"But wary still!
Over the shimmering slabs he goes?
| Some time around 2778.255 AS
Overflying the position, it seemed a strange verdant area in the midst of dry brown plains, on the outer edge of the continent with the crater. Details of the inside could not be made out from above due to the thick canopy. Closer investigation was clearly called for.
Setting down a ways away from the site, the pair proceed to approach on foot with Dr. Kye's trusty Dumbo following in their wake. They get to a large, possibly circular wall surrounding whatever it is. The wall seems covered with ages of dirt and rock, but is otherwise intact. Moving around the circumference, our heroes look for some way in, other than having Dumbo make a hole. About 2/3 of the way around, Ruehan detects the presence of several, perhaps as many as dozens of minds just around the bend.
A couple seem to be hidden nearby. After a couple of minutes of discussing various approach protocols, Ruehan decides to check on their intentions by reading the mind of one of the hidden scouts nearest the duo. He seems to be thinking, "Sky Devils. Bah. Though they do bring with them a most impressive totem beast. Perhaps I should flee. Ow. What a headache, I should not have had so much firewater last night."
Thinking their vast totem beast (Dumbo) gives them the upper hand, the duo proceeds around the corner to the rabbit camp.
"Halt! The Authorized Personnel Only tribe has no business with the Sky Devils. Depart, lest you defile the sacred grounds on which you now stand!"
It turns out that the duo has committed a strong faux pas by bringing their totem beast here to the sacred grounds where peace is the law. Luckily, Dr. Kye is able to convince them that unlike rabbit totem beasts, his totem beast is very well behaved, and he makes a show (waving drill bits and gesturing) of having Dumbo head off a little ways and go to sleep.
Still, several younger members of the tribe want to kill the Sky Devils lest all be damned, but the chief, Chagga of the great eyed Gheer, says that, even the Sky Devils will be protected by the peace of the holy lands if they wish to come and find their naming spirits. Besides, it seems that the sacred place has robbed these two of most of their fearsome powers, so it's probably all OK.
There is consternation that these two sky devils are clearly too old to be searching for their naming spirits, but Dr. Kye and Ruehan convince them that is was just a very long journey.
Still the tribe is unhappy, what with the five nameless ones still being missing and all, so there's a fair bit of grumbling. Ruehan tries to get to the bottom of the problem by chatting with one of the younger members of the tribe.
"Can I ask you a question?"It seems that when they come of age, the young men of local tribes head out here with a bunch of retainers and elders and undergo the rites of manhood. The morning after their rites, they head into the sacred place through the holes in the wall (right where the gatehouse should be thinks Dr. Kye), and seek the well of knowledge, where they discover their naming spirits and cast away the childish names of their youth. It's quite an honor.
"Will I be damned for listening?"
"Not if you answer."
The Authorized Personel Only tribe has been growing lately, and this time they sent five nameless ones in together, and still after two full days none have returned. People are starting to get worried. Maybe sending so many was a mistake. Maybe they're out of naming spirits. Maybe they're all dead. Maybe the naming spirits are angry that there are Sky Devils just outside. No one knows, but that's what's making everyone extra grouchy at the Sky Devils.
Ruehan and Kye start propagandizing among the rabbits. They heal the lame (painkillers for the arthritic), and suggest that if they were well treated and not attacked in the night, they may be willing to assist the lost Nameless ones. Why would they assist nameless ones not of their own tribe? Well, that's just the kind of sky devils they are.
The tribe mutters for a bit:
"What's the worst that could happen?"The deal is struck and the tribe agrees to leave the sky devils unmolested. Kye orders his totem beast to come in and dig a nice well rounded hole for Ruehan and Kye to camp in. Several members of the tribe are very impressed at the obedience of the Sky Devils' totem beast. It's clear one of the older men present is their totem beast's trainer, and he's feeling the pain of it all.
"We could all be damned to the eternal hell of the Sky Devils."
"Yeah, well, they could do that anyway, and they haven't yet."
"The sacred grounds must rob them of their powers."
