But your eye, I think, is on investigation. And I would add mine own to you. What say you? What do we need to find out, and how shall we do so?"


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The man buzzed. It took a moment to see it came from his antennae rubbing vigorously together, Dol-Druth's great white pile of a face blank with thought.


Abruptly the twitching stopped. "We must find out what the attempted takeover cost them and what they intend to do in replacing it. There are several clues to this in my...our eyes: our transport, our host, her efforts in engaging with us and putting us in the mind of a strange but ultimately harmless wonderland. Correct me if...we am...are wrong, Sri Lucien, but we thought they shunned outsiders and thought the surface peoples barbarians for their destruction of this planet's biosphere."


Dol-Druth clacked his flat teeth together "Finally, we must ensure these 'ghosts' do not assault us or our fellow dignitaries. If you would assist us tonight, we would be happy to shoulder the harm done your kind by lack of sleep."

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Lord Steam


"I can manage a sleepless night. Just give me a strong cup of tea!" replied Lord Steam in a Jocular mood. He could hardly resist a puzzle of any magnitude, and this was a weighty issue. Politics and puzzles. His bread and butter. 


"Consider me at your service. I would be happy to assist. The question is not if I will do, but how..."


He pondered the matter, mulling it over this way, then that. 


"What do you propose? As far as I can see, we must either press diplomacy, strain the velvet quilt that has been laid over us, or we must engage in spycraft, which most surely would get us to the meat of the matter but carries greater risk. I confess I am no spy. But I am not opposed to such a gamble..."

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"I-hoof we think it would be best to call a halt." Dol-Druth panted heavily, slumping against one blessedly-cool wall slick with moisture. The lower levels of the Palace of Poseidon were a maze, one laid out in rigid grids but intersecting in ways and angles that defied the experiences of any mind between the Speaker of Dotrae and Lord Steam. Stairs ran up to levels they had just been, you turned a corner and suddenly no way led back to where you had come. It was all noiseless, smooth and gentle. But deadly. What had seemed like a simple exploratory detour had taken on very different feeling as the ornately-carved murals around them seemed to point in every way to an exit that simply did not exist.


In front of them lay the latest dead end.


"Our apologies, Sri Lucien, we did not think any maze could defeat our perfect recall." The alien squinted at one of the murals curiously "See here, these carvings, they seem...different. I could have sworn the last ones were more eroded by this saltwater."

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Lord Steam


Lord Steam was of athletic composition, but he was too feeling the grind, both mentally and physically. He leaned on his cane and contemplated the situation carefully. He was not yet short of breath but he was feeling the strain. A rest would do good. 


"This is not a matter of simple three dimensional Architecture" he concluded. "It is a maze in more than three dimensions, I should guess. Perhaps considerably more. Either that, or the most subtle of devices, changing the map as we move. Shifting doors and so on. But I have felt no motion to indicate such subterfuge". 


He started to study the carvings in much greater detail. 


"This is, I think, a trap of sorts. Not of lethal means, but a defence against unwanted investigators such as ourselves. Of course, if we do not find a way out of here, we starve to death. Not my preferred way to spend the next month..." he added, with sombre humour. 


"I would speculate that it must, therefore, have a way out. Or a way in. Depending on you might perceive the problem. There must be a way to get to the lower levels, and not simply by following the maze...Come, let us see if we can find something out of place. With fortune, a secret passageway! Why, I always loved those..."

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Lord Steam's questing fingers, as they passed over the curling murals of crashing waves and shattering towers, hit a tiny, near-imperceptible catch. It depressed with a *clik*. Then the floor opened up and sent the pair hurtling down!


A great, yawning chasm lay beneath the maze, one full of great stalactites, stalagmites and great lakes of black water that obscured whatever shape the vault had been cast in. 


Caught off-guard and hardly an agile sort at the best of times, Dol-Druth went tumbling head-over-heels with a garbling howl of surprise! His frazzer, clenched tight between his sweat-slick fingers, was flung away to splash somewhere out of sight. Before he could say a word, while he was still mustering the powers of his billions of compatriots, the Speaker of Dotrae smashed into a stalagmite and crashed heavily into a pool, his black eyes closing slowly as a trickle of blue blood began seeping from a gash in the side of his bald head. 


Without fuss or even a sound, the trap-door slid shut, the darkness coming with it.

Edited by Ari
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Lord Steam


"Well that got us out of the maze..." muttered Lord Steam. "Unfortunately, not quite the glorious victory I had hoped for...."


At least he had tumbled down the hole relatively unscathed. Now, there was darkness and blood and a huge cavern to navigate. Oh, it was very good to be propelled forward, he though to himself. But they were in worse danger now. This brought a bold smile to his lips. 


Grasping his cane and tapping his way to where Dol-Druth was he went to tend to the Speaker. Not easy in darkness, but the wisest choice. 


"Hey ho, old chap! Don't let me down now!" he said, trying to feel his way through the injuries. "We are in a bit of a pickle, you see. Fell into a hole and all that. Could do with a bit of light!"

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The shock was worse than the cut, so thankfully Dol-Druth's grating, grinding voice echoed through the cavern "We will see what we can do..." 


His eyes shot open, blazing with blue fire that poured into Lucien's own eyes, a babel of voices hissing in his ears as the world shifted and shook into focus. More importantly, Lord Steam could see. Perfectly. There wasn't a single light source but a kind of ambience that shimmered in the air. By it one could make out the cavern, the great arching pillars shaped like wingless, legless dragons worn down by millennia of erosion, the broad pools where seawater had trickled in. 


The gate at the far end, eighty feet high, shaped like coiling snakes.


Dol-Druth lurched to his feet, leaning heavily on Lord Steam, panting and clutching at his head, still oozing blue blood.


