This new sky island is temperate, like Rephidim, dominated by a mountain in its center, also like Rephidim, but this mountain in its center has a bowl-shaped valley in its heart, housing much greenery and many strange flowers, while the land outside the mountain is thawing tundra. The island is surrounded by a shroud of clouds, blocking out sight of the world beyond, though the sky can be seen clearly above.
Much time has passed since the unpleasant incidents that marred the discovery of this sky island. A pile of rocks and a humble promise for a mausoleum later mark the final resting place of the physician, Fetiss.
Ashes, blackened stones and debris mark the place where a pyre was built for the Lancer, whom Bassai, despite his best efforts, was unable to save.
A flag bearing the emblem of the Nagai Empire waves in the wind in the heart of the valley, no longer challenged by the Lancer's banner.
Bassai's new base of operations the heated sled (though heat isn't really needed right now) has been moved, with some significant effort, into the "bowl valley", up on a very wide ledge on the inner slopes. There, Tekki keeps working on his notes. His journal-work already would deserve reading by the best in the field, if only it were not written by a Savanite.
Vykarins keep milling about. A large number of them seem to follow the Rath'ani, Fenter, wherever he goes.
Bassai tries not to think about the recent events that are typical of his failures that seem to accompany the successes of this expedition. Ring Day, which should have been a celebration of renewal, he instead spent reflecting on the loss of life that preceeded it. His confidence and spirits shaken, Bassai still tries to keep up appearances for the remaining memebers of his crew, and distracts himself with work.
Fenter lies back in a clump of clover, watching the clouds overhead. "Mister Bassai, do you have any idea when your horsey friends are going to rescue us from here?"
Several Vykarins are seated in a circle around Fenter, flicking their ears at his every word. Once he's finished with that sentence, they start chanting, and then break into a group howl.
It would seem they're trying to mimick what he just said, but failing miserably.
"What?" the Ringneck asks, lost in thought. "Oh, I have no idea. Soon I hope. I gave instructions to Ibis to… " His voice trails off.
"You know Fenter, I only just realized I left a slave in charge of the Rhians. Strange isn't it? In any event, I hope he will be sending something for us soon… I would like to leave," the archaeologist hisses.
Fenter staggers to his feet. "I think I shall get myself a drink." He looks around for a gap in the circle of Vykarians that might be large enough to squeeze though. "I wonder why these chaps have taken such an interest in me?" he muses to himself, then looks about for one of the closest streams.
Bassai nods, "Have you discovered if they have a leader?"
The Vykarins, with exaggerated deference (or, at least, extremely CLUMSY deference), move apart to allow the raccoon through … then form a procession behind him. Again, they seem to be trying to parrot his last sentence … and, again, failing miserably.
"I can ask them, sir," the raccoon says. He looks to his procession and bark-growl-clicks something to them.
"I'm starting to suspect they may have chosen you," Bassai adds pensively.
The Vykarins immediately drop to the ground (kicking up dirt-clods in the process) and start making babble-clicking noises before Fenter, their tails wagging from side to side.
Fenter makes a muffled choking noise. "Oh… dear. This is quite embarrassing."
"Oh?" Bassai flicks out his tongue. "I'm curious. What are they saying?"
"I do believe that they think I'm some sort of god," Fenter says, digging at the ground with one foot.
Some more Vykarins come up, and start piling dead, mangled creatures (a few birds, a few burrowing creatures) at Fenter's feet.
The raccoon makes a pop-click-barking noise to one of the Vykarians and points off to the distance.
"I see. Well don't do anything to give them an alternate impression. Primitive religious backlash can be quite painful." The Naga watches the efforts of the Vykarin. "It may be your eyes. They're orange at this moment. What are you saying now?"
The Vykarins get up and bow to Fenter, and several rush off toward the streams.
Fenter says, "I told them that you had a fondness for… er… live offerings. And that I could use a drink."
Bassai nods, watching the disappearing Vykarins. "Thank you, that is quite considerate," he hisses again quietly.