Ruehan asks about the trials contained within the sacred naming grounds. The rabbits seem surprised the Sky Devil elders would send them so unprepared, but explains that essentially, you seek the well of knowledge where you will find your naming spirit. You may take with you only those things that you have fashioned with your own hands. Ruehan assures them that all sky devils make their blasters and clothing themselves (or, at least, the spirits will be able to tell that they're theirs). Oh right, and while you seek out the naming spirits you are tested by numerous deadly traps of cunning and bravery. The naming spirits guard their home well, and the traps shift and move so that no one can be completely prepared.
Armed with that knowledge, Kye and Ruehan retire to their pit for the rites of manhood. The tribe seems disturbed that they don't seem to need retainers for the rites, but the ways of Sky Devils are strange indeed. For Kye and Ruehan, the rites of manhood seem to involve drinking lots of vodka and singing loud songs. Well, they do for Kye. Ruehan mostly sits there and meditates.
Morning arrives and our duo head into the facility. As they pass through the gatehouse, Kye uncovers a plaque with half of a hegemonic seal, though stylized with a crossed blaster and dagger. Below it is are numerals "3/18". Inside the ring wall at last, they find an interior ring of hegemacadam surrounding what indeed appears to be a verdant forest so thick that there seems to be only one way inside. They have to squeeze between a couple of trees, which seem to spring back a little, sealing them in.
Kye uses his archaeological sense to immediately determine where the interesting locations within the forest are likely to be. Ruehan uses his psi sense to eventually determine where the five nameless ones are. Sadly, these various locations are not the same.
As they press their way through the clearings and growths, they encounter numerous dangers: beaver beetles, flesh eating spiders, and strange groves that seem perfectly safe, but are just filled with radio jamming signals. Here and there throughout the jungle are little plaques embedded in the ground that either give instruction or clues or are completely inscrutable.
In one grove, Dr. Kye and Ruehan discover a skeleton stuck in what appears to be a bear trap of some sort. Anything it had on it seems to have decayed away long ago, with two notable exceptions. First, there are small bits of metal insignia around the body similar to those at the gatehouse. Secondly, the skeleton is wearing a belt that seems perfectly intact, and gives off a small hum. All attempts to touch the thing are met with electrical shocks, but Kye finally manages to get it into his pack by using a stick to push it around.
They avoid a few more traps and get to the center where the two of them are slammed down to the ground by an immense AG field. Kye shouts to Ruehan that the glowing plaque in the center will turn it off, but Ruehan is paralyzed by the crushing gravity. Summoning reserves of strength no one knew his frail body held, Dr. Kye props himself to his knees and drags himself over to the glowing plaque. The only symbol on the plaque is the glowing 3/18 seal from the gatehouse. Thrusting out his hand he presses the plaque down and the gravity turns off.
As the two sit there recovering from their ordeal, the plaque rises up out of the ground on a little pedestal and inside they find two golden pins, each with the 3/18 seal. Ruehan and Kye realize this is some sort of automated training ground, and they have passed what was intended to be the final test. Thinking them well earned, the pair take a pin each and head on towards the next trials.
Moving out, they finally come to the first of the missing rabbits. The poor guy appears to have his leg stuck at the bottom of a small pond and is wearing himself out trying to keep his face above water. Again Dr. Kye is called upon to do the physical work, and swims down to the bottom of the pond, freeing the rabbit from the submerged bear trap. He almost gets caught himself, but manages to get the trap undone. Meanwhile Ruehan is dragging the now freed rabbit back to shore with a vine.
On shore the rabbit finally realizes who has saved him, "I've been rescued by Sky Devils! I am damned!" and faints dead away.
"I'm not carrying him."After a few minutes they manage to bring the rabbit around and he starts the long walk with his new sky devil masters. They ask him his name, but he can't speak the name of his childhood if he ever wishes to find a naming spirit. So it's off to the well of names! Though he may not get a naming spirit anyways since he is damned. So the sky devils undamn him. Hooray!
"I just rescued him, I'm not carrying him."
After another trial or two, they find the well. It appears to be what it's called - a well - with three rabbits sitting around it meditating. The rescued rabbits joins them and the duo head off to find the fifth of the nameless ones.
