The trip had been relatively uneventful, even if she had had to make a lot of special arrangements to get the artifacts from the crypt and her own gear through customs. Still, sealed shipping sufficed for most of it; it wasn’t like she normally carried anything heavier than a pistol and some flash grenades.
Making sure she was throughly presentable had been quite a bother in itself – but she also made quite sure to arrive good and early; past services or not, this promised to be nerve-wracking.
Getting in to see Dunkelzahn was something of an ordeal in itself; her own systems were good enough to get some idea of just how many technological probes and sensors were being focused on her in the lobby – and it wasn’t like she could detect the layers of magical security that were certainly there. Security was a bit surprised at some of the artifacts she was bringing along to show him – especially the spirit-bear sword from the reptile-folk crypt – but approval came back down the line and they let it go.
Of course, given that Winterknight was currently targeting dragons, she wouldn’t be surprised if her “personal meeting” was with some sort of projection or simulacrum – and if it was, she probably wouldn’t be able to tell.
Well, it looked like him – but the old wyrm could make anything look like anything if it suited him. This would be her first in-person meeting with a dragon from the previous age of magic. At last she’d see if they were as formidable as she’d heard.
(Yseult) “I found some rather interesting ruins in Egypt that you might want to know about. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you exactly where they are because I currently have an auction going – but I can provide you with clear video feed and pictures of them. In exchange would like whatever you’re willing to tell me about the Old Catacombs of Egypt under Giza. Perhaps over a friendly game of Go? Go is a hobby of mine, and I am just curious how I would fair against a dragon.”
(“Dunkelzahn”) “If you wish. Go is often diverting – although the ruins of the old Kaer are more sad than interesting. Still, my information on the “old” catacombs is not of great consequence either: after all, they were mostly created while I was asleep.”
“Kaer”? Were those the winged things? If so, that would imply that there were “new Kaer” – she didn’t believe that Dunkelzahn (or any stand-in the old wyrm would be willing to put up with) would use sloppy phrasing. Perhaps it was the draconic name for the crypt itself? As a member of a group? But if that was what it was, how had he known?
Wait; she’d provided the information that she was running an auction on the location of some “interesting ruins”, and Dunkelzahn was known to take an interest in old stuff. It would have been easy for him to check if he hadn’t looked at the auction before – but did that mean he was running a continuous mental link with a team of research deckers or some such? Fast enough to do research for him while he’d… stalled for a second or two by answering the bit about “Go” first. Damn.
(Yseult) “So, have you actually seen inside those ruins before then? As for no great consequence I am looking at making an expedition into the catacombs and any information would be useful.”
(“Dunkelzahn”) “The Kaer? Not that one in particular – we used our own methods of creating shelters – but many races and nations created Kaer’s some eight thousand years ago. Some survived. Others, sadly, did not.”
OK, so it was a generic name for that kind of shelter – and left an open question; what had those “many races and nations” been hiding from? What could have wiped what was evidently an advanced civilization – even if it was one based on magic – away so throughly that the archeologists and historians had virtually no clues as to it’s existence?
(Yseult) “Would you be interested in seeing the video footage I have then? The main thing I was wanting to find out about the catacombs was if there were things from the last age of magic that might be down there. I’d hate to face something like that unprepared.”
(“Dunkelzahn”) “Oh, information is always of interest. Now, the contents of a Kaer could be very dangerous – especially if whatever killed it was trapped there. That happened surprisingly often; self-sacrificing people were capable of great feats at times. There might be other information there, especially about old magics – but that is the rightful heritage of the people of this world, and – despite how some of the others feel – I will not hide it from them once they find it.”
(Yseult) “I have in fact been inside that particular “Kaer” as you call it. There was some sort of supernatural horror there that killed everything it touched – rather horribly – and which, once it had been unleashed, required the concerted efforts of a great many powerful magicians and considerable military force to take out. Furthermore, one of the objects inside managed to make one of the younger dragons pass out appon touching it.”
(“Dunkelzahn”) “Ah, that would be that bit of excitement down in Egypt, with all the powerful mages being hauled together, the unconscious young dragon, and the mysterious swath of death? I do like the Matrix by the way: a good search engine and a few questions, and things that would have taken years to find out just drop into place! Now, a life-eater was a very minor entity by the standards of horrors, and would have been drawn to the river as the largest source of life in the area – which would nicely narrow down the location you’re auctioning if that mattered to me. I would recommend more caution in the information you give to others though, or you may wind up with nothing to sell.”
