Author Topic: Faction Stories: Republic Dreams  (Read 1484 times)

Offline Red Cedar

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Faction Stories: Republic Dreams
« on: October 03, 2016, 03:06:20 am »
The Anglean Republic is another mix. Most fluff I've read hints at a Nordic/Scandinavian/Norse kind of culture, as do some of the place names, but some seem to be more Alaskan Tribal/Inuit-esque. So I've decided that the Republic is really two cultures with one squashed under the other, more primitive tribal villages and towns with the Inuit theme under the rule of the far more advanced and powerful steampunk Vikings and they got the Republic idea from Ancient texts. Let me know what you think of all my work, of course, as usual. Also, go Republic! I was aligned with them during open beta. They may have won all the battles, but we had the best songs. Of course, speaking honestly, if Arashi had been open then, I'd have gone with them.

Nerrivek couldn’t remember a time when she had ever been truly warm. Her family’s tiny hut on the shores of the Melting Firth, no matter how brightly the oil lamps burned or how many furs she piled onto her bed, had still been cold, even during the Long Light. The halls of the Ancient buildings and even the newer poor imitations with all their stone and iron, were cold. The northern skies were so cold at the heights the airships flew that it hurt her lungs just to breathe. But nothing was colder than the dark heart of the world that even now, she burrowed towards.

She, like all the members of her team, wore thick layers of furs, dyed a deep Anglean blue and trimmed in white, along with heavy near-black goggles that covered the upper halves of their faces. Leather or rubber would turn brittle and crack with cold where cloth and glass didn’t. Wraps of scarves nearly smothered their mouths and noses, but it kept their extremities from freezing off. Everything was clumsy and awkward. The heavy packs they wore made things worse, crushing their backs under the weight, but they had to be able to carry everything they needed. They were too deep to return to the airship on a nightly basis. If there even was an airship waiting up there for them anymore. Perhaps she had dreamed it. This whole expedition was a mad dream, based on fragments of an Ancient map, nightmares of a city or a fortress or a dungeon beneath the eternal ice of the eastern islands.

Now she trudged down the tunnel, her lantern’s light bringing the blue-white ice around her to life in a searing glare. Her goggles let her see, but it was still absurdly bright. She stepped carefully around the deeper puddles that would soon be frozen again, leaks from the big iron pipes that snaked along either side of the tunnel. Water and ice chunks gurgled through them and jets of steam hissed from loose rivets and joints.

By her figures, they were one and one-half miles below the surface of the massive ice sheet and close to running out of pipes. And to think, her sky lord superiors had been skeptical when she demanded that many, and enough power to run them! Still, it might not be enough. It had taken them months to get this far, if they didn’t find what they came for and finish, the Long Light would come and the ice sheet would begin to move and crack, eventually collapsing all their hard work and anything and anyone inside. It was sleeping now, but occasionally, they could hear distant thunder or feel a tiny shiver as the elder glacier scraped a fraction closer to the sea.

At length, she heard water sloshing about, human voices, and the distinctive hum of arc heaters and turned the last corner to reach the end of the tunnel. The night shift was just finishing up. There before her, three members of her team, wearing thick, high rubber boots, stood in knee-deep water and waved white-hot arc heaters over the face of the ice wall. With each swing, swaths of ice melted, falling in chunks or in streams of water into the pool. Two hoses snaked down to its bottom, greedily gulping up the result of their efforts. It looked easy, but she had done her share of the work and knew it wasn’t. Mining through ice was even more dangerous than mining through rock. She tugged her scarves a little looser.

“How’s it going?” she yelled to be heard through the noise.

One of the team lowered his arc heater to look back at her.

“Great!” he replied. “No one’s died yet! We’re down to the last ten lengths of pipe for each side, though! That means another day or two, depending on what we run into!”

“If it comes to it, we’ll melt out some big pits and start a relay system!” she said. Despite the cold, she was sweating at the idea. Being Utaneutik by birth, she held the right of Anglean Citizenship only grudgingly. While that could not be taken away once earned, many other things could.

Gunjar, for that was the man’s name, laughed at her, perhaps too loudly.

“Perhaps if we keep digging, we’ll come out somewhere down south!” he said, turning back to his work.

Nerrivek sighed. South…now that was a dream. Even the sky lords of Anglea dreamt of the south. If the gods favored the Republic, perhaps she would go there someday. The key had to be here, at the bottom of this tunnel. Then her ruminations were interrupted as the workers cried out, scrambling back. An enormous slab of ice crumbled before them with a series of ear-shattering cracks and they barely made it out of the way before it crashed into the water, drenching everyone. Nerrivek shook herself, swiping her goggles clear, and glanced back and forth. Thankfully, she counted everyone up and moving. More importantly, or nearly so, their equipment was intact. And lastly…she felt weak at the knees as she saw what lay behind the ice.

Stone. Not just any stone, but the grey stone of the Ancients that endured long past the ruin of their world, better than anything the Age of Air could boast. It was cracked and worn from centuries of entombment within the slowly moving ice, but it was intact. If the building itself had survived its slow journey, what lay within would cement her reputation and wealth for life! She tugged her scarves down and breathed deeply, walking forward to the edge of the pool.

“Praise the Ancients,” she said into the sudden quiet as the rest of the team noticed what they had uncovered. “Their wisdom has led us here, to unlock more of their secrets.” May the spirits guide us.

“Unlock the past,” Gunjar said, echoed by the others, “Ensure the future.” And so the traditional blessing was done.

“Well, don’t just stand there!” Nerrivek snapped at them, “Break that slab into bits, drain the rest of the water, then put away the arc heaters! Send a runner to go and get the weapons and drills! If there are other buildings nearby, we might be able to find them too!”