Some Vykarins gallop back, carrying a large bowl fashioned from what LOOKS like a segment of shell of one of their own kind. Most of the water has sloshed out, but there's still at least a few cupfulls. They present it eagerly to Fenter.
The archaeologist looks up, away from Fenter and fixes his gaze on the mountain. "It occured to me a while ago that the Vykarin may also have a claim to this island. It was something I wanted to discuss with them, and find some peaceful resolution… if they indeed have one."
Fenter clambers up on one of the rocks, he smiles a very forced smile at the Vykarans and accepts the bowl. He examines it to see how old or new it appears to be.
The shell doesn't appear to have any traces of whatever Vykarin may have once worn it.
The few hairs in the water probably came from the Vykarins who were enthusiastically carrying the bowl.
The raccoon grins; that's good enough for him. He drinks the contents of the bowl and then places it up on his head like a helmet.
The Vykarins "OHHHHHH" at Fenter's consumption of the water, as if they've just witnessed a miracle, and then start genuflecting again as he wears the shell on his head, clicking and popping and chanting.
Bassai gazes back at the shell-wearing raccoon. "Could you ask them about that, and did they bring anything for me?"
Fenter nods to Bassai and lets out another string of growl-pop-clicking noises to his followers.
The Vykarins look to each other, and several of them gallop off. One clicks back to Fenter, shaking his head, then bowing to the raccoon again. (Since Vykarins are already stooped over to begin with, "bowing" generally involves dropping to the ground, and rutting the earth even more in the process.)
Fenter adjusts his 'hat'. "Er… the Vykarians are fetching you something, and they claim that the island belongs to me."
The Ringneck Naga nods, not saying anything. Instead he just takes out a notebook and adds a few more to it. He writes for a while, then looks up to see if the Vykarin have returned with anything palatable.
One Vykarin returns with a wildly wriggling, hairless, presumably burrowing creature. He presents it eagerly to Fenter, shoving it into the raccoon's face. The blind creature nips at the air, barely missing Fenter's nose.
The Rath'ani windmills his arms as he jerks back from the creature, and tumbles off his rock. "I think they brought you something to eat, Mister Bassai," he croaks as he tries to pulls himself back up to his feet.
A helpful Vykarin clamps down with his mouth on Fenter's shoulder, and lifts him roughly up to his feet. No toothmarks remain, but he leaves a bit of Vykarin drool.
Bassai looks at the animal, "It would seem so. Tekki, could you obtain that and subdue it?"
Tekki timidly approaches the creature, then reaches for a wooden tent-stake … and gives the creature several whacks until it stops wriggling so violently, and merely twitches. He gingerly hands it to his master.
Fenter brushes himself off and readjusts his helmet. He gives the Vykarin a pat on the nose and clambers back up on his rock. The raccoon shoots a glance at Bassai and Tekki and pop-clicks something to his band of followers.
The Naga looks the burrowing animal over, gauging its toughness and likelihood of causing indigestion. He flicks his tongue over it, tasting.
The Vykarins make "oooo" noises and watch Bassai intently.
Holding its limbs against the side of the body, Bassai raises the creature up to his open mouth and starts to swallow. He gives it a bite to dissuade any sudden struggling, then lets it slide the rest of the way into his throat. The Naga is silent for the ammount of time it takes his meal to travel down to his stomach, which is a visible process if the Vykarin are that curious.
A chant begins among the Vykarins, a single word or phrase repeated over and over. As they creature goes further down the Naga's gullet, they chant louder and faster, until it's gone entirely, at which point they start howling. They look at each, other, then all of them scatter!
Bassai flicks his tongue out, then says in a concerned voice, "I hope I have not also entered into their pantheon in some negative way."
Here and there, Vykarins can be seen vigorously ripping up the earth, and then, one by one, they start galloping back, all of them holding some sort of wriggling creature (most of them like the one Bassai just consumed), and a few having somehow managed to catch some birds. All of these offerings are thrust into Bassai's face.
"No sir. They want to see you do it again in fact," Fenter says, slightly happy that he's not the center of attention for the moment.
