Chapter 37: Rivers in the Sand
We left our heroes in their airship, the Pudgie Budgie, following a
dowse bearing across an exotic landscape. The bearing leads between two
mountains, toward a third. The mountain we pass next has none of the
glitter snaky bits that laid Daphne and Gannar low, just forest. The
mountain ahead has something glittery at the base. But between us and
it lies a sandy patch that may be an arm of an entire desert, spreading
out to the right/west.
We are following a river, which has a road next to it, though we still haven't spotted any traffic. When the river goes through the sandy patch, it gets noticably darker, even more than the addition of sand should explain. Beyond, the road get even better defined, as itheads off into the desert toward the third mountain.
Dafnord, looking over the desert, notes a reddish streak in the sand, coming down and intersecting the river at the point where it darkens. The road crosses the red streak, and where it does so, there's a bridge.
The closer we get, the closer we look. We send out viewpoints and Robbie sends out an eye. The red sand has finer ripples in it than the surrounding yellow sand. In fact, it's moving, flowing through the desert into the river, making a rustling, hissing sursurration as it goes. Robbie floats his eye down to it (and nothing eats it), and conjures a ball of ectoplasm. It bounces on the red sand, but goes in further than you'd expect.
The bridge over the sand-river is impressive. It's very wide and very, very long, and made of a single unsupported span of stone. Even using archwork, that's impressive. At either end are pillars, much weathered.
Back with the sand, Robbie conjures a bucket and brings it back to the Budgie for us to look at. After the neurotoxins from the snake-masses, we're very cautious, but it seems inoccuous; it doesn't continue to move and hiss once taken from the flow. It feels a tad slippery. Tom conjures a microscope and notes the red grains are smoother, more spherical, and more uniform in size than normal sand. There's a magical feel to it.
Salimar scans the red flow and gets an impression of life here and there -- not as if the sand were alive, but as if there were things living in it. There's nothign alive in our bucket. Thank heaven. She retrocogs the sand-river, and we are now quite sure it's flowing, for we see it flow backward at high speed in her vision.
We examine the pillars at the ends of the bridge. They end in prongs, like worn-down fingers. The weathering has almost effaced some inscriptions, but Tom thinks the script looks like Lapidian or Chyoxan, languages he learned long ago and far away.
As we float over the sand-river, Tom pours our sample bucket back. Markel tries parting the river with TK and produces a fun little wake in the sand. He looks ahead, at the mountain at the other end of the road. Could the sparkling at the base be a city?
Markel and Kate dowse, and agree that our goal is straight ahead. Our goal is looking more and more like a dark-walled city with domes rising from it, and with sparkles here and there, situated at the base of the mountain. Markel detects motion on the road in front of the city, and directs our attention to it.
Somehow, the road seems "funny." We can't tell what's passed over it; the sand prevents the identification of tracks or prints. Salimar pulls out the Map of Here. It contains no surprises: we're here, there's the river, the city, this road, and other roads. There's even a road beyond the red streak. The red streak itself is there, getting wider and wider, and fainter and fainter, until it fades into nothing. There are a few, old dimensional anomalies around, a couple at the far side of the bridge, and a couple near the city. They aren't uniform and (of course) they are not identified.
We sail on. As we get closer to the city, the anomaly becomes clearer as we watch beasts of burden approach the city. There appears to be a tunnel, made of tents over the road, that goes right up to the city entrance. The tents are simple panels of cloth (in assorted colors) that go up, over with a slight peak in the middle, then down again. As we get closer, we can see that the walls and towers are lightly manned, and we can't see any obvious weaponry or detect any unobvious stuff. The city entrance beyond the tent-tunnel is a single, large gate; there are other, smaller gates here and there in the surrounding wall.
Robbie pops out an eye, and sends it forward to examine the tunnel. It's just what it looks like: a large, covered bridge made of cloth over nothing but dirt. The fabric is of different covers, some done in stripes, with textural variations. Salimar is unable to detect any dimensional abnormalities. Markel examines the walls again, and notes that there are fewer people on the walls and towers now. There are some birds in flight, but none of them appear to be directly over the city. Hmm. Robbie sends his eye forward, but it winks out as he gets closer to the gate. Salimar tries a third sight, but that too ends before the end of the tent-tunnel.
We continue to move forward. There's now only one guard on one tower, but definitely there are some people in that city. Robbie tries a high eye, but that one disappears even sooner that the one through the tents did. We're now only ten or fifteen minutes away from it. The last guard is now gone; we watched him move down to get out of sight, so we suppose he walked down stairs, or maybe even a ladder, to leave the tower.
Kate remarks that it is really hot. If even Kate can consider it hot, it must be very hot indeed.
Gannar maneuvers the Pudgy Budgie to a perfect landing in from of the tents. It's even hotter here on the ground. The sun, however, is finally past its peak, so perhaps it will eventually start to cool off. We eye the city speculatively, and check on Daphne in the autodoc. She's still in the recovery process, we are informed. We eat, and check the Map of Here again. We notice that our pantope forms a streak across the Map. We think that's odd, and go belowdecks to check it out. It's hotter than usual down there, as is the inside of the pantope. We come back upstairs, and mulling buzzes across the net.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.