Communications with the Set-figure simply didn’t seem practical; there was just too much difference in the time rates – and there really wasn’t any way for them to slow down to match (despite her momentary fantasy of downclocking her cyberware and headware memory, there really wasn’t any safe way to slow down her brain and metabolism).
Still, “Apep” shouldn’t be able to remanifest for another three days (at a minimum), and it wasn’t like anything was likely to disturb them down here.
Perhaps the statues? They were movable. It would be a lot of work for a normal human, but it was well within her strength – well, OK, what with the cyberlimb damage, barely within her strength, but still possible.
(Yseult) “What do you think might happen if we were to move the statues to the other room that matches this one and arrange them in the same way or as similarly as possible? The two locations have to be linked magically somehow. Do you think it might change anything?”
Oddly enough, it was the tour guide who came up with an answer first.
(Guide) “They’d be hell to get out through the snake tunnels – and I don’t think that those were there when this place was in active use. The original architects would have had to drag them up the stairs, a mile to the other temple, and then lower them down a pit wouldn’t they? That seems pretty awkward.”
Well, that was a fair enough point. The man had probably been fielding questions about ancient techniques for moving stones around for a decade.
(Guide) “Any idea what the niches and posts might be for? They’re fairly unique I think. At least I’ve never seen anything like them before.”
(Yseult) “Not off-hand. I did notice some paint, but that isn’t too unusual for a place like this. Though, if we could tell what the paintings were supposed to be of… Wait; if I presume the two circles were painted with the same symbols, I can overlay the remaining bits and see if that will get us enough to make out a few symbols.”
That took some time, and running every kind of scan in every frequency range that the drones were capable of, but it gave them additional speckles – and two symbols that could actually be reconstructed out of the forty-eight.
Old Kingdom hieroglyphics. One of them a symbol for “the path of shadows”, the other for something about the underworld.
Yseult started running database searches again. What did they mean? What were they associated with? Were they found together anywhere else?
The “Path of Shadows” was the western gate of Ra, where he descended into the underworld to arise reborn the next day. Horus too traveled that way, and emerged renewed, which – since the Pharaoh assumes the identity of Horus – could be taken for a metaphor for the Pharaonic succession.
The underworld was, of course, the domain of Osiris, who accepted and sheltered the spirits of the dead, that they might be reborn with Ra after the defeat of Apep. In the old kingdoms, that privilege had usually been thought to be limited to the Pharaoh and his immediate family – the lesser dead simply passed on to eternity in the fields and realms of the gods – but the theological privilege had gradually been extended to the lower classes over the centuries, until it was believed that EVERYONE would rise again with Ra – but that was well after their period.
Both symbols were mostly found in old prayers and rituals.
Hm. The circumference of the pillars were all about the same, the heights of the flat spots varied – in a rough sine wave – with their angles, and the pattern matched between the two rooms, which pretty well ruled out it being an accident. There was no apparently physical reason for it though – which left ceremonial or ritual. Forty-eight pillars or niches, forty-eight flat spots.
The floor was pretty well clean – and was basically just simple stone. The roof over the circle showed a stylized sun disk.
No matches on the sigils on the doors. They might just be energy-traces, which were always fairly arbitrary and depended on the mage who’d created them. The relative position of the two Osiris statues hadn’t matched…
Wait. There was something about those statues.
Forty-eight symbols on each statue. Forty-eight flat spots. A “prayer” requesting direct divine intervention. Perhaps a summoning? Genuine ritual magic?
Yseult started comparing symbols.
The eighteenth symbol on the statue was the one for the “Path of Shadows” – and the thirty-fifth was the one for the underworld. And the interval between them was right too, counting clockwise around the circle. The time period, the style, and the remaining paint flecks fit as well.
The orientation of the statues didn’t seem to correspond to anything though. Oh well. The first one was small, and the water might well have moved it anyway.
They corrected the worn paint – albeit with easily-removable modern paint over a layer of spray-on preservative resin to keep the ancient flecks uncontaminated. Filling in with a bit of paint wouldn’t destroy any history, especially since they’d already recorded everything there was in detail anyway.
Sadly, nothing dramatic happened as they filled in the final symbol – but they really hadn’t been expecting anything out of the trids. They didn’t get too far trying to get more information out of “Set” either – the contact was still far too slow – but he, she, or it definitely seemed to be paying attention, vaguely approving, and somewhat expectant.
They took it as an indication that they were on the right track.
So; they had a magic circle.
Yseult pulled up her magic theory knowsoft program… A good thing she’d loaded so many of the things into backup storage. How people had ever gotten along before skillsofts she didn’t know. Maybe one of these days someone would put out a knowsoft on the question.
So… Magic circles were basically made by laying out some symbols (which varied with the tradition of the mage) that represented the concepts of the spell or ritual to be performed in them, and were active when that spell or ritual was being performed within them. They resonated with the magic of the effect somehow, and helped it build up power.
Ergo, they were most important when magic was weak.
If the symbol-layout was a magic circle – and it certainly looked that way – then “casting” the prayer within it should activate it and power it up. Of course, modern magic circles were flat, and this one had some slanted symbols at varying heights – but it could just be a difference in style. It might even be some bit of ancient lore, after all, the last age of magic had been using the stuff for five thousand years and presumably knew a lot of tricks.
