Part 73c - The long road.   Posted by Dworkin.Group: 0
Dworkin
 GM, 3951 posts
 Renegade Lord of Chaos,
 creator of the Pattern...
Sun 16 Feb 2014
at 15:36
Re: Part 73 - The long road
James' voice seems to strike something in Harbonah.  Perhaps it is the man's knowledge of command and the giving of orders, but some element seems to break through the Archon's confusion, and the burning wheel stops its erratic movements.

+ SO MUCH  PAIN.  SO MUCH FEAR.  THE... BEAST FEEDS UPON US.  DEVOURS US.  ALL THAT WE WERE IS GONE.  SAVE ONLY THE PAIN AND THE FEAR. +

And then, howling, he launches himself skywards.  At least he seems to retain enough control to avoid hitting anything on the way up.

"Well, that was... odd.  Do you think he was talking about these spirits that you mentioned?"  Malkia moves closer to the bones, and sniffs delicately at the air above them.  Then raises her head to test the air in general.

"I detect nothing, not even the scent of decaying meat.  These bones have been here a long time, Jim, and have been well cleaned."

"The woman is waking."

Berd
 player, 945 posts
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Mon 17 Feb 2014
at 12:35
Re: Part 73 - The long road
Confused, Berd reaches out with his mind, seeking after the vanishing Archon.  Well, one of his minds.  The hydra-mind continues to gently seek to open communication with the mass of spiritual echoes surrounding them, while continuing to protect the group as best it can.

Beast.  What beast?  It seems evident Harbonah speaks for the spirits themselves, for Berd has no sense of an actual attack upon the Archon, and his words dovetail well with the sensations that overwhelmed Cyan.  Is it possible these bones are not those of a burial, but rather the discards of a predator, one of a singular nature?  One which feeds upon not merely the flesh, but the spirit?

Groaning, Cyan fumbles about - a dangerous proposition around danioti and clutches at her forehead.
Malkia
 Player, 3 posts
Tue 18 Feb 2014
at 11:32
Re: Part 73 - The long road
One massive paw extends, and claws like vicious curved knives serve as a gaff to gently extract a femur from the mass of bones.  "Very clean." Malkia opines, "I don't even smell marrow."
Berd
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Mon 24 Feb 2014
at 15:07
Re: Part 73 - The long road
Harbonah's powerful mind, open to seeking sensations in the area...Cyan's own mind, open as well, especially due to use of the palenquet.  Is it possible that they, of those here, had sufficient sensitivity and lack of defenses at that time the that feelings of the spirits have overwhelmed them?

Harbonah, Berd surmises, might well be totally unaccustomed to such things.

Malkia...please reposition the bone in its resting place when you have finished your examinations.  Something terrible happened here, and the remnants of the spirits of those who fell have grown agitated at our presence.

Part of his mind wings high, seeking out Harbonah.  Lord Harbonah.  Speak to me.  I would hear your thoughts.  He could offer to assist, and will, but to do so early might spike the pride or defenses of such a being.  I have determined no danger exists...only old pain.  Please, Lord Harbonah, assist me in understand what transpires.

Perhaps a request for aid of his own might open a door for communication between Berd and the master of the Seraphim.

Below, another mind of the hydra opens to the space surrounding him, waves of sorrowful comfort flowing forth from it.  Softly, spirits.  I am here.  I hear your pain.  I feel it.  The thoughts come more as concepts rather than language, the diminished entities possibly beyond more complicated sendings.  No harm.  Help.  I would help you.  Calm, and come to me.

Taking a risk, that portion of the hydra-mind opens to the spirits, letting forth Berd's inner spirit - lazy and greedy for food is his surface, nothing more.  Beeath that lies a depth of compassion and care, with no anger to drive the spiritual echoes into terror once again.  The hydra-mind is vulnerable here, for a moment, but it holds the way into the bridging barred, to keep safe those who have chosen to link with it.

It could be dangerous, but if Cyan could weather the assault without injury, Berd feels his own, stronger mind should be able to manage even if the spirits throw themselves into it.

It will not, however, be pleasant.
James
 player, 987 posts
 This thing's to do
 Hamlet (IV, iv)
Tue 25 Feb 2014
at 06:53
Re: Part 73 - The long road
"That's good to know, Malkia."  Berd is right about the bone, of course, but there is no need to offend Malkia by repeating the little dragon's  request.

