Wake of Kerberos - Chapter 10

One of the most respected forms of magic was known as Folding. It was, simply put, the art of bending space so that more of it would be in one place and less of it in another. Most Folding spells were actually low-powered versions of a spell written long before the age of man: the world itself was shaped by a Folding spell of the highest order, giving it a spherical shape even though it had originally been flat. The world spell was often used as hard evidence by theologians to argue the existence of benign gods.

In point of fact, Folding magic itself seemed to be inherently benign, by itself. A countless number of people had tried to use Folding magic for war and had been throughly disappointed by its direct application- the magic itself stubbornly refused to Fold living creatures or hurt them in any way. Anything living caught in the midst of a folding spell would simply be squeezed out of it, and anything held within a Fold could walk right out, given that it could find the edges of the Fold. This failsafe was probably integrated into the depths of Folding magic's sourcecode, but because Folding magic was written in a divine tongue, it was impossible for anyone to read any of it, much less decipher which bits did what. The whole magic seemed to be deeply interdependent, and any omission caused the entire spell to fail.

This meant that Folding magic was extremely difficult to duplicate (you had to have a complete spell to create a negative which would then be used to create new spells), but all the more valuable for it. People used Folding magic to store everything from food to ammunition to traps, and the priciest spells were sometimes used to create living quarters, called Tents.

It therefore came as a great surprise to Alex and Ani when they arrived at The Pale and found Mallory and Yaga setting up a Tent inside the hangar, right next to the sleeping cots. "Vuwhat ahre you doing?" demanded Ani.

"We decided that having this many males and females living together with this few cots simply wasn't going to work out." stated Mallory, looking up from the lower left corner of the spell. "So we're installing my Tent here, and I'll let the gals stay in here."

"Where did you get a Tent of that size?" asked Alex, stepping around the dumbfounded Ani. "That must be worth a small fortune."

"Not really, I got it a while back when they were cheaper. I had a smaller one with a few meurtrieres in it, but I traded it for this one, because I wasn't actually getting any use from them. They let the wind in too." Mal flicked her head around to get her hair out of her eyes. "Not quite as defensible as my old one, but this one allows me to carry all my stuff pretty easily and also house a few extra people."

"But... how did you get one in the first place?" asked Alex again, watching with interest as Mal finished anchoring the corner to the floor.

"Oh, I was issued my old one by Clear Skies. Chase and I used it during my training, and I was supposed to return it when we got back, but there was no one to return it to when we got back." Mal stood up and nodded to herself. "Ok, lets open the door up and make sure it'll stick. These things have a tendency to slide around, we definitely want it to stay put."

Mal tapped a semitransparent pane defined by the four corners she and Yaga had attached to the floor and ceiling. The pane rippled like liquid glass for a few seconds, and then hardened into a thin opaque crystal covered in spidery patterns. Mal tapped the same pattern again and then poked a few of the intersecting cracks in rapid succession. The was a crackling noise, and then a hiss as the pressure on the other side of the crystal was suddenly different. Mal smiled again and pushed firmly on the center of the crystal, shattering it into thousands of shards that reformed into a somewhat unsafe-looking entranceway. Viewed from the front it looked like a curiously jagged doorway into a cluttered wooden room, but view from the side it still looked like just the edge of a crystalline door.

"Ho, neat." Yaga poked her head into the space, checking out the room with wide eyes. "Mal, d'you mind if I throw my bedcloth in here?"

"Go ahead, there's a bunkbed just out of sight on the left of the door. Feel free to claim either of them, I've got my stuff piled on the bed that you can see in the far corner." Mal waved her hand nonchalantly and walked into the room with her bag over her shoulder. "Heck, you can dump your clothes in here too if you want, there's a fair bit of room underneath the bottom bunk."

"Whoo! Ani, you hear that! I get a place to dump my clothes that doesn't share with Angel parts!" Yaga practically skipped over to what was normally her bunk and scooped up a weathered-looking bag.

Ani watched Yaga and Mal move around for another minute in silent amazement before finally getting hold of herself again. [Unbelievable. Yaga, I want this ship ready for flight in ten minutes.]

"It should stick, no worries. And Ani, you can throw your bedding in here too, I don't mind." Mal grinned widely at the captain. "I get the feeling that the guys are going to be needing the room your stuff is taking up."

Ani sighed heavily, then nodded once before heading over to the cockpit. Alex followed her, chuckling to himself. Remembering suddenly why they were there, Alex called back to the others, "Hey guys. We've probably got three newcomers boarding soon, one female. So leave her some room."

"Ok, will do!" floated back the response.

Ixion looked up from his scrying mirrors when Ani and Alex got to the cabin, and pointed at a pulsating dot. [Ah, you found an entrance, excellent. How difficult will landing be?] Ani asked while sticking one foot in a control sheath.

