In the crater-marked wastelands of the Wandering Roams, a particularly large crater houses what must be the legendary Goliath Graveyard, where the hulking beasts purportedly go when it is their time to die. Abandoned and broken shells and bits of ancient machinery are strewn about the interior of the crater, many of them partially molten, and eroded by the passage of time. In the center of the crater, at the end of a deep gouge cut into the earth, is a saucer-shaped structure rising up at an angle from the dirt, like a discus thrown by some colossus across the wastes and left to the mercy of the elements. If there were any markings on this building or craft, they have been scoured away by possibly millennia of wind-borne grit though it appears that, despite the damage, the basic structure is still more or less intact.
Mage Envoy of Lothrhyn, Alumnus of the College Esoterica and Spellcaster of the Sphere of Earth, has been out in the Wandering Roams for quite some time now, having discovered the legendary Goliath Graveyard, and had the presumably rare opportunity to witness the death of a goliath there. The base camp has been moved up to the rim of the crater, now that it has been determined that the little creatures zakis within will not wander beyond the edge of the bowl to accost observers … and the goliaths themselves certainly aren't going anywhere soon.
The zakis have proven to be best observed at a safe distance, with the aid of spy-scopes. They appear to be divided into three distinct "tribes", each one associated with one of three more-or-less intact goliath shells within the crater. There are a few more shells that might have once housed goliaths, which have no such entourage, and the wear on their frames suggests that they are just as old as those that still have a zaki following.
Although the three shells of the zakis are quite different in shape and design, they still bear some slight stylistic similarities, and quick observations of their interiors suggest similar structure. Within the two shells that were already here in the Graveyard, there is a mass of fused zaki bodies, in a state of growth one of the bodies in a more advanced stage than the other. It appears that only one of the zakis has the honor of forming the head of the beast. The brains of the other zakis become vestigial and are gradually consumed by the growing organism, serving no further purpose to the hybrid creature and the machine it is slowly merging with.
The third goliath and its zaki entourage demonstrate what must be the start of this process. Zakis in contact with the fluids excreted by the dying goliath were visibly burned, and their shrieks prompted most of the zakis to scatter at first. However, the zakis, returning to their normal routine, wandered into some of the remaining goop again, with similar results. Those zakis that had particularly severe burns nonetheless still participated in their usual galloping around and bumping into each other. When multiple "burned" zakis rammed into each other, however, they sometimes stuck. Others, not so "lucky", did not live much longer.
Several such clusters of fused zakis formed. The other still mobile - zakis began ramming these clusters, shuffling and even bowling them toward the shell. Yesterday, one of these "teams" actually managed to get its "zakiball" into the shell of a goliath. There, Envoy and the others were able to witness the shell of the goliath as it came to life, shooting its "tendrils" into the organic matter (and, incidentally, tearing apart several of the mobile zakis that had the misfortune of being in the way). The fused zakis let out anguished cries, but were unable to move. At last, their cries died down, as the machine began pumping fluids into the organic mass … while other zakis "helpfully" foraged and deposited foodstuffs in the shell.
Now, the activity has died down considerably. The remaining goo has dissipated, and the surviving zakis continue their usual mindless antics, sustaining themselves by foraging. Incidentally, the ground here seems to yield an especially high concentration of organic growths … though the explorers of the base camp haven't taken advantage of this to supplement their diets, for fear of somehow succumbing to the effects that Envoy has so often warned about that they, too, might somehow be warped and contorted by the strange influences of the goliaths.
It's a new day, as the camp of some twenty people mills about, preparing for another day of observation … and, rumor has it, some exploration as well.
The zakis proved easy enough to evade, and the disc lies before the party. So far, it looks like there might be some choices of which way to enter the structure. Since it is tilted in the ground, there is partially exposed some sort of orifice a rather large one in the very bottom and center (provided that the thing hasn't been flipped upside down at some point). There are also several large gaps in the hull, though most of them are caked with thick layers of dirt, requiring some excavation to get through (not that this would be beyond the ability of the expedition to accomplish). There is also the possibility of finding some sort of door, though that would take further examination of the outer hull.
Envoy considers the central opening. "Can you tell if that portal is used by the zakis, Backhand?" she asks the Titanian guide.
Backhand drops down on hands and knees, sniffing intently at the ground. After a bit more snuffling and visual examination of the ground, he rises, banging his head on the hull of the structure He doesn't even flinch and he slowly shakes his head, "No, no zakis here!"
