Carrad and his helpers removed a blocking grey pillar and pushed open the basement door. The ancient stone moved back reluctantly under their pressure and as it cleared the threshold angled downward suddenly with a groaning creak. Astonished, they looked silently It was held aloft by only one high stone hinge. As it swung wide he could see the damage in detail in his lamplight... interesting... He ran his fingers over the dents, small deep batterings, and tiny chisel marks, like corona sparks in the carved stone stars. Something or somethings had tried hard to get through here, many years ago. So there was something to the legend. He called to his assistants to get the maintainer suits. There was probably an age linked through here. This was the Writer’s house. It must be.
This was a part of D’ni neglected until now. Old records said that this had once been a good neighborhood, somewhat separated from the rest. At some point a Writer Guildsman had gone missing. Shortly thereafter the neighborhood developed the reputation of being haunted by short strange, violent beasts seeking frozen dairy products. The maintainers sought their lair, but after several of their number simply didn't return they contained and blocked off the area. The Writer’s ages they found had been placed in an early common library and that had been the end of the tale. Atrus had been inclined to dismiss the stories. No dangerous creatures from other ages had been sighted when they first scouted the sector and a large pre-fall crack in the cavern wall they did find would have been reason enough to evacuate. Even the D’ni could be superstitious sometimes...
Only now, on this whimsical return to this ancient sector, was anything revealed.
Although heavy dust overlaid every step, Carrad felt cautious. He set armored guard over the cellar entrance while they ate lunch, reviewed the ancient records, and then prepared to descend. He sent a dispatch back to the main city area. Young Jiladis was ordered to keep guard at the top. As a last precaution the pillar was balanced on a pulley, which would allow Jiladis to close the accessway again if worst came to worst.
Armed and armored,the small group descended into the old tunnel basement.
Quietly Carrad led the way, shining marble light into old green stains and bird leavings. Frozen desert sticks lay scattered in chewed pieces everywhere, brown splinters against the dirtied cellar’s marble floor. A musty sweet smell came from an emptied, overturned ice chest. Broken tables, chairs and plates marked the place of a riotous feast. A few black, oily feathers lay scattered about. The D’nians spread out taking careful note of what they saw. Could birds really do this much damage?
It was Bahkh’rahm who spotted the descriptive book, where it was balanced on a crude short stool. Carrad examined the age’s phrases, while Bahkh and his brother Glas’gehdee examined the tunnel that stretched ahead. They returned quickly. There were no other exits, a nara plug ended the tunnel less than 20 feet beyond. The creatures must have come through the book. Glas had found the writer’s linking book in the wreckage of the owners wine rack.
There was no sign this age had ever been submitted for the guilds review. Not usually a good sign, but according to the historical accounts, Gahro-kahzee was an excellent writer, just a bit ..circuitous.. in his reasoning. No apparent contradictions met Carrad’s eyes, though writer’s choices were unusual. It was a frosty world surely, but not beyond habitation. He looked at the window of the linking book. It had a purple sky? This reminded him of the experimental descriptive books Atrus had shown him long ago. So, this was an early D’ni researcher. The question was, what was he studying?
The moment of truth had come. There was an age here. It wasn’t likely there would be survivors. If there were, they would know nothing of the fall of D’ni. But the missing people mentioned, made him hesitate to put it aside. They might have descendants. Carrad sighed. A hard choice, should he risk his small team on so slim a chance? Even as he put the question to himself, he knew what he was going to do. He nodded at Bahkh. Bakh helped him finish the suit preparations and seal the mask. He reached out and touched the panel....
An arctic vista strewn with varied debris stretched out before Glas. The glorious purple sunset reflected upon the endless frozen wasteland. He drank in its severe beauty, absorbing the brisk, faint scents of wet birds, old fish, less unidentifiable things painfully into his lungs, carried as they were by continual bitter winds.
The linking area was in a sheltered place at the foot of an unbroken cliff on the sparkling white frosty sand beach that ran to a partially frozen shoreline half a mile east of him . Both features ran as far as the eye could see north and south.
The shoreline of this Age held skeletons large and small. A huge dragon-like beast had been devoured where it fell. The marks of the feed still visible in the sand. Waddling footprints showed who the devourers were, a piece of flapping hide revealed that the Dragon had once had been Neapolitan-striped. Poor thing. Further on, a whark -like creature had died of indigestion, its belly still filled with a thousand inflated plastic penguins. Its great eye rolled up heaven-ward in a perpetual cry for Pepto-Bismol. What a horrible way to go. Glas noted the techniques of these destructive polluters, making some plans for defense should it be required.