"Now...allow me to retrieve my weapon..." Stumbling over to the brackish pool where the frazzer had fallen, Dol-Druth shakily picked the shock-gun up and slipped it back into its holster, safeties on. Plodding back, shoes squelching, iridescent beige suit gleaming around saltwater stains, the alien waved to the far gate "Shall we?"

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Lord Steam


"That's rather splendid" agreed Lord Steam, relieved he could see now. "Illuminating, even"


He helped the Speaker up and onward. "Steady there, old chap. Don't want you twisting an ankle or wrenching your spleen. Already looks like you took a nasty old bash to that skull of yours. Lets not rub salt on the wound, hmmm?"


"A weapon sounds like a fine idea. I would not be shocked if we find ourselves crushed under a giant slug or mauled by a mutant alligator" he said, keeping spirits up with black humour. 


"For now, lets try and stay alive and get out of here! I can't see any particular direction that suits best. So onward with fingers crossed!"

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  • 3 weeks later...



The trek to the gate took what felt like eternity, but was likely only a small fraction of it, perhaps one tenth.


The floor was slick with damp, but plumes of dust rose at every step. To Lucien this was a clear and faintly worrying sign: the maze above was so old it was crumbling. The water damage couldn't be helping, in not too long the entire floor could come tumbling down into the cavern.


For his part, Dol-Druth was stumbling along, focussing on putting one heavy foot before the other. The concentration needed was too much to waste valuable blance looking around or swinging his head up. 


Said cavern was a little better preserved closer to the door. There the remains of what looked like high-tech chariots, transports and even fossilizing skeletons of some mechanical creature half-buried in the rock. The floor was less sturdy here, sweeping, curling and swooping like the crests of great waves or pounding surf had been petrified here.


The door thrummed with power, a great blue line arcing out of the door's center and leading to a command console set into the wall. A glyph hovered above the screen, rippling like a flag in the breeze, a diagonal bar with two vertical bars, one vertical at each end of the diagonal, like a backwards N.

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Lord Steam


"The old and the new" commented Lucien, studying the door which was certainly new compared to the decay around them. He tried not to think about a collapse, and the ocean streaming in condemning him to a watery grave. 


"What say you to this?" he asked the Speaker, trying to make sense of the glyph. 


"I daresay it is the way to open the door. Or disintegrate people trying to open the door. One of the two. Possibly both" he speculated, thinking carefully. 


"Unless you have some clever trick to hand, which I sincerely hope you do, but doubt its likelihood, I suppose we mush push or pull something. Or twist. I can't say I can determine if any course of action is wiser than the other. But doing nothing is surely the worst of all...so perhaps a simple twist first?"

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Dol-Druth stumped closer, squinting at the spiralling patterns on the door and the sigil above the console. 


"This is the gate to...it says "the cage of Hope". It may be some literary reference that isn't translating, but I can see which of these controls the door." He gestured to what looked to the Speaker and Dotrae like an archaic space-ship's instruments. A dizzying array of switches, dials, knobs and levers with a tiny screen reading out pertinent details.


"We cannot detect any other means of egress, and at present trying to use my telekinesis would not be wise. Shall we, Sri Lockwood?"


The alien glanced up again at the giant snakes "We wonder...Sri Lockwood, we venerate a creature called the Great Bird of the Galaxy, she appears on many of our religious relics and those of other Lor-oriented cultures. Are snakes one of your peoples' revered objects?"

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Lord Steam


"Not oft, but on occasion" answered Lord Steam, whose interests did not often stray to mythology and theology. "I am no expert, but snakes sometimes feature as objects of reverence or even wisdom. In the jungles of south America, I believe. But as often, or more often than not, they are symbols of deception or malice". 


"I have not studied the matter in extent, but I believe a similar pattern of beliefs hold here. Which is to say, I think, that different objects hold different meanings in different cultures. We could draw no conclusion. And what snakes are doing in the ocean I would say I have no idea!" he chuckled. 


"But let us open this door, and find out! Pardon me, but if you can indeed move handles with your mind, it strikes me as safe than with hand. No surprise electric shocks...or poison darts..."

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Dol-Druth looked faintly pained, but rolled up his sleeves and squared himself all the same, the bulky alien focusing on the control panel. Slowly raising one hand that began to shimmer with a blue light, he sent meticulously-calculated pulses of psionic energy towards the ornate, arcane mechanism. Every blue-white pulse thumped into the thing like a car had crashed against it, but the odd reddish metal it was built from weathered the assault with ease. As switches turned, dials swiveled and buttons thunked into position, a channel of energy green as poison began to glow on the Cyclopean doorway, linking the gaping mouths of its serpentine relief in a grand spiral.


With a final push, sweat beading and mixing with the blood running down his scalp, Dol-Druth tipped a slender lever into place.


With a terrible groan the door began to creak open, the snakes circling as they unlocked one by one, the door at last churning apart to reveal a room even grander than its predecessor. 


Mountains of gold, silver, copper, bronze, tin, steel...every kind of metal that Lucien could recognize glinted and shone in the unlight. A broad central avenue ran for at least a mile, terminating at a broad staircase leading up to a small door flanked with carvings of winged horses. On either side ran great vaults heaped with treasures, coins, statues, weapons, vehicles. All of it untouched by time and blocked from the avenue by a barricade of transparent...something that reached from floor to ceiling. Wealth to dwarf that of any surface nation, forgotten.


The Speaker turned to Lucien "This must connect us to the palace. Be ready, the door may be blocked.  I can think of no other reason for all this to be abandoned." He blinked heavily "Then again, thinking at all is difficult for me at present. You are spinning, sir."


With that Dol-Druth toppled to the floor, unconscious. 

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