Iona peers into the shadow cast by the large disc structure. "It looks relatively clear of debris in there … relatively. I don't smell any Zakis, either."
Jaffi adjusts his spectacles. "Well, it does seem to be that they keep very close to the … ah … shells. Hmm. I wonder if this is the progenitor of all goliaths? Perhaps the shell of a particularly large one?"
"Let's take a closer look then," the Aeolun suggests. "But be alert for any … plumbing … like in the active Goliath shells."
Iona shudders at the mention, and absently brings in closer the hand that is balancing an ethereal mass of leaves and branches that seems to be continually growing, yet not actually getting any bigger a manifestation of a held Growth spell.
Backhand nods, and skulks forward, pausing to scratch-spark the lighter on his oil lantern, giving the shadows a flickering glow where the sun fails to penetrate.
As if Envoy's warning were a prediction, it appears that there are several cables spilling out of the large hole in the bottom of the structure, disappearing into the broken soil. They bear very close resemblance to those cables and conduits inside the goliath shells.
Envoy's own held Shape spell manifests itself as a glow in her horn, which is more noticeable as the group enters the shadow of the disk. Seeing the tubes heading into the ground, she wonders aloud, "Do you suppose those are linked to the shells, supplying them with fluid?" She risks getting closer to listen for anything moving in the conduits.
The glow of Envoy's horn and the held spell of Iona work as light sources all their own, but held spells are meant eventually to be cast, so Iona takes a moment to bring a candle over toward Backhand's lantern, getting a light. Jaffi nods in response to Envoy's question. "An interesting hypothesis, indeed! A symbiotic relationship, perhaps… Or perhaps it could be drawing nourishment somehow from them? One can never tell, after all, on first impressions… " He descends into a long stream of rambling musings, but Envoy can still hear, as she approaches the conduits, sounds that suggest the flow of liquids within … though it's not certain just which way they might be going.
"It might be reclaiming some of the fluids that soaked into the ground," Envoy muses. "Something's active in the conduits, but I can't tell if it's flowing in or out." She looks up to see if their light is enough to reveal the source of the pipes.
It appears that the pipes go up and deeper into the craft, but their ultimate source is not evident, as they disappear into a jumble of machinery, much of it looking broken and rather exposed. The presence of the cables has the look of something being out of place … not like something that was meant to extend out of the craft as a normal function. But then, that seems consistent with the goliaths, who don't look entirely unified in design or concept, asymmetrical in several regards.
"Let's look for ways leading up," Envoy says, peering deeper into the darkness. "Something must be pumping the fluids up there."
Backhand examines the cables. "We could climb!" Without asking for permission, he immediately starts clambering on top of one of the ribbed conduits, and slowly scrambles his way upward.
Iona bites her lip, then confesses, "I think I should like to find a more dignified means of ascent?"
Envoy blinks, "Yes … " Louder, she calls, "Backhand! You might pull something loose!"
Backhand nods … then it finally registers that he's being asked to stop. "Rrrr?" he calls back, stopping in place.
Iona sighs, then shouts, "Come back down, Backhand!"
"Carefully!" the Aeolun adds. "We can't catch you if you fall." Upon saying this, she wisely steps away from the likely impact area, just in case.
That dreadful word is uttered from Backhand's lips, "Whoops." Shortly thereafter, he plummets downward. When the dust clears, he gets up, patches of dirt visible in his fur, not that he really cares. He spits some grit out of his mouth, then says, "Okay. Now what?"
Jaffi coughs a few times, then says, "I think … if we all want to fit in, perhaps we need to find an alternative means of entry?"
"Check the walls for doors or hatches," Envoy suggests, shaking dust from her wings. "Otherwise we can let Backhand hammer open one of the clogged entries we found outside."
Backhand grins widely, showing just what sort of approach he would prefer.
Iona raises an eyebrow at Backhand's reaction. "I'll … start checking." She walks up toward the outer plating, and starts perusing the various cracks and gouges for signs of any sort of hatch.
Envoy searches as well, moving in the opposite direction from Iona.
Jaffi and the ever-silent Ari head off as well. Backhand starts inspecting some of the clogged hatches, gauging what is asking the most for a creative application of a hammer.
As Envoy searches along the hull, she finds many gouges and gaps … some of them large enough to potentially crawl into, though it does not appear that they provide access to any corridors as such. There are a few patterns she notices in some of the machinery … namely, that she notices features that resemble some of those features of the goliath shells.