Looking back he could see the others in the search party mapping out the wreckage. The Writer had set up an outpost on the other side of the link. This where they had found what remained of the D’ni researcher, Gahro-kahzee. He had been buried in his own food preserver. No sign of any other D’ni was found within the camp itself.
Carrad set himself to study Kahzee’s journals. They described the antics of silly black and white birds over a period of several years. It seems they clustered in here at roughly regular intervals, apparently following some odd migratory pattern of their own. Carrad estimated they had about two months until their next return judging from the the signs. Nevertheless he set guard duties to everyone, including himself.
The most useful discovery came when blubber ink blotches on stone slates had turned out to be records from the penguins themselves! The records where a useful insight into the unstable minds of the creatures.
It seems that after breaking into D’ni, the penguins had attempted to teach themselves the D’ni tongue in the vain hope they could use the Art to recreate ice cream in their own Age. (They had used a regular rehevkor and so had been unable to do any real harm.) A sort of penguins’ alchemist guild had been formed, whose sole purpose was to learn to turn ice, limestone, chalk dust, and any other ice-cream looking substance into ice cream. (a few of the efforts were quite disgusting, as they involved white bird excretions...
In Kahzee’s later writings were the strange temporal/spatial fluctuations of the Age around cavernous openings in the cliff ledge that stretched westward. The ledges were formed like giant step-stones up the cliff to the Great Caverns just visible in the twilight. It was the regular influx of moisture, plants, and animals from elsewhere that gave this Age its great viability. A frosty haze billowed from nearby cliffs into the atmosphere making instant clouds, significantly warming the encampment. Kahzee had wanted to account for its existance before submitting his age, fearing that it might cause his work to be deemed unstable if a suitable theory could not prove otherwise.
Gahro-kahzee had been attempting to form a theoretical framework to account for this phenomena’s variables when the semi-sentient natives had suddenly turned on their benefactor and devoured him in the mistaken belief this would give them power to turn ice into ice cream. A make shift ice cream totem had been erected by the rabid creatures on the spot, as a memorial to Kahzee. A more conscientious sub-group had adopted a variety of D’ni beliefs and now sang hymns to the Great Spirit of the Maker of all Ice Cream. They thanked Kahzee for his great gifts and asked him to forgive their foolish actions and bring more. A warrior class had decided upon a more pragmatic approach to achieving their desires.
Upon discovering the linking book, a party of rabid, ice-cream eating penguins had fought their way into the cavern with orders to bring back the ice cream makers. It was then that the Maintainers had become alerted to the danger and drove them back, but without recovering the captives.
Upon linking, the D’ni captives had fought their way free and into the caverns. The penguins had been unable to follow. Octarine blasts of fire, and the charred embers of barbequed birds marked the retreat of these intrepid, impromptu explorers.
Bahkh led the team that scaled the cliff to the great cavern. Passing through the chill steam fogged goggles and dampened clothes. They were reduced at last to holding the sides of the limestone cave as they pressed forward. At last, just as their vision equipment adjusted. Bahkh shouted, “Look!” For fire marble lamps lit the blue threads that had been left as a trail in the interior passages. Through room after gorgeous room the search party moved. The frost of the penguin Age gave imperceptible way to the shining crystals of limestone at they moved further in and down.
A large expanse suddenly opened before them. It was a quiet space, an area of calm and dark with white lines upon every available rock surface. Here at last were signs of habitation. There were old recliners and velvet chairs, an old woven rug of intricate design, and a capacious, comfy couch that managed to give the impression it was watching them. This central area was by far the most stable. The walls would sometimes quietly replace themselves with vistas of shorelines, forests, office buildings, and even odder worlds. These would swim into view, focus, and fade. Leaving only a few white lines upon the black rock to mark its passing.
This was the heart of Chat space.
Glas moved about gathering all sorts of tidbits, some were quite recent. There were scraps of poems (quite excellent ones by the look of them), a faded bit of cloth with “wiz..” on it in sequins, a collection of runic scrolls and talismans, and many other lesss easily identified bits. The remains of old meals were visible on the back wall. Bahkh found a bag with D’ni on it. It said “eat at Cho’s.”
Toward the back a green doorway flashed in and out existence. So this is how they came? Bahkh settled in quietly to await the return of the denizens of this strange place. It shouldnt be long.