"I am… pleased… that my meals provide such intriguing entertainment, but I could not possibly eat all they are offering me. Please tell them that I could swallow that… " Bassai looks around, and selects something small at random, "… bird, but that they will have to wait till I am hungry again after it."
Fenter makes some barking noises at the Vykarins. He doffs his helmet and hands it to one of them.
The Vykarins make "Oooo" noises at each other, then shove the various offerings in Bassai's face again except for those who reluctantly either devour their offerings or drop them and let them loose, and then scamper off with the "helmet" again.
Meanwhile, the newly-freed … creatures … make pitiful noises and dart this way and that. Tekki climbs up the side of the sled to avoid one that shoots in his general direction.
"So what do we do now, sir?" Fenter asks. "Wait for rescue?"
A Vykarin gallops back with the helmet, sloshing water. It has only about the equivalent of two cups of water in it this time.
Bassai takes one of the offerings, and delivers a few quick raps on its head to stun it. Then, with an embarrased flair that comes from having spectators who enjoy the Naga eating process, when most find it offensive, he dramatically swallows the creature. He lets it work its way down, and as soon as it has disappeared, he answers Fenter. "Well, I still wissh to see your Uncle. After that, I suppose all there is to do is wait."
The Vykarins watch intently … then thrust the remaining offerings forward at Bassai again.
"Please, another time. You will stuff me so prodigiously I will be unable to move." The Naga shakes his head at the Vykarins, carefully refusing their offerings. He hisses to Fenter, "Please dissuade them. Tell the Vykarins we have to go meet someone, and I will eat again for them later."
Fenter points downwards into the valley. "I saw him in there when I fell asleep in the clover. I was quite sure I was asleep since I had drooled all over myself, which I usually only do when I'm either asleep or faced with a giant dessert of some sort."
The Vykarins show no sign of understanding Bassai, still shoving wriggling and snapping creatures in his general direction.
"I see," Bassai says, slithering back from the enthusiastic Vykarins, "Did he emerge or return to a cave of any sort? Perhaps we should explore the area. Fenter… please." He gives a helpess look at the food being offered to him.
"But I don't want him to explode!" Fenter exclaims to the Vykarins, then he remembers himself and repeats the statement in a series of growl-pop-clicks.
The Vykarins look terribly disappointed. At last, some of them gulp down their offerings, while the rest either offer them instead to Fenter, or just drop them and let them run rampant. Once again, Tekki climbs up the side of the sled.
"Uncle Agnes just sort of faded in and out, sir," the raccoon answers as he inches away from the offerings.
Bassai makes a relaxed hiss, sparing a moment to see if any of the creatures have a particular attraction to Savanites, or if they are merely racing about. He slithers closer to the Rath'ani, "Perhaps if we wait there, he will fade in again."
The creatures seem to have no particular attraction to Savanites. Tekki just seems particularly UN-attracted to the wretched-looking beasties.
"Maybe my loyal worshippers can give us a ride to the center of the valley?" Fenter says, grinning.
Without waiting for an answer, Fenter barks the same request to the Vykarins.
The Ringneck archaeologist, fearing indigestion, trampling, and other unpleasant fates, resigns himself to a ride. "Yes, Fenter, anything to distract them. Tekki… come down when you are able to, and climb aboard something." He prepares to do the same himself.
One of the Vykarins responds by bowing low … then scooting forward. In an instant, Fenter is bowled onto the back of the Vykarin, which is now galloping to the center of the valley. Fenter has a good view of the Vykarin's wagging tail, and where he's been. It looks like other Vykarins are about to pull the same stunt with Bassai and with Tekki (who has JUST gotten off the sled).
"AIEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeee… !" the raccoon's voice trails off as he bounds away.
Several bounces and jolts later, Bassai, Tekki and Fenter are unceremoniously deposited amidst a thick pile of clover in the center of the valley. The "walls" of the mountain bowl rise up in all directions, framing the blue sky and the pale near-white of the Procession.
Bassai hisses as he is finally dismounted. He takes a moment to arrange his coils, and clothes. "Well… that was almost as disorienting as a Selona rickshaw." He flicks out his tongue and checks on Tekki.