There are also many broken bones and pieces of shell … and even some deposits of … amber? Well, perhaps amber of a sort, for it looks like some sort of sappy material had oozed out of some broken conduits here and there, and solidified into a vaguely amber-like substance, though it has a more reddish tint than an orange/gold one.
Opening her sample bag, the Exile collects some of the bone and shell fragments, and especially the amber-like resin. Continuing her search, she also keeps an eye out for any connection points or other signs that the shells were once connected to the disk.
There doesn't seem to be any sign that the shell fragments had anything to do with the outermost hull. However, as Envoy looks at some of the exposed innards of the "machinery", she observes that there are certain features that seem rather organic. It would appear that, much like the goliaths, this disc might have been cybernetic-organic in its interior construction. But, what's more … she observes some sections within the structure that look like duplicates of the goliath shells … only fused with the machinery of the craft itself, and perhaps rearranged a bit here and there.
Envoy ponders the odd construction. Her first conclusion is that the disk is trying to repair itself using organic systems, and that the Goliaths are somehow related to this process… but she also knows her own bias and lack of mechanical knowledge work against her. "If you're alive," she whispers to the vessel, "then you should have a brain somewhere."
The vessel does not respond.
Iona, however, calls out, "I think I found something!" There's a pause, then, "but I'll need help!"
The Aeolun hurries along, heading back towards Iona. "What is it?" she asks once she spots the Jupani.
Iona has set her candle down, as she tries to examine what looks like some sort of a hatch … a sort of "camera shutter" radial arrangement that somehow manages to look both mechanical yet somehow organic at the same time, though there are no organic materials evident.
The areas around it are badly caked with grit, and it looks like Iona has been doing her best to scrape some of it away with one free hand.
Iona says, "Some of this … calcified? It looks like some sort of mineral deposits have grown here. It isn't just dirt. This has been here a long time, and there must be moisture that seeps out … or once did."
Jaffi and Ari show up as well. Ari pulls out a chisel and hammer and starts chipping away at some of the deposits with two of his hands, while the others scour away dirt.
Envoy starts helping to clear away the buildup, taking a few samples as she does. "Moisture might condense on the walls here when it gets cold. I found traces of some sort of resin seepage as well." She also looks around the edges of the iris, searching for some sort of mechanism to open it.
As Envoy searches around, she finds a slight depression to one side of the iris, but it's partially filled with the calcified deposits, making it difficult to guess at the exact shape of the depression underneath. However, it does seem to form a shape that, with some imagination, approximates that of a hand with fingers splayed … though with proportions, if that's the case, that don't quite match Envoy's own.
Working on the deposits in the handprint, Envoy counts the number of fingers and thumbs, and tries to guess the size of the being that the hand might belong to. "This thing had a crew, it looks like."
The best Envoy can do is take a wild guess. There is definitely a thumb separate from the hand, if that's what this shape is, and it would seem to be a left hand imprint, if so. The fingers seem to be especially long, and there are either four long and thin digits, or else there are two thick and large digits in addition to the thumb.
"I hope it will accept a surrogate," the Exile says, and then sits down and starts scooping out handfuls of soil in order to Shape a model of the hand that fits the depression.
"A surrogate?" Iona echoes. It doesn't take long for Envoy to get a useable amount of soil.
Envoy nods, to Iona. "A non-living one, that is. I can't reshape my own hand to fit, after all." She then triggers her held spell, concentrating on the shape of the depression as she sings.
Iona hmms. "Oh! I think I see now… " She scans the depression, while Envoy works.
The dirt reshapes itself under Envoy's command. It appears that the effect of the Forbidden Zone and proximity to the structure has no effect whatsoever on the utility of the spell.
Jaffi nods approvingly. "A perfect fit!"
"Let's see if it's enough though," Envoy says, and tries pressing the hand-piece into the mold next to the iris.
The piece fits smoothly in place, and the magic is strong enough and still active to keep the dirt intact. However, there is no sign of any sort of reaction from the iris hatch.
Iona lets out a disappointed breath.
After nothing happens, Envoy removes the fake hand, and tries her own just to see if it makes a difference, despite not being shaped the same. "Maybe we can force the iris open. I don't recall meeting any races on Sinai with hands like this, so we may have found something separate from the First Ones or the Expedition. A race of Vulcan pickpockets, perhaps."