James briefly wonders whether it is possible to extract the marrow without damaging the bone or whether it is simply a matter of the marrow degrading over time, but it doesn't seem immediately relevant so he turns his mind to other things.

Crouching beside Cyan, James rests a hand on her shoulder.  "Cyan, it's okay.  Just lie still for a moment."  James is confident enough of the danioti's skill and speed that he's not concerned Cyan will be injured by some accidental collision but James judges that it would be better for Cyan, and for Berd's attempts at appeasement, for her to rest.
Dworkin
 GM, 3957 posts
 Renegade Lord of Chaos,
 creator of the Pattern...
Tue 25 Feb 2014
at 23:02
Re: Part 73 - The long road
Malkia uses a paw to flip the bone back into the pit.  "Spirits you say?  Interesting.  Rarely deal with spirits myself, other than those of prey, which must be thanked, and informed of the honour of their death."

Cyan's eyes are open now, but she follows James' instruction and lays still.  She appears confused. 

High above, Harbonah starts to descend, his course wavering and erratic...
Cyan
 player, 5436 posts
 Forged of dust,
 sunlight, and tears
Fri 28 Feb 2014
at 12:10
Re: Part 73 - The long road
"What...where?"  Utterly confounded, Cyan stares up at James, her eyes wide and an odd shade of pale amethyst.  Almost colourless, in fact.  But they begin to darken almost immediately, and she places one cold hand atop his own.  "Is anyone injured?" is her first, worried question.  "Are you well, James?  I know not what has passed - how long have I been unconscious?  I felt fear.  Terror, even.  But not my own, I think."

At least James has arrived safely; it seems she succeeded before being struck down.

Harbonah returns, Berd announces, but only to the group.  Join us, but quietly, Lord Harbonah.  These spirits are easily frightened by any disturbance of the bones, and possibly by the appearance of strangers as well.  I would know what has transpired here, to better understand what I must do to aid them.

Another mind carefully studies the spirits, even as a third bespeaks them - calmly, quietly, and with respect.  No harm, Berd repeats.  I would help you, if I can.  I must understand, first.  Why are you here?  What has happened?  Are you trapped, that I might free you?  Is this your resting place we have disturbed, that we might leave it in peace?  Will you speak?  Can you speak? 

Even as he asks the questions, the mind observing the spirits begins to seek further.  It searches for answers - tethers holding them, echoes in their substance of what has taken place, reasons for their fear.
Dworkin
 GM, 3958 posts
 Renegade Lord of Chaos,
 creator of the Pattern...
Sat 1 Mar 2014
at 16:18
Re: Part 73 - The long road
As Harbonah moves lower, he diminishes in size, and fades considerably.  By the time he is describing a wavering circle around the bones, and no more than four feet above the ground, he would sit comfortably in James' hand (comfortably for him ċerhaps, not James - the Archon, while much dimmer than usual is stillember-hot).

His voice, even over the link is quieter than usual.  + THAT WAS UNPLEASANT.  A SENSATION WITH WHICH WE ARE UNFAMILIAR.  OR RATHER, THAT IS TO SAY WE HAVE EXPERIENCED FEAR, BUT ONLY IN THOSE WE HAVE ENCOUNTERED.  NEVER BEFORE IN OURSELVES.  IT ROBBED US OF ALL CONTROL. +

The Archon sounds almost ashamed...
Berd
 player, 948 posts
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Tue 4 Mar 2014
at 18:01
Re: Part 73 - The long road
"Fear," Cyan hoarsely whispers.  "'Unpleasant'.  Well put, Lord Harbonah.  Indeed, it robs control - not only from you, but from all who experience it.  Also dignity.  Self-respect.  Resisting it is a most difficult task.  It is a mechanism for self-preservation, but like many feelings, when it grows past a certain point it becomes destruction."

She shakes her head.  "Living in fear...there is little worse."

His shame...is it from his own actions here?  Or the fear he engendered in others?

Or his lack of understanding until now?

They were slain, Berd whispers over the link. Lured here by a predator, a being that consumed their blood and marrow.  In death, their spirits became anchored to their bones.  Trapped.

They cannot continue on.

Small wonder they know such terror - they died in appalling pain, in utter horror, and now face an eternity of such.

Feel their fear and know this is not right.