Her people scrambled to obey, but did so laughing. Nerrivek remained where she was. She wouldn’t be moving until they broke through the wall. She had to see, had to know. She needed to make sure the others didn’t destroy anything in their lust for more weapons.

Naturally, it took a while for the drills and jackhammers to cut through the wall. The Ancients built well and the outer walls of their sky-reaching buildings were often two paces thick or more. Nerrivek took the opportunity to get her tools, notebooks, and buckle on a gun belt. Gun oil got thick and even froze in this kind of place, so they were all armed with Mjolnir storm guns. They fired lances of lightning. But, they had major disadvantages. They were bulky, heavy, and only had one shot before the storage cylinders needed replacement. Each of them could only carry two or three replacements, along with all their clothing and other equipment. They also broke down constantly without excessive maintenance, so not all of them were working. Nerrivek gladly handed off her own functioning gun to Gunjar, making her the only one armed with just a broad-bladed knife.

“Is everyone ready?” she asked, looking at the hole they had punched through the wall. Its jagged edges gave it the look of the gaping maw of some hideous animal, waiting to swallow them whole. A chorus of affirmatives answered her. She fought down her fluttering heart and checked one last time to make sure the lantern dangling from her belt was secure.

“Right, then,” she said. “Let’s go. Gunjar, take the lead.”

The big man nodded and moved ahead, the dancing light of his own belt lantern slowly illuminating what lay beyond as he climbed up into the hole. He turned and motioned for the others to follow. Nerrivek was the first to do so, and took his hand as she stepped up. Her goggles were just dangling around her neck now, unneeded, and she caught her breath at what she saw.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this,” she whispered into the stale air. They needed to move slowly, to give the fresh air being piped down from the surface time to seep through the building, however much she wanted to charge ahead. But they had broken into a large room filled with what looked like miniature black towers and nothing else. There was a door at the other end, slightly ajar. She opened her notebook and began sketching the scene in rough strokes with a slim-tipped charcoal pencil, the details to be filled in later. She would also need to describe it, briefly.

“What do you think these are?” Gunjar asked, lightly tapping one of the towers with a gloved hand. It sounded metallic.

She shrugged.

“No idea. We’ll need to cut into one later if we can’t find anything that suggests what they’re for, of course. My guess is they used to supply power somehow. The records say the Ancients took the fires of the sun and caught it in bottles. Maybe these are the bottles? Or boxes?” Finishing her brief description, she snapped her book shut and nodded to him. “Keep going.”

Cautiously, the team advanced to the door. Gunjar tried gently pushing it open, but the hinges were either frozen or rusted in place. He looked to Nerrivek and she nodded. Turning back to the door, he gave it a resounding kick and the hinges gave way with a terrible screech, the door crashing open. Beyond was just a hallway, stretching off beyond the limits of their lanterns. Glass fragments littered the floor, doubtless from the broken panels lining the ceiling, though a few were intact, and frosted over entirely. The shards crunched under their heavy boots. Other doors lined the hallway, as far as they could see. Nerrivek pointed right and they headed that way. The first door to the left was closed and she nodded at it. She had no intention of leaving any unknown area behind them.

Gunjar tried the knob, but like the hinges on the first door, it refused to turn. This time he didn’t ask for permission before kicking it open, the brittle wooden frame splintering easily. He let out a sharp, surprised sound, swinging his rifle down, and for one moment, Nerrivek thought he had seen some automated defense. The Ancients guarded their secrets well. But then he lowered the gun and gestured for her to come forward. Peering in, she gasped, almost dropping her notebook.

Bodies. Lots of bodies.

Perfectly preserved by the stale air and intense cold, they lay in huddled groups. The room looked like a barracks of some kind, with ranks of bunk beds, but it had become a tomb. In all the other Ancient cities and fortresses, the Angleans had rarely found bodies, whether because of the climate reducing them to scattered bones or because whatever had been the ruin of the place had driven them away before dying. This was an unheard-of find. But of course, there was the question on everyone’s mind.

“Check them,” Nerrivek ordered, pointing at the nearest body. “See if you can tell what killed them. Move them as little as possible. Frida, Herleif, watch the door.” She opened her notebook again and knelt down beside the corpse she had pointed at. It was a man of elder years, with little to no hair left on his head. His clothes were much the same as their own, thick coats and pants, but of strange materials. He wore glasses. His face seemed very gaunt and skeletal, pale flesh drawn taut over bones, and when she carefully nudged a lip back, she saw his teeth were only yellow-black stumps and the rest of his mouth was a mass of ancient, blackened blood. She finished her sketching and description as quickly as possible.

“Two ways they died, I think,” Gunjar said to her as she stood up. “Most of them are just skin and bone, it looks like they starved to death. But a few of them died from bullets to the head. We found pistols beside those ones.”

“During the Fall,” Nerrivek said, slowly walking through the barracks, “This place must have been remote, or secret. The ice certainly didn’t reach as far south, but it had to still be cold up here from what they’re wearing. While the rest of the world burned, drowned, froze, and died, this place got ignored, at least enough for this building to stay intact. These were the people who didn’t get out. Everyone must have forgotten them.”

A grave silence fell for a long moment as the team considered the idea.

“Right, then,” Nerrivek said at last, “Call in the salvage teams. Strip the bodies, but be gentle with those clothes. Don’t touch those boxes in the other room yet. Get the pistols, check all the storage lockers in here, bring anything with writing on it to me, any jewelry or valuables go into the lockbox. The rest of us keep going. I didn’t come here to die.” I came here to steal secrets and rob graves, or at least that’s what the sky lords demand. What’s at the center of this place? Is it worth what we’re doing? She knew the answer of course, was that it never was.