Envoy feels a weak tingling sensation in her hand for an instant, and then it passes.
Pulling back her hand, Envoy says, "I felt something, a tingle. Maybe one of you should try it?"
Iona nods, and reaches forward with her free hand. She places it in the depression, then jerks it back. She looks at her hand, then wiggles her fingers. "Sorry. Yes … I felt a tingle, too."
Backhand curiously sniffs at the depression. He puts his hand up to the depression … but his hand just covers it. "No tingle," he gruffs, then pulls his hand away.
Envoy retrieves the shell and bone samples she collected, and tries first touching the bone against the contact. "Maybe it looks for a genetic key."
Iona sighs. "If so, then perhaps we needed to have a Life Mage along."
Touching the bone spurs no obvious effect. But then, Envoy wouldn't be able to sense if the bone or shell experienced a "tingle" or not, either.
Jaffi offers, "Perhaps the residual deposits are interfering with whatever mechanism this might be? It seems to be coated in calcium deposits … or whatever that might be."
The Aeolun tries to scrape out more of the deposits. "Is the iris clear yet, Ari?"
Ari nods. There are still little flakes here and there, but the iris appears to be free of anything that should be able to hold it closed.
Envoy tries her palm again after clearing away the rest of the deposits.
Envoy's hand isn't exactly a tight fit … but she feels the tingle more clearly now … In fact, it's causing a most unpleasant sensation in her teeth about now, and it seems to be lasting longer than before.
Clenching her jaw, Envoy tries to pull her hand away from the contact.
Her hand comes free without any resistance. The sensation immediately disappears, though there's a faint flicker visible within the depression. Iona doesn't miss this. "What happened? Are you all right, Envoy?"
"It was a lot stronger this time," Envoy reports, and flexes her fingers. "I couldn't tell if it was some sort of scan or not, though."
Envoy's fingers seem to be in working order, with no signs of burns. All that's left is the memory of the sensation.
Deciding to give the dirt-model another try, the Aeolun presses it into the form again. "Do you want to try it again, Iona? You might not be as conductive as I am."
The dirt model is now not quite a perfect fit, since the deposits have been scrubbed out (and they were fairly thick in places), and the hand was formed to fit the remaining space. In any case, Envoy doesn't feel any tingles.
Iona nods. "I can give it a try." She walks over and holds her hand at the ready.
Envoy removes the model hand, and steps aside for the wolf.
Iona puts her hand in the depression, then her ears shoot out, and she lets out a "YELP!" Her held spell flickers and almost dissipates, as her teeth grit and her eyes go wide, and her hackles stand up.
Envoy blinks, it didn't seem that bad when she tried it! She reaches out and grips Iona's shoulder, "Iona?"
Iona seems to be somewhat stunned, but she jerks her head when something else startles her movement in the iris door. "Ow, ow, ow," Iona says.
"How's your paw?" Envoy asks the wolf, and looks to see how much the iris moved.
The iris is slowly opening. Iona wrenches her hand away from the depression, and shoots it into her mouth, sucking on the fingertips, making a muffled noise in response to Envoy's query.
"Hmmm," the Aeolun ponders. "Maybe Backhand could have tried it with his just his thumb. I'm sorry, Iona, I didn't think it would be that uncomfortable."
Iona pulls her hand out, and shakes it. "It … stopped," she says. She's evidently not talking about the iris door, because it's still opening up, revealing a chamber and a sloping chamber beyond. "Don't worry. I think I'm all right now. Just … caught off guard, I suppose."
"I haven't seen anyone make a face like that since a friend of mine got stuck inside a Titanian Wheel of Misfortune," Envoy says with a grin, then tries to look up into the revealed shaft, hoping for interior lighting.
Envoy's wish is fulfilled, it seems, though in an odd way … translucent tubing, filled with luminescent fluids of various colors, runs along the length of the corridor, high up in the ceiling. The floor has a rough texture, perhaps a sort of "anti-skid" design. It does appear, of course, that the passage is not at the angle it was intended to be, due to the lurching of the overall structure.
The corridor continues on for some distance, and then appears to split off into several more corridors. There could well be quite a maze of little twisty passages, all alike, within this structure.
Jaffi perks up his already large ears. "By the Scimitar and Dagger! You've done it!"
"Whoever these people where," Envoy comments, as she sees the corridor, "I really like their sense of aesthetics."