Ixion made a clicking noise with his bottom lip and drew a few runes on his overhead mirror. The image shuddered violently for a moment and then changed to a serene picture of a desert landscape. The magical eye viewing the landscape began to drop quickly, revealing a chasm in the desert floor that snaked downwards for several hundred feet. Near the bottom of the chasm was a circular opening, obviously the remnants of a man-made tunnel.

[Damn. Unsurprising though, that's why we hired Chase.] The three in the cockpit turned around as they heard a loud clanging sound come from the hangar. [Huh. That was fast. Aex, could you get them settled in? Oh, and get Yaga up here, she needs to see this.]

"Yeah, no problem. What should I do if they have extra luggage." Alex waited for a response for a second and then decided that she probably didn't care, so he headed back to the hangar door, where Oak was introducing himself to Mal and Yaga. "Yaga, Ani wants you."

"Work work work..." muttered Yaga as she walked around Alex. "What's the big hurry, I should meet the new people..."

Alex smiled at her and she made a face back at him. Turning his attention back to Oak and his charges, Alex saw that they did not, in fact, have any extra luggage. Honestly speaking, they had remarkably little. "Wow Oak, taking that simplicity oath a bit far aren't you?"

"I'm a monk. We live simple even when we're not traveling, and these two are children of the times." Oak replied as he set his traveling pack down, the cooking gear inside clinking softly. "I doubt you carry much either."

"Nah, most of us here travel light, travel right." Alex shrugged as he intoned the old saying. "As long as I've got a few rations, my cloak, and my book I'm pretty happy."

"You never know much about the value of warm meals. No matter." Oak shifted his grip on his staff and turned to face the ramp again. "I'm going to go tell the administrators that we're leaving with you all. Be back in a minute."

"Sounds good. Uhm, have you two been introduced?" Alex scratched the back of his head, suddenly uncomfortable under the gaze of Guy and Stheno.

"Yes." said Stheno.

"But not to those not here." filled out Guy.

"Ah, well Ixion is up front and Sternum is probably working in the ribcage." Alex looked up at the towering figure of Chase, who was standing out of the way on the side. "But you've met me and Ani and Chase... oh Chase, that reminds me."

"Hmm?" rumbled Chase from the back of his throat.

"We're going to need you to set up ropes so that the team can descend into our target. Looks like a vertical drop of a few hundred feet. Do you have what you need for that?"

<Are all of us going down?> Chase asked and rubbed his chin with his thumb. <Because that'll make it tricky.>

"I'm pretty sure this is what Ani is planning to do: You, me, and the newcomers will descend and do the legwork, while the crew of the ship stay in the air, ready for evac. Because the entrance is in a chasm we will have to use physical ropes, trying to use the reclamation array will just get our head bashed in."

<Ok, I can do that.>

"Whoa, whoa, wait a minute!" Exclaimed Mal, sticking her head out of her tent, which she had been shoving Stheno into. "Not a good plan! Too many eggs in one basket, if you know what I mean."

"Huh?" asked Alex, confused.

"It's like this. Suppose the five of you go down. All it takes is one mistake and you're all dead." Mal swished her hand through the air, indicating decapitation. "It'd make more sense to have a forward team and then a followup team, besides the team in the air."

<She has a point.> agreed Chase. <Don't you use subgroups when you're exploring? I'm used to them, it's what most of my missions use.>

"Ehh... to be honest, I hadn't really thought about that. I don't deal with strategy much, I'm usually up front trying to decipher old languages." Alex looked at the floor, slightly embarrassed. "I bet Ani has considered that, we'll see what she says when we get there."

Further conversation was cut short by the revving of the ship's engines. Sternum stuck his head out of the ribcage for the first time and gestured at the ramp to Alex, indicating for him to close it. Startled, Alex grabbed his echo amulet and spoke quickly. "Hey Ani, don't take off quite yet, Oak isn't onboard."

The engines quieted slightly in response, and Alex began scanning the hangar for anything loose. Everything appeared to be relatively secure, and Guy and Stheno had found spots to sit for takeoff. There was a long minute of waiting before Oak returned, vaulting into the hangar with his staff.

"Ok, let's go." Oak said, slinging himself down beside Stheno and Mal.

Alex lifted up his amulet again. "Alright Captain, we have a full house, let's go."

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Something that has proved difficult when writing this story is figuring out how to describe the innards of The Pale without boring my audience to death, while still giving them a fairly decent idea. The ship is quite large and detailed (at least in my mind), and the addition of Folding magic makes it even more complex, so I've been trying to drop bits and pieces of description all over the place, but it can be pretty tricky.

Also trickier than expected is keeping the accents how I want. When I first visualized the crew, everyone quickly developed a wide range of quirks that took some time to sort out and harmonize. This includes accents and mannerisms- each character has their own way that they pronounce stuff, in addition to preferred sayings and styles. This is most highlighted by Ani, with her chaotic accent, and Chase, with his entirely different language, but the other characters have their own 'flavors' that can be very hard to govern.