"Are they good to eat?" Fenter asks.
Tekki just sits, trying to regain his bearings. He gives up and just lies back in the clover for a bit, awaiting further orders.
Fenter plops back as well. Clover is much more comfortable than rock… or the back of a Vykarin.
"I wouldn't know; I suspect they are rather stringy." The Naga looks down at the Savanite, "Interesting idea, Tekki." He joins the other two, lying down and gazing up at the Procession in the sky.
The Vykarins look at the prostrate group, then at each other … then collectively collapse in the clover. The resulting thump is not only audible, but can be faintly felt, too.
Fenter says, "This is definately where I met Uncle Agnes. It's nice and comfy. I really hope he brings food like he promised to."
Bassai tries not to think of the other things he has seen lying in the clover. Instead he just relaxes, watching the sky. His tongue flicks out occasionally, "That would be nice; let's hope he keeps his promisses."
Nearby, a flower changes color. Actually, several flowers change color. This goes on for some time. In fact, it probably HAS been going on for quite some time past.
The sky begins to darken, as the sun passes out of sight. The valley isn't quite as shadowed as it should be, though. It would seem there's some other light source. That light source would seem to be from some of these flowers. Perhaps Bassai should get out of his sled more often…
Fenter rolls over a few times as he tries to get comfortable. He rubs his chin, then barks something to one of the Vykarins, motioning for him to come closer.
A Vykarin pokes his nose right in Fenter's face.
Fenter crawls around to the side of the creature and leans against his side instant pillow. He growl-clicks something to his new pillow as he gets comfortable.
"You will have to come up with something for the Vykarins, Fenter, for their, or your claim to this island," the Archaeologist says with some resignation. "I'm not a negotiator, I don't know what they deserve, but I do know the Nagai Empire will expect to own this place… for reasons I stated earlier… and the Vykarins may be mistreated if there isn't some kind of treaty."
As the valley becomes more quickly dark, the glow is more noticeable. Bulbs here and there are indeed luminescent, the intensity of their glow and the hue changing at regular intervals.
Bassai turns to look at Fenter, and observes the light from the flowers. "This is rather interesting."
The Vykarin, oblivious to Bassai's musings, thwaps his tail happily, serving as a pillow for the Rath'ani as if this were his purpose in life.
"I'm sure anything you come up with will be fine." The Naga rises, and examines the changing light from the flowers, looking for a recognizable pattern.
Fenter says, "I'm sure that these chaps will be happy to leave the island and get back to their famlies once they have a chance to, sir." Fenter says, he mumbles something to his 'pillow'."
The Vykarin click-pops something back to Fenter. Other Vykarins nod as if in agreement.
"Then again, I could be wrong… " the raccoon says, fidgeting with his fingers.
Bassai looks at the changing patterns, scanning up the side of the valley and hissing in reply, "I'll do my best to convince the Nagai Empire of that course; perhaps some intersting stones should be included with that. Oh… You know Fenter, these lights seem familiar, the way the flowers are flashing."
Fenter makes a few more noises to his followers and then says to Bassai, "Howso, sir?"
"Yes… Yes." The archaeologist gazes around, "It… seems like that sequence Kame Ikata painted in the Asylum. It's not quite the same, but it's very similar. What was that about the Vykarin?"
The Vykarins start click-popping noisily back to Fenter. Several start wagging their massive tails.
"Well, I think that if I leave, they will as well," Fenter says, settling into his pillow. "They seem to be rather fond of me."
"The Eye." Bassai absently waves his fingers like the tentacles at Fenter, "Eye Eye Eye Eye… "
Several Vykarins watch the Naga curiously.
Fenter says, "No no no! You've got it wrong!" He begins flopping his arms wildly about. "Like this!"
The Vykarins watch Fenter even more curiously, amidst some clicking and popping, and a few barks of alarm.
Bassai flicks out his tongue, and watches Fenter's antics, "Yes… that is close as well I suppose."
The raccoon growl-click-pops to the Vykarins and settles back down.
The Vykarins start clicking to each other. Many more heads nod, then more tails wag.
