Developer's Blog #22: The Reveal

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Developer's Blog #22: The Reveal

Postby TarlimanJoppos » Tue Mar 11, 2014 2:16 pm

Originally posted at ... the-reveal

Part 4 (and last) of the Seaford Expedition story.
MacQuiston waved Mike and Tony back from the wall, and the hole they had very nearly made through it. The two laborers shut down the steam drill, and MacQuiston cut the fuel for the microsteam engine. Everyone removed their earmuffs and wax plugs with sighs of relief, and some caution, as if the echoes of the tremendous din might still be lurking. All that remained were the pings of cooling metal from the engine and the drill. Mike and Tony pulled off their miasma masks and took a few quick lungfuls of slightly clearer air, away from the dust of the excavation.

“I can still feel that vibration in the pit of my stomach,” Dr. Tredgett complained.

“Good for you,” Sir Sebastian said. “Keeps your tendons and ligaments loosened up.”

“Any looser and I'll collapse into a pile of spare parts,” Dr. Tredgett grumbled.

“And then we can box you up and sell you to the Samsut,” Dr. Prytherch observed sardonically. “How close are we, Mister MacQuiston?”

MacQuiston took a moment to verify his readings before replying. “Very nearly through. Rest ought to be done with a hammer. Steam drill might get away from us when it breaks through.”

Mike, without a word, picked up a sledge, and took up a position by the hole in the wall.

Tony nodded to him. “Lemme get the rest of these straps off and coiled, and I'll have a chisel for you, 'alf a mo.”

“Everyone.” The Baroness spoke no more loudly than usual, nor more forcefully, but commanded their attention nonetheless. “We do not know what may be on the far side. Precautions are in order.” She held up her miasma mask. “These will hold back the foulness of a Samsut zombie, and have done well enough for the dust kicked up by the drill. They should do to hold back bad air or other contaminants.”

“Which brings that back up,” R'tilligar said, from the far side of the room. She sneezed for punctuation. “Your military still reserves all the masks made for my people to those serving in its ranks.”

“You can't just wave a hand and chant something,” Dr. Tredgett asked snidely, “and make the foulness go somewhere else?”

R'tilligar's crest slowly folded down. “Can you not give me a pill from your stores that would avert the effects of any and all poisons we might find?”

“Medicine doesn't work that way,” Tredgett harrumphed.

“Neither does magic,” she explained calmly, in the tone one would use with someone of low intelligence. “I speak with the spirits. I do not have power over the air.”

“Enough, Percival.” The Baroness' use of Dr. Tredgett's first name brought sharp looks from everyone. “You've acquitted yourself well enough, and carried out your familial duties sufficiently, that I've overlooked a good deal of your behavior. You will not be rude to the priestess that I personally selected to accompany us.”

“Yes, your excellency,” Tredgett replied, somewhat abashed. To R'tilligar, he awkwardly nodded and continued, “My apologies. I meant no disrespect to your faith.”

“None taken.” But R'tilligar's crest remained down.

“You,” the Baroness continued to R'tilligar, “should move into the next chamber. Privates Jones and Washburne, kindly accompany her. None of us should be alone in these ruins. The French aren't the only rats skulking about.”

R'tilligar said nothing in reply, only turned, with a last glance at Dr. Tredgett, and left in the company of the two soldiers.

“Masks on, and let's have at it.” The Baroness donned her own miasma, and took a position well back from the hole, where she could see past Mike and Tony to the pending aperture.

Tony set the chisel, three feet of steel with a wedge at one end and a broad head at the other, against the wall, and gave a nod to his coworker. Mike hefted the sledge, stepped back and took a broad stance, and brought the sledge around against the chisel. Sparks and stone chips flew from the business end. A second stroke, and a third, and then the fourth put the chisel through. A chunk of the wall the size of a football fell into the room beyond.

A gust of sulfurous air blew back into the chamber. Tony winced, and fell back, grabbing for his canteen. Dr. Tredgett knocked the canteen away, seized the man's wrist, and sprinkled powder from a tin over his hand, then mimed a handwashing motion. Tony rubbed the powder over his hands, visibly relaxing. Mike, who had stepped to the side out of direct line with the hole, waved a hand to get Tredgett's attention, then pointed to his neck and to Tony. Understanding, Tredgett tossed a bit of the powder into the open collar of Tony's shirt. In the far chamber, R'tilligar fell to coughing, and said something in her own language that didn't sound complimentary.

As the fumes dissipated, Dr. Tredgett examined Tony's hands, then picked up the man's canteen and poured a bit of water carefully over them. The powder bubbled and hissed, washing off to reveal angry red skin. Tredgett pulled his mask up cautiously, sniffed the air, made a face at the acrid smell still hanging about, and nodded.