His own spirit reaches out to enfold the surrounding echoes as best he can.  I am here, now.  I will help.  You need not remain trapped here, locked in this horror.  I will free you, that you may move on.

And I will see to it that this does not happen again.


Deep within his slow, heavy sorrow at their plight, there burns a bright flame of anger for this crime.

Calm yourselves.  Come to me.  I will seek an answer to this, a way to unlock your prison.

One of his minds breaks off the others, beginning an in-depth examination of the spirits to determine how to unravel their bonds without harming them.  It may be impossible.  But Berd has determined to try.
Dworkin
 GM, 3960 posts
 Renegade Lord of Chaos,
 creator of the Pattern...
Tue 4 Mar 2014
at 22:39
Re: Part 73 - The long road
As Berd seeks more information, Harbonah, the habits of his life hard to break, commands the Archons to spread out through the forest and keep watch for potential danger.  There is some hesitance to comply with his order.  Only when Left issues a curt + DO IT! + do they wheel away through the trees...


One of the Archons comes spinning out of the darkness beneath the trees and stops before Left.  + TWO HUMANS APPROACH.  MALE AND FEMALE.  THE FEMALE IS... STRANGE. +
Berd
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Mon 10 Mar 2014
at 12:31
Re: Part 73 - The long road
Part of Berd continues to study the spirits, deeply concerned.  While releasing them from the force binding them here will allow them to move on - even if that proves possible - they might not wish to do so.  They are attached to this place in a way difficult to describe.

Another part of him continues to bespeak the spirits.  Tell me more.  Speak to me of what happened to you.  Show me.  Let me know and understand you.  If he can see...if he can understand the finer details...perhaps it might prove possible to fully free them from the shackles binding them here.

The rest of him shifts to full alert.

No hostile moves.  The beings who approach exceed us in power.  They are old, and tremendously potent.  I had not thought to meet something of this strength...here.

They may be those responsible for this horror.  If so, I am uncertain what we might do to aid the spirits.  Flight may be our only recourse.


He maintains his present shielding and shrouding about those who have joined the bridging, but does nothing further.  Panicked attempts to bolster defenses may only indicate weakness to those who come; it's better to remain a mystery, that they might approach in cautious curiosity, themselves.

Though why they would feel caution, Berd is unsure.  There are beings in this vast multiverse of Myriad Worlds, he has discovered, of great antiquity.  Things of terrible power and age.  He has met some.  Seen others.  Seen the passage of more of them, and the echoes of that passage.  The Lords of Order and Chaos believe they stand upon the pinnacle; Berd knows they are wrong.  They are young, by comparison.  Young, and terribly limited for all their pride.  And now, two more of these elder beings approach.  The weight of their might is heavy upon his senses, and an idle thought drifts through the drake's head; at his greatest, eons ago in another...place, they might have proved difficult to overcome.

It doesn't bode well for the current situation.
Dworkin
 GM, 3961 posts
 Renegade Lord of Chaos,
 creator of the Pattern...
Tue 11 Mar 2014
at 10:20
Re: Part 73 - The long road
Minutes pass, and two figures step out of the forest.  The woman's face is stern, and her eyes burn with anger.  The man... the man sways, unsteady on his feet, and his eyes are glazed.  His mouth hangs open, slack jawed and drooling. 


The woman stops as she catches sight of the group near the bone pit, and her mouth twists into a snarl which shows unusually sharp canines, "This is my feeding place.  Why are you here?  Leave now."

This message was last edited by the GM at 19:38, Tue 11 Mar 2014.

Berd
 player, 950 posts
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Tue 11 Mar 2014
at 16:42
Re: Part 73 - The long road
Behind his defenses, Berd shudders.

The 'woman''s power is immense.  Merely the aura of her arrival has put pressure upon his spiritual defenses, such that he must expend effort to keep them in place.  It doesn't bode well, since the creature has yet to actually take action.

And yet.

She doesn't know them.  She might even be surprised at their presence.  That she arrived with prey in-hand may indicate they have caught her off her guard.  For all her power, she may not be as capable as Berd himself at ferreting out information.

A lot of 'mays'.  He doesn't like that part.  But it 'may' be the only chance they have - lack of knowledge, even in a being of such might, could lead to a more cautious approach.