The Ringneck archaeologist continues to stand and watch the changing patterns in the night flowers. He follows the variations throughout the bowl, searching for the exact centre of the strange design. "I wonder what this means," he comments to no one in particular.
Fenter just shakes his head and settles back again. "Talking to flowers… hmph."
The exact center would seem to be … more or less where Bassai is right this moment. The bed of clover, a very circular patch, would be that center.
"It seems I am in the right place," Bassai hisses, settling on his coils in a 'seated' position at the centre of the clover patch. He observes the flowers for any further change in behaviour. "Unless of course, this is meant to signal airships. Then we are at a rather unfortunate placement."
Fenter yawns and starts to let his eyes droop closed.
"You are sure there was nothing your Uncle told you to do, to prompt his return?" the Naga asks.
"Nope," the raccoon replies as he starts to doze off.
Fenter mumbles,"… birdie… "
"I see," Bassai hisses quietly, shifting into a more comfortable position that he could sleep in. He just stares at the flowers, their lights flicking across the surface of his eyes.
As the raccoon seems to be getting closer to sleeping, several more flowers ringing the clover begin to glow more brightly. Tekki blinks several times, stifling a yawn.
The Naga lets himself relax, waiting for sleep. Here is as good a place as any, and preferable to the box. He settles against his coils and lets his consiousness drift off.
Fenter mumbles something about birds again and then closes his eyes.
Consciousness slips away quickly. The sleepers pass through dreams into a strange darkness … one which is broken by the writhing form known to a certain cheetah as "The Eye". All of them see the same form … the same pattern … but they have no awareness of each other. Each is alone in this strange vision.
The raccoon waves to the figure. "Howdy! A friend of mine was wanting to meet you, but he doesn't seem to be around at the moment… "
The image seems to break up. Some of the waving tentacles disappear, then reappear, then break apart entirely. The dream loses its focus.
"Kame's eye," the Naga hisses, or thinks in his dream, it seems like both and neither action at the same time. "What does it mean? It haunted him and now me, and neither of us can make any sense of it. What are you?"
The "Eye" offers no answer to Bassai … or none that he can understand. The image breaks up again, the dream searing and fracturing, bringing with it sensations of pain.
Fenter says, "What's that? Is everything alright? You're still bringing food, right?"
The pain intensifies. It feels like … fire.
"He got it wrong," Bassai decides, "The pattern is different. I wonder if it changed or if there… AHHHH!" The Naga writhes in the feelings of fire.
The raccoon clutches his sides and falls over, grinding his teeth.
The archaeologist clutches at the pendant around his neck, trying to endure the feelings, "What! What!" His coils slash around from the torment.
At once, the sleepers awaken to the smell of smoke … and a sound like a thunderclap that echoes through the valley. The Vykarins stir as well, and bark and growl fearfully.
The sensation of burning is gone, replaced by the reality of patches of fire within the valley.
Fenter jerks upwards. "Goodness, I thought Agnes had it in for me; most of my relatives are that way, though… " He sniffs the air and looks around to see how intense the flames are… weak enough to put out or strong enough to run away from.
Bassai stands bolt upright, his whole body still twitching from the sensations, "Ah! Fire… What was that? Tekki? Fenter?" He checks his companions, then the fire patches.
Fenter staggers to his feet. "I'm not sure, sir. Uncle Agnes said something about compromises and errors; it was all mucked up, though."
The fires are not close to the clover patch or to the streams, but rather can be seen here and there, encircling the area. For just a moment, a silhouette can be seen slithering amongst the fires … a very serpentine form, carrying some sort of container … and then it is lost in the smoke.
Tekki struggles to his feet, looking to Bassai for instruction.
"Was there a lightning strike? I heard nothing, just felt pain. Those fires are burning too strangely to be natural… " Bassai starts to explain, then stops as it becomes very apparent.
Fenter sniffs at the air again. "I smell something, fuel I think. And gunpowder. Sir, I think we'd best get out of here."
The Vykarins are clearly alarmed. They must not deal with such large fires out in the Vykarin Wastes.