Of course, she’d need a magician who knew the spell to cast it – but they had the spell, and she had two magicians, and it wasn’t all that long.
They started working on a translation and analysis.
That was a bit nerve-wracking. After all, it was an invocation asking for the direct intervention of Osiris, lord of the Underworld. Of course, the place had obviously been built to be used repeatedly, which kind of implied that there weren’t any suicidal consequences. If you wanted to kill yourself, there were surely easier ways.
Besides, at this point, the unsatisfied curiosity would probably kill them.
It was late afternoon – of the next day – before Nassor’s apprentice felt that he had mastered the basics of the ancient spell.
The circle blazed into life – strangely. The spiraling arrangement of the symbols somehow caused the magic to flow in and out of the normal, three-dimensional universe – creating a bridge between astral space and a pocket dimension held at the edges of the metaplanes.
There were many spectacular astral effects, to which – sadly – Yseult was mostly blind. Nassor’s apprentice abruptly seemed a bit older – and somehow more dignified.
(Apprentice, channeling a spirit) “I HEAR AND THE WAY IS OPENED. YOU MAY STEP BETWEEN THE WORLDS. DO NOT OVERSTAY YOUR TIME; THIS YOUNGSTER WILL NOT BE ABLE TO SUSTAIN THE GATE PAST THE SETTING OF THE SUN”
Yseult wasn’t quite sure how it had happened – but the doors were open. A closer look revealed an odd double vision; a simple wall AND a grand staircase that descend into a large room – surely too large for an unsupported ceiling using nothing but simple stone – centered on a blazing sphere of energy. Which one existed seemed to depend on how you focused… Some sort of overlay? The room might not entirely exist in reality – which would neatly explain why instruments wouldn’t pick it up.
She headed towards the gates, motioning to the others.
(Yseult) “You are welcome to come if you like – but it is not part of your obligations.”
Nassor, the Guide, and the Digger wouldn’t miss this for all the world. Sulahafa preferred to send in a few drones… He never had trusted magic all that much. He volunteered to play rear guard – and to keep an eye on the apprentice and the door. That sort of thing was a job for a rigger anyway.
Yseult couldn’t argue there. She smiled approvingly and stepped through the doors.
The air was oddly thick and resistant – as if the stone was partially there and partially elsewhere – but they could walk down into the chamber slowly – even if the drones could not for some reason. The place was… spectacular. Covered with gold and orichalcum inlays, the central sphere of energy was surrounded by orbiting rings of symbols, intricate wall-murals, hieroglyphs, and painted pillars, carved stone and marble, elaborate candelabra, glittering masses of crystal (apparently more of that magic-channeling stuff) and more – enough to rival any cathedral or palace, and all illuminated by the radiance of he energy sphere.
(Guide, loudly) “The Eye of Ra!”
He might be wrong, but he wasn’t going to pass up such a chance at a dramatic moment just for that.
Yseult felt some odd pains… Something to do with her cyberware perhaps? This seemed to be a very magical area indeed – and the drones hadn’t been able to get in. Well, they weren’t too bad, and her systems didn’t seem to be malfunctioning any worse than before.
She ignored it to look for further doors – and for anything else which might allow changes to be made, or the energy flow to be adjusted. It probably had something to do with those crystals – but Nassor would have to look at those. It wasn’t like the blasted things had any settings that a non-magician could even see.
At the far end of the room – a surprisingly long walk – was an immense face carved into the wall – and there was someone else waiting to greet them. A rather old elf, with a lot of bandages wrapped around him… Injuries, or just the old “light pressure bandages on the varicose veins” trick? An elderly elf… five or six hundred years at least. Time enough for a LOT of wear and tear on a body.
Yseult tried many different languages – starting with old Egyptian
(Yseult) “Greetings revered one”.
It took some adapting of some of the oldest known dialects – Babylonian, Egyptian, and more than a bit of Sperethiel (huh; evidently it really WAS ancient) – but they cobbled something together in short order.
(Sirdis) “Greetings young woman – and welcome to the Sphere of Rahn. It has been a long time since any have called upon us, much less actually visited. I take it that magic has once again risen in the outside world?”
(Yseult, nodding) “I suppose I should also inform you that the dynasties of the Pharaohs have not survived to the current day. It has simply been too long – and their magical reserves apparently failed them entirely at some point centuries or millennia ago.”
(Sirdis) “A natural consequence I fear; the capacity of this pocket dimension was limited – and the later Pharaoh’s sent far too many spirits here. Each such spirit increased the demand for magic to sustain them – and the power of the Eye is limited. Thus each extraneous spirit meant less magic being returned to the physical world. Eventually, there was so little power available outside that the remaining magics faded and our advice became useless. We were consulted less and less, and we were eventually forgotten. A depressing flaw in an otherwise excellent plan.”
(Yseult, smiling) “Well, since magic has made a return is there anyone you would have visit? Or anything that might be done for you? Of course my interests lie in that of knowledge and secrets. That means that just finding this place is a blessing to me; there is so much that might be learned here…”
(Sirdis) “I am Sirdis – and there is indeed something that might be done. Magic has returned, and so it is time for this refuge to be opened once again, and for it’s inhabitants to return to the wider world.”
Now THIS explanation she had to hear.