He's beyond a few more death traps, but when they do reach him, they find him trapped in some sort of plastic bubble. Blaster fire seems to bounce off of it. Dr. Kye uses his archaeological insight on the bubble and deduces that really it's not very harmful, it's just intended to be an embarrassing and degrading way to fail. Though you'd eventually starve inside if no one came by. New bubbles are forming in the tarpit like area, and they push the bubble over to it. When it contacts the liquid in the tarpit the bubble bursts, but the rabbit is too slow to escape before falling into the bubbling pit. A few minutes later, a large bubble ascends from the pit and yes, the rabbit is again trapped inside. They do this thing a couple more time each time exhorting the rabbit to jump his fastest, but several times he is trapped again in the pits and bubbles. Convinced that he has indeed found the eternal hell of the sky devils and can look forward to nothing but the endless tortures of our two heroes, he begins to lose hope. Ruehan give him a big pep talk and undamns him, so they try again and finally his leap succeeds, and he is free.
After his ordeal the rabbit doesn't seem to care about getting a naming spirit anymore, but they drag him back to the well anyways. The rabbit, Dr. Kye, and Ruehan join the others at the well and contemplate it's mysteries. Kye realizes it really is a portal to all knowledge and wisdom and pretty colors and cool mood music and searches for his naming spirit. After a while Ruehan notices that Kye is asleep, and starts wandering around, but rejoins the group at the well before they notice his absence.
About an hour later, the group recovers from their meditations and the seven head off to find the entrance once more. On their arrival it seems to be wide open instead of sealed so they emerge triumphant to a joyous tribe. The naming commences:
"No more am I Little Spoon, now I am White Dog!" The other rabbits appear to be named Little Bird, Hunting Bird, Angry Cloud, and Sky Devil. Hmm, that poor guy got a sky devil as his naming spirit. The tribe ponders this mystery and then asks the sky devils what naming spirits they received.
Ruehan: "Wind between the stars!"
Kye: "Devil Badger!"
Well, sure, those seem like perfectly good sky devil naming spirits according to the tribe and the celebration begins. During the celebration, the chief Chagga comes to our heroes and offers them a boon in exchange for saving the five nameless ones. Thinking quickly, Kye asks them to lead him and Ruehan to their village and other holy sites they know about in the area.
After extracting numerous promises that the sky devils won't damn their whole village once they reveal its location, the chief agrees. The tribe heads out for the two day walk back to the village, with Kye and Ruehan riding on the back of their fearsome totem beast who trundles along behind the tribe.
At the village, they meet the totem beast of the tribe as it runs out and happily jumps on its returning trainer. A fierce dog, but Kye manages to befriend it. It doesn't like Ruehan at all, but the two seem happy to just stay away from each other. The duo is then shown the sacred house of the chief and all of the chiefs before him. It appears the chief of the Authorized Personnel Only tribe lives in the remains of the command post of Hegemonic Guard Division 3.
There's not really much left there, but in one of the back rooms (probably once a high level office, thinks Kye), they do discover a wall safe with key card lock. The chief says some things about the hard spot on the wall, but otherwise makes it clear he has no idea what it is. The sky devils offer to leave and plague the tribe no more if they can take the hard spot of the wall with them. Ruehan has a hard time convincing the chief to let them do it, but eventually the duo prevail and Kye goes to work with his blowtorch.
They take the safe and depart. As they leave, Kye addresses the tribe and proclaims that he lifts and removes all curses of the sky devils which may be on them. Ruehan adds that they should remember that these two sky devils in particular saved them. There's happy feeling as Kye and Dumbo put on a little display as they leave, but it is unclear if the rabbits really believe the sky devils could be friends.
Returning to the Hippocrates, sporting their new pins, they are told by the ship that the 18th battalion of the 3rd Guard division was a famed special operations unit, always assigned the mission other units thought impossible. There were apparently many stories about them circulating throughout the military.
Finally, Ruehan delivers the safe to various experts for opening, and his sample of well gas to scientists for analysis, while Kye fiddles around with his new belt.