He disdains the Underflow at present.  If the being has no knowledge of such a place, Berd does not wish to alert her.  Instead, still secure behind his shrouding, the drake sends out his requests.  Join your minds with my own for defense.  Let all hold this aegis as one.  Keeping this creature from knowing our true nature, keeping her from breaching our defenses, might be our only true weapon - failure leads to fear, fear might lead to retreat.

Lips thin, eyes a too-pale sapphire, Cyan slowly climbs to her feet, one hand on James' shoulder.  I am here, father.  And James holds the Deathiron.  Its edge cuts magic and power as easily as it does steel, and its blows cannot be ignored.

Part of Berd reaches out.  Carefully, cautious, it begins to slowly take up the reins of control of this world, seeking to hold mastery of its laws and environment.  But under stealth.

"We are travellers," Cyan states, leaving Berd seated where he is.  An alien lizard, nothing more...or so she hopes.  "We came upon this, all unknowing.  Who are you?"

This message was lightly edited by the player at 12:24, Wed 12 Mar 2014.

Dworkin
 GM, 3965 posts
 Renegade Lord of Chaos,
 creator of the Pattern...
Tue 11 Mar 2014
at 19:36
Re: Part 73 - The long road
"I am... " and an ear shattering vibrato shriek, "I am the Hunter of this Land, from Western Strait to Grass Sea, from Bay of Ice in the north to Stone Wall in the south.  I have held title to it since my parent passed over, one hundred centuries ago, and my line has held title, by Right of Conquest and Decree of Peace, for a hundred times that."

"This is my feeding place, and you are not welcome here.  You interrupt my meal."

James
 player, 988 posts
 This thing's to do
 Hamlet (IV, iv)
Thu 13 Mar 2014
at 03:56
Re: Part 73 - The long road
James grits his teeth against the impact of the Hunter's proclamation.  He is already linked to the bridging and is as committed to its defence as his faculties allow.

In light of Berd's estimation of the Hunter's power, James quickly reviews the available resources.  He has the Pattern but he's loath to bring it fully to mind as he's not sure how the Archons in the bridging would respond; his armour is here but not on, it would be of little assistance against a creature of this power anyway; Deathiron, as Cyan notes, is a powerful tool and likely the best chance James has if he can close with the creature before it recognises the threat.

And for all that, James struggles not to simply say, 'Hello, Constance'.  Grand titles and claims to authority always left James a little cold.

"As my friend says, we are travellers.  We do not know of your Right of Conquest or Decree of Peace but neither do we have any reason to doubt them.  Our concern is that the spirits of your previous...meals are trapped here.  If that is not your intent, then it may be possible for us to free them and leave you in peace." Malkia, at least, would probably defer to a stronger predator's claim to territory.

If it is her intent, we may have a problem. James observes dryly to those in the bridging.  Those are the two I met at the hotel.  Constance and Burton Latimer.  Poor Burton was rather more talkative the last time I saw him.
Dworkin
 GM, 3967 posts
 Renegade Lord of Chaos,
 creator of the Pattern...
Thu 13 Mar 2014
at 15:09
Re: Part 73 - The long road
The woman turns her head to regard James, "I saw you at the hotel, and then you were gone.  You are not from here.  In fact I am not sure what you are, or where you come from."

"I don't understand what you mean by spirits.  I take the flesh and blood and leave the bone, which I can not consume.  I have... wait... "

She cocks her head to one side, "One of you tried to change the toka-ka-ri of my feeding place.  Why?  Do you challenge me?  Here, where I am at my strongest?" 

A hand extends, one finger pointed, and she sweeps it in an arc, pausing for an instant at each of the individuals facing her, until it reaches Berd.  "There."

Then the same finger indicates Banglen-Yp, though the eyes are  fixed on Berd, "That one is like me, in a way." then flicks to Malkia, "And that one."

"Would you enter their feeding places and challenge them regarding what they eat?"


"They had better not bloody try." mutters the lioness.
Cyan
 player, 5444 posts
 Forged of dust,
 sunlight, and tears
Thu 13 Mar 2014
at 17:31
Re: Part 73 - The long road
Berd sits up straighter and stares back at the woman.  So much for any advantage he might have had.  His control over the world around them has rendered useless; much like he, himself can do through access to the Underflow, the woman has solidified the area.

He can no long twist it to his will.  Disconcerting, to say the least.