Was that a gentle reminder that he’d already figured out everything she had to tell? Confounded dragons. Thank god none of her clients or competitors were anything like a dragon; give them a couple of sentences, and you might as well turn over your notes, your private journals, and your secret account numbers…
(Yseult) “Ahh, Well, if you were to find the place then – depending on if you told anyone else or not – it might not matter. Aside from that, any information you provide on the catacombs might well be worth more than what I can get out of the auction – and so I would just post that someone had placed a bid with me personaly and that I was taking down the auction.”
Oh BLAST. If she’d been working for someone, she wouldn’t have been auctioning the location – and she’d just as good as told the old wyrm straight out that she was on the trail of something in the catacombs that she believed might be worth MORE than the contents of a buried city of an extinct race from the last age of magic!
At least the old wyrm didn’t seem inclined to try and stop her…
(Yseult) “Thank you for the tip though.”
(“Dunkelzahn”) “Oh, you are welcome.”
(Yseult) “So, as you have demonstrated, the Matrix is dangerous to use when transmiting certain information – and the Kaer might very well fall into that branch of data. I shall keep that in mind. Meanwhile, would you like to see the video footage and pictures I have?”
(“Dunkelzahn”) “They would be of some interest.”
Further conversation and commentary revealed that – while “Dunkelzahn” had no reservations about the spirit-bear sword, there were some weapons and devices from the last age that he wouldn’t want anywhere near him – although, surprisingly enough, the crystal device that had rendered that young dragon unconscious so promptly was not among them…
(“Dunkelzahn”) “Oh, the Rithod? It’s not a weapon; it’s just a magic-focusing device used to feed power into other effects. You just have to shield against it properly. Your young dragon friend had never seen such a thing however, and tried to probe it with a spell – which simply gave it an opening to drain his magic. A solid knockout blow to a magical creature of course. A good thing you took it away promptly; it would have started doing serious damage in ten or fifteen minutes and a few hours in contact with it would have killed him. He owes you one, whether he’ll ever admit it or not.”
Well, it probably would be a lot easier to get a young dragon to admit that he owed someone a favor than it would be to get an older one to admit something like that. Some of the young ones were trying to prove themselves, but others were quite sensible.
“Dunkelzahn” was rather interested in the information about the child-mummy – enough so that he was reasonably communicative about the catacombs and her basic query – what might have survived until three thousand years ago with with enough magic to start the goblinization processes?
Blast it! She was losing the Go game too – and she was a master and it didn’t look like “Dunkelzahn” had more than a passing acquaintance with the game. He really was just that much smarter than she was. It was a better showing than she’d expected – but she’d also expected him to actually know the game.
Dunkelzahn’s information on the Catacombs was mostly from public and museum sources, although he’d apparently had some experts do the research – and did note a few details about some structures he heard of in the area from the last age.
The mummy description was, however, a different matter. That had obviously been a reptilian transformation – probably to the flying lizard-folk species – and that was a late transformation which required a great deal of magic. In fact, it required more magic than was available even now – and from the fact that there was a “blessing” known for it in the lizard-folks old script, it wasn’t unknown. No likely energy reserve would have been radiating such power more than two thousand years after the magic levels hit zero – so there had to be an active source to supply it. There was only one possibility for that; a functioning metaplanar gate that was maintaining it’s own magic level. Such as thing normally required constant maintenance however – which would argue for either a very long-lived survivor from the last age of magic OR an ongoing order of magi of some sort – given the setting, possibly a priestly order.
It also would probably have defenses in place to prevent interference. The question would be what it was powering, what was maintaining it, and what protections were in place.
(Yseult) “Do you have any advice on how I should prepare for a trip into ancient catacombs that are rumored to be inhabited by a large snake-like guardian?
(“Dunkelzahn”) “If it is a millennia-old high-magic area, and no one has reported any details on this snake or such an area, it’s likely that no one has gotten a good look and lived: ergo, it would probably one of the more powerful snakelike creatures – or perhaps more than one. The most dangerous snakelike creatures are the ones with elemental venoms. Those can dissolve, incinerate, petrify, or electrocute you with a single hit, and can usually both secrete and spit their venoms. I would recommend using good environmental armor, taking along some allies, and – preferably – being assisted by someone who can run a considerable number of remote drones in relay and use them for mapping and fire support.”
(Yseult) “Thank you Mr Dunkelzahn. For both the information, the advice, and the game; all were most intriguing. If there is anything that you would like to arrange for me to do for you I will be more than happy to help you out – for a proper exchange of course.”
There. Hopefully she could get out of this without owing the old wyrm any major freebies. He had a reputation for paying of course – but it was awfully hard to say what a dragon would consider a fair payment, and they ALWAYS had their own agendas. Besides… offering your services to the powerful was always a good idea in information gathering and it WAS her business.
Security escorted her out.
Well, she had nearly four days before she needed to be back in Egypt. Time for supplies, research, and allies. She’d need a good rigger with some rather specialized gear…