"Sabotage," the Ringneck hisses at the silhouette, searching for a way through the flames, or to water. "Yes."
The flames are spreading, flowing along lines that form a nearly neat ring around the clover. But the firelight also reflects upon water the streams coursing through the middle of the valley. Yet, these streams are not large enough to really swim in.
Fenter climbs up on the closest Vykarin and looks around, trying to find a way out of the flames, and trying to spot whomever started them.
"The water. Tekki! Fenter, tell the Vykarins to soak themselves, and let's hope the channel isn't deep." Bassai slithers to one of the streams, "Then we can risk the flames."
There's a loud explosion from somewhere along the "ring" of the fire, sending a spray of water and earth into the air. The explosion seems to have occurred at a point along one of the many streams contributing to the center of the valley.
Fenter stands precariously on his worshipper's back and barks something loudly, pointing to the closest stream. He pauses at the sound of the explosion.
The Naga slides his coils in, tail first and holding onto the edge. He hurriedly checks the depth as he searches for a thin section of flames, or more preferred, a break.
The depth isn't all that great, really, but enough for the Naga's slender form to slip into, though the others might have more trouble to get fully submerged. As the Naga explores, the Vykarins plunge into the water … taking the raccoon with them!
It seems to be going well … until suddenly the water flow seems to be a little more strong at a certain point … and then the snake pops entirely out of sight!
"Tekk… glurg!" Bassai is sucked under, and grabs desperately around himself.
The raccoon barkbarks loudly and points to the spot where Bassai vanished.
The Vykarins obediently follow their deity's command … and bowl after Bassai. Someone tries to grab Bassai … and disappears. The rest … including the one Fenter is riding … do the same.
Much sliding and burbling later, the accidental "seafarers" come to in a very dark and damp place. It's chilly here, too.
The sound of trickling water can be heard, as well as occasional gushing and churning noises, and echoes of a regular dripping.
The Naga sputters, breaking the surface and gasping. He shivers, and instinctively moves towards something warm. "Anyone? Tekki?" He hisses.
Tekki fumbles about, and at last bumps into his master.
Fenter coughs out some water from his lungs and starts to wring out his clothes. "Does anyone have any idea what just happened?"
The Vykarins start barking and popping and clicking, filling the cavern with a cacophony.
"Ah Tekki, there you are. Here hold onto this." He directs a piece of his robe into the Savanite's hands. "I have no idea, Fenter; we were sucked under. Try and calm the Vykarins."
Two dots hover in the darkness, changing color slowly along a course of the hues of the rainbow. Fenter, however, cannot see them.
"Fenter… That is you, isn't it?" Bassai hisses in the direction of the glowing dots as he reaches out.
Bassai encounters what feels like a soggy raccoon. At the same time, Fenter experiences what feels like a wet snake poking him on the nose.
"Ow!" Fenter yelps. "Yessir, it's me. Er… how do we get out of here, sir?"
"I think we will have to explore… " the archaeologist hisses, trying to see in the almost total darkness. "Fenter, don't blink; you're our only source of light. Alternate eyes or something."
Fenter says, "I promise I won't blink very slowly, sir. I'm an amazingly quick blinker."
The cavern appears, at first appearance, to be natural … though, upon further inspection, it's a LITTLE bit too regular, and the tunnels are a bit too cylindrical. It would seem that some exploration may be in order to find a way out, but there are places to start in, at least.
"This is going to take some effort," the Naga hisses as he peers around. His hand slips down to touch Tekki's wrist, and make sure the Savanite is holding on securely. "A lot of effort. Can you organize the Vykarin? Tekki, do you have any rope?"
Tekki responds by pressing a length of (soggy) rope against his master's side.
Fenter begins rounding together his worshippers and clumsily organizing them. "Single file everyone, single file."
It takes some work, but after a few dead-ends, drop-offs and other set-backs, the group finds their way into a very large chamber lit by pulsing crystal veins set in the walls. A crystal disc hovers in place in the center of the chamber, and sparks play in apparently hollow cylinders along the walls. The disc hovers above a hole in the floor, and another hole is visible high above, in the ceiling.
… to be continued …