Terrifying, in fact.

"There is no challenge," Cyan quietly states, stepping slightly away from James.  "But the spirits of the people - their souls, their essence - they remain, locked in a cycle of pain and fear.  They suffer, here, linked to this place.  We seek to free them."

Problem: free them they might, but the creature will continue to consume.

Constance.  Well-pleased am I you avoided her, James.  I know not what to do about her.  Her power here is significant, Cyan notes through the bridgingBeyond Berd's own, at present.  And though my father has yet to reach into the Underflow, it's doubtful that would prove sufficient.
Dworkin
 GM, 3968 posts
 Renegade Lord of Chaos,
 creator of the Pattern...
Tue 18 Mar 2014
at 17:00
Re: Part 73 - The long road
"As I have said, I know nothing of these spirits.  I feed at the appointed times each year, on every equinox, and leave the stripped bones here so that others of my kind will not try to claim my territory." Constance, to give her a more pronounceable name, stands straighter, drawing herself up to her full height, "I do nothing more than this.  I am not some vile defiler of the dead, and I would not dishonour those I feed upon."

"How many of your kind are there," Malkia rumbles, "that you feel you must guard your territory so  dilligently?"

"Since the Decree of Peace, we have controlled our numbers most carefully to avoid destroying our food supply.  At present there are about one million of us in this world."

"One million?"

"It is carefully controlled.  Our food outnumber us by a hundred times that."
Dworkin
 GM, 3970 posts
 Renegade Lord of Chaos,
 creator of the Pattern...
Sun 23 Mar 2014
at 15:10
Re: Part 73 - The long road
She steps forward, to the very edge of the pit.  The man with her stays were he is, still looking dazed, and swaying slightly.

"Glad I am that you do not challenge me on my own territory, where I am at my strongest." again the emphasis on her own strength, "And it is my territory.  This is my home.  My people were building cities here, formulating laws, like the Decree of Peace, creating art, writing literature... while these humans, our prey, were still daubing themselves with mud and the blood of other creatures and endeavouring to discover the secret of creating fire, rather than waiting for lightning to strike a tree."

A pause for that to sink in, then, "They are our food, and always have been.  We guided them, bred them much as they breed cattle to improve the stock.  We culled the weak, and ensured that choice bloodlines mingled.  And we controlled their civilisation, so that they learned how to better tend to themselves - so that they would know how to farm their own food, and create their own medicines, and the devices that make their lives better."
James
 player, 989 posts
 This thing's to do
 Hamlet (IV, iv)
Mon 24 Mar 2014
at 09:13
Re: Part 73 - The long road
Every equinox.  So two a year then, assuming Earth-normal solar activity.  Not so many, perhaps, but multiplied by a million?  That was quite a spike in 'missing persons' if the others kept to a similar feeding pattern.

Really, though, there was little to be done.  Burton had been a hunter, now he was the prey.  As much as James found it distasteful, there were certain parallels.

"If I may, I have a proposal.  We will leave now so you may feed in peace.  but we will return once you are finished and see what may be done for the spirits of the deceased.  To honour the dead, if you like."

"I believe that we can do what needs to be done without disturbing the bones and we would, in any case, not do anything to challenge your rights.  You may, of course, stay, if you wish, to ensure we don't accidentally transgress."


Across the bridging, James adds With an ounce of luck we might even teach her how it's done, for that's surely the only hope we have of making a broader difference here.  It would take years just to find the other feeding grounds.
Cyan
 player, 5447 posts
 Forged of dust,
 sunlight, and tears
Mon 24 Mar 2014
at 14:00
Re: Part 73 - The long road
Cyan listens in silence as James makes his proposal.  This isn't their world.  This isn't their business.  This is predator and prey.  Do they have the right to interfere?  Possibly.  Certainly they have the right to try to help deal with the fallout from the creature's predation.

But they cannot stop this, that is certain.

Agreed, James.  Loathe am I to admit it.  I despise this sort of predation, but here it is nature.  Setting aside our lack of capacity to challenge these beings, it is the way of things in this world.

I yearn for worlds where living, thinking beings do not prey upon one another, do not raise one another for foodsources.  Do not keep one another in slavery.  And yet, so few have chosen this path.

I can only strive for something higher.
  A mental sigh echoes over the bridging.