“It's safe to take them off.” He pulled a roll of bandaging and a tin of salve out of his medical kit, and started wrapping Tony's hands. “You will be very sore for several days,” he told the laborer, “and your skin will blister and then peel like a bad sunburn.”

“But I'll keep th'use a'me hands?” Tony inquired worriedly.

“Oh, yes,” Dr. Tredgett assured him. “You just won't enjoy using them for quite a while.”

MacQuiston, meanwhile, had sprayed the edges of the hole with a liquid that bubbled and hissed like the powder. “Ought to be safe to open it up further,” he said, more or less to Mike and the Baroness, as he stepped back.

Mike gave a single nod, and went back at the wall with his sledgehammer, knocking large chunks loose and widening the hole rapidly.

R'tilligar and the two soldiers rejoined the party. “Smells like the Burning Teeth in here,” she complained.

“Sulfuric gases,” the Baroness informed her, “probably captured when the volcano erupted however many thousands of years ago, and kept under pressure by the weight of the lava. On meeting anything with moisture in it, such as air, or skin, sulfuric acid forms. Are you itching any more than usual?”

R'tilligar grimaced. “Nothing that two hours in running water wouldn't cure. There's only so much oil one can pour on one's scales before starting to feel like a fish being marinated for broiling.”

MacQuiston cautiously lit a splinter of wood from his kit, watched the flame for a moment, then poked the burning end through the hole in the wall, now large enough for a person to step through. On seeing no difference in the flame, he shook out the splinter, and announced, “Safe to use carbon arcs.”

“Lights on, then,” the Baroness said. “Doctor Prytherch, would you like the honors?” She gestured to the hole.

“I'll defer to Sir Sebastian,” he replied, “if you don't mind. Best shot on point and all that.”

Sir Sebastian clicked on his belt lamp, which ignited with a loud snap before settling down to a low sizzle, throwing a brilliant white beam that dispersed much of the gloom. “Righto,” he said, took the safety off his rifle, and passed through the hole.

The rest of the party, one by one, followed suit, finding themselves in what had been apparently a two-story high chamber. Just a few feet to their left, pillow lava rose in cascading frozen waves from the floor, the flow widening to fill much of the far side of the room.

“Used to be a doorway over there.” Sir Sebastian pointed his rifle, safety back on, at the base of the lava flow.

“How can you tell?” MacQuiston asked.

“Way it surged in. The flow came in under pressure from about that point, filled up part of the room, then choked off. Air pressure wouldn't have been enough to slow it down, much less stop it, so maybe it just ran out of steam.”

“A hand up here!” Dr. Prytherch demanded excitedly, shining his light at the wall a dozen feet away from the hole. Oxnard and Washburne locked hands and gave him a boost.

“What have you got?” the Baroness asked, abandoning her examination of the lava flow to go see.

“An inscription.” Dr. Prytherch steadied himself against the wall with one hand, turning down the power on his light with the other to keep it from washing out the details. “Look here.” He ran the light along the wall just above his head, now a good nine feet off the ground, showing a row of symbols carved into the stone.

“Well, that's new,” Sir Sebastian mused. “Haven't seen a wall inscription in here until now.”

“It looks hastily done,” Dr. Prytherch replied. “And not with a hand tool. This was melted into the wall. Mr. MacQuiston?”

MacQuiston peered up at the inscription. “Hard to tell from down here,” he complained. Private Jones offered him a leg up. “Thanks. Oh, right, I see what you mean. The edges are curled out a little, like someone used something really hot to cut these into the wall. Y'know, like a hot wire on glass. The depth's uneven, and some of the lines look a little wobbly.”

“What does it say?” the Baroness asked.

Dr. Prytherch shook his head. “I can't translate much of it. We still know very little of the Anunnaki language. I do make out the symbols that we think mean search, danger or threat, and depart or take leave of.”

“And that's it?” Dr. Tredgett complained waspishly. “All that, all the killing and poisons and injuries and labor, for a single line of inscription we can barely even read?”

“It's more than we had before,” the Baroness reproved. “And we have a route to further areas that have not yet been seen.” She shone her light on a doorway in the far wall, just a foot or two from the edge of the lava flow. “We'll spend some time here, let Dr. Prytherch take rubbings and make sketches of the inscription, catch up our map, pack up the steam drills, have a bit of a rest, and then we shall move on. We are explorers, gentlemen, not treasure seekers. We record what we find and we continue marching onward.”
Andrew Ragland
Line Developer, 1879

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