Originally posted at http://www.fasagames.com/blog/?post_id= ... en-chamber
Part 2 of the Seaford Expedition story.
“Three days we've been traipsing through these blessed ruins and not a thing to show for it!” Dr. Prytherch closed his notebook with a snap. “I've had nothing to log since yesterday, when we found that well, or whatever it was.”
“Would have been a nice opportunity to get down underneath the ruins, see what's below us,” Sir Sebastian commented, crumpling up his hardtack wrapper and adding it to the tiny fire, “if a previous expedition hadn't used it for a toilet.”
“We could have sent one of the soldiers,” Doctor Tredgett pointed out.
Sir Sebastian shook his head. “First, never send a man into a situation you're not willing to go into yourself unless lives are on the line. Second, if he had found something interesting, would you have been willing to follow him down to examine it?”
“Certainly not!” Doctor Tredgett bristled, then his shoulders dropped. “Oh, very well, I concede your point. Still, it's been terribly disappointing.”
“We've just barely gotten past the most well explored parts,” Baroness Seaford put in. “A bit of patience, gentlemen. Look here.” She spread out a map on the floor, and tapped it with a fountain pen from her shirt pocket. “We're here, in this chamber. We made camp last night in this chamber down here, and the night before there. Previous expeditions have focused on working out the route toward the peak. We're going to expand the map to the west, toward the lava flow.”
“But that part of the ruins was buried centuries ago!” Doctor Prytherch protested. “What's the point of poking around a region where the doorways are blocked up?”
“Mr. MacQuiston?” The Baroness asked.
“Um, right.” MacQuiston moved over to the light of the campfire, followed by Mike and Tony, who carried a large control console and an antenna array, connected with a pair of thick cables. “The Vibrational Void Detector will tell us if there's another room on the far side of a wall, or any kind of space really.”
“Bosh.” Doctor Tredgett waved off the apparatus. “We've seen what your devices do. They emit clouds of noxious purple smoke and squeals at the most inopportune of moments.”
“And we've seen them gather useful information,” Sir Sebastian commented mildly. “Remember, it was MacQuiston's box that discovered the etheric link between the Samsut controller and the stinkers at Bourne's Hill.”
“And cost you your ear,” Doctor Tredgett replied waspishly.
“Right, and if anyone's got the right to complain about that, it's me.” Sir Sebastian's tone took on a bit of an edge. “I'm not complaining about it. Fortunes of war. Could have been my head.”
“Gentlemen.” The Baroness didn't raise her voice, but had everyone's attention with a single word anyway. “It was my choice to bring a Heron along on this expedition. Given Mr. MacQuiston's previous accomplishments, I believe we can have some degree of faith in his current work. Mr. MacQuiston, if you please?”
MacQuiston cleared his throat nervously, then continued. “The Baroness believes, and she's not alone in this, that the city was evacuated when the volcano erupted. The areas that weren't under threat from the lava flow got cleared out proper, right down to the walls. What we're looking for is a room where they didn't have time to clean it out, that got buried maybe with some stuff still in it. Once the Vibrational Void Detector finds a space that got cut off by the lava flow, then we can unlimber the steam drill and put a hole straight through the wall.”
“A steam drill?” Dr. Prytherch's voice rose up nearly to a squeak. “Are you mad? You're more likely to destroy anything you find than to recover artifacts of the Anunnaki!”
“Not quite, Doctor.” The Baroness pointed her pen at the Detector. “That device, or so our Heron assures me, will let us know if there's anything on the far side of the wall. We simply find a spot where there's nothing in the way, and then proceed slowly and with caution.”
“Slowly and with caution are not phrases I'd expect to hear in conjunction with the use of a steam drill,” Doctor Prytherch grumbled.
“Nevertheless, they are possible,” the Baroness replied. “Privates Washburn and Oxnard trained at the Bolthole Tunnel Project, and our laborers were hired away from their jobs as navvies on the same effort. We thus have two operators and two spotters, quite sufficient for the operation of one steam drill. Now, let's get this fire out and our packs on. Mr. MacQuiston, you and your team will be our guides henceforth.”
Mike had just taken the antenna array, trading off carrying the console and battery pack with Tony, when the console started chirping like a small bird.
“It's not going to explode, is it?” Doctor Prytherch asked worriedly, backing away and taking partial cover behind Private Oxnard.
“No, no,” MacQuiston assured him, his attention more on the console than the scientist. “We've found something. Mike, lay the array up against the wall to your left.”
The laborer did so, and MacQuiston made some adjustments to the controls. The chirping rose in speed and pitch, then deepened and slowed, sounding more like the pinging of spikes in the rails as a train goes by.
“What have you got?” Sir Sebastian asked, moving close and peering over MacQuiston's shoulder at the dials and switches.
“Void, good sized one I think.” MacQuiston made a slight adjustment to a knob. “Mike, slide it to the right, slowly please.”
The Baroness spoke quietly with R'tilligar for a moment, then joined the rest gathering around MacQuiston. “Large enough to be worth it?”
“I think so, your Excellency. Not sure, but there might be some kind of large object in there.” MacQuiston made another careful adjustment. “Can't quite get focus on it.”
“Good enough.” The Baroness glanced round at the party. “Everyone, fall back to the previous chamber. Mr. MacQuiston, pack up the detector and unlimber the steam drill. Let's have an entryway put through that wall.”
As MacQuiston, Mike, Tony, and Privates Washburne and Oxnard went to work, the rest of the expedition headed back the way they'd come. R'tilligar fell in next to the Baroness.
“This place is dead,” the Saurid woman murmured, pitching her voice low, for the Baroness alone.
“No, I mean in a spiritual sense.” The shaman waved a hand at her surroundings. “These ruins are silent. They do not speak. There are no ancestral spirits here of the people who built this place.”
“So you were unable to summon a watcher?” the Baroness asked.
“I didn't say that.” R'tilligar frowned. “Although the spirit that I was able to call into this place is unhappy, and feeding from my life force to sustain itself in such a spiritual desert.”
“Don't exhaust yourself,” the Baroness warned. “We may need you at full strength.”
R'tilligar nodded. “Sooner than you might like. You were right. We're being followed. They're staying a few rooms back, but there are several of them, hungry and intent on theft, and they carry rifles.”
“Right then. Speak to Private Jones, whatever his number is, and let's keep a watch behind while the bulk of our fighting force is engaged in acts of mechanical destruction.” The Baroness unholstered her pistol, flipped open the cylinder, and checked the rounds. “No sense in letting them sneak too closely while we're making the inevitable racket. Keep your spirit about you if you can, but if it tires you unduly, let it go.”
R'tilligar lifted her chin in a Saurid nod, and went over to speak to the Welsh soldier. Sir Sebastian took her place by the Baroness' side.
“Company coming?” he asked conversationally, with a nod toward her pistol, now re-holstered.
“Isn't there always?” she asked. “Probably the damned French. They never wait for a proper invitation.”
“Best see to things then.” He set down his pack, opened it, and began tucking cartridges into his belt.
TO BE CONTINUED
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