"It is good that you have...cared...for these people, in your own way," she carefully notes.  "But their spirits suffer after death.  We can show you this suffering, should you desire, or should you not believe.  It is a simple matter.  After this, we would, as James states, do what we can to alleviate their pain."

The woman seems fixated upon the idea of strength and territory.  To hold, even against her own kind, presumably?  This reminds her of the Jaghut, after a fashion.

We cannot allow them to become cognizant of methods of travel to other worlds, Cyan warns.
Dworkin
 GM, 3971 posts
 Renegade Lord of Chaos,
 creator of the Pattern...
Tue 25 Mar 2014
at 13:20
Re: Part 73 - The long road
"We know nothing of these spirits." Constance affirms, her face a mask of confusion, "These humans are our food, and have been for so long that some of us have speculated that we no longer have the ability to feed on anything else.  Still we care for them, as any wise farmer cares for his stock, so if you believe that you can improve their existence in some way, then I am prepared to listen to you."

Then her voice hardens again, "Know, though, that I will brook nothing that lessens my own hold on this land.  If I sense anything that makes me weaker, or taints the land or its people, then I will stop you."

Malkia clears her throat with a low growl, "Perhaps I can explain?  I, too, am a predator.  When I hunt, I honour my prey.  I tell it who I am, and why it must die to provide me with sustenance.  I tell it that it will live in my memory, and that by dying it has saved the life of another of its kind.  And I treat it with respect."

"I believe that is what Jim is proposing to show you.  It should not affect your control of this place."

Berd
 player, 952 posts
 Remove the candle,
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Thu 27 Mar 2014
at 17:55
Re: Part 73 - The long road
Cyan stays out of the conversation for the moment, aside from her brief interjection.  Too many people speaking at once will only frustrate the being.  For now, it's showing remarkable forebearance for a predator whose territory has been invaded, and seems willing to listen.

She doesn't want to spoil that.

After Malkia, though, Berd feels it appropriate to break in.  I am Berd, he politely offers, separating the bridging into another mind.  James - Jim, as he is named by the predator who just spoke - may speak more upon honoring and releasing the dead.  But if you cannot see the spirits, if you cannot experience them, why would you listen or believe us?

I can show you.

There is no threat.  You would remain in control.  I would merely offer you what I see, what I feel.  What the spirits see and feel as well - filtered, at first.  It can be shocking, and I would not have you believe I was attempting an attack.

But if you wish understanding of their spirits, this is the path.  I am willing to show it to you.

This message was last edited by the player at 12:33, Mon 31 Mar 2014.

Dworkin
 GM, 3974 posts
 Renegade Lord of Chaos,
 creator of the Pattern...
Sun 30 Mar 2014
at 20:53
Re: Part 73 - The long road
"It does not matter whether or not I believe in these spirits, only that you believe in them.  If listening to you will cause you to leave me in peace, then that is a better solution than a possibly injurious combat.  We could fight here and now, and I would win.  I can taste that victory.  But it would be a hollow one if, as a result, I was wounded to such an extent that I would lose this place to a challenger."

The woman tilts her head back, staring up at the canopy of leaves, and at the stars which occasionally break through the gaps in it.

"This place is mine, but only while I have the strength to hold it.  That is the full extent of the law.  The Decree of Peace says that I have claim to my territory, but another can challenge, and we would have to do battle in one of the appointed places.  The winner would keep this territory, the loser would be consumed."

Then she sighs, and asks, "Are you from one of those stars?  Or somewhere else?  You do not come from this world.  Once, long ago, we travelled to other worlds, and found humans on many of them.  At least they looked human, but we could not feed on them.  Are you from one of those worlds?"
James
 player, 990 posts
 This thing's to do
 Hamlet (IV, iv)
Wed 2 Apr 2014
at 02:23
Re: Part 73 - The long road
James affirms Cyan's warning with a brief I agree before turning his attention back to the conversation now ranging between Malkia, the woman and Berd.  The woman's explanation of the Decree of Peace and of past travels to other worlds is interesting enough but what matters to James is that the deal appears to be done.

"Somewhere else - that's the simplest answer anyway.  It might be one of those stars, one of those worlds but I doubt it.  I don't have any star map that would identify my home world relative to this place."

"You won't find any starship tucked off in the woods if that's what you're thinking."

"We'll leave now.  How long would you like us to give you?"