Excerpt from The Fountains of Aescalon

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Since my last feature was from The Monad Trap, I thought this one should be from the novel preceding it, as well as the First Book in Connected Realms.

My brother been right; the antigravity stopped working as soon as I was through. The pallet collapsed heavily onto the two axles I'd just installed.

The surface I was on was hard rock. Despite the fact that all I could see or perceive of this place was flat or at most gently sloping, all of the rock appeared to be igneous. Granite, basalt, pumice, etcetera, and all the variants, but absurdly rich in uncommon elements. Crystalline minerals glittered upon the surface in profusion up to the size of my hand or so, and my perception informed me that this was the case below the surface as well. Many of those crystals were precious or semi-precious stones. Pools and puddles of water ranging in size from nothing on up to perhaps a couple ifourths across speckled the landscape, the markings of small streams flowing out of them. This place broke all the rules of planetary geology. At least the rules we thought we knew, and the Empire had seen trillions of planets and planetoids. Smaller rocks and loose soil were practically non-existent. Nor did there seem to be any sort of indigenous life. No plants at all. I wondered where the oxygen-rich air was coming from.

True to the warning, the dimensionality here was roughly three point twelve. Due to higher dimensionality, material borders were somewhat more difficult to traverse - the fractal surfaces generated more friction with the cart's tires than a strictly three dimensional surface would have.

It seemed that the most recent rain couldn't have been too long ago. I didn't see signs of significant evaporation from the natural limits of the depressions sheltering the water. But what my perception 'saw' was completely unexpected - the water was charged with an energy that reminded me of quantum foam, but tangible in the macroscopic universe, the richest source for matra I'd ever seen, or been told of for that matter. The water literally shone in some of the larger pools, merely glittering in the smaller ones. Perhaps the difference in intensity was a clue to how long it had been?

A trail had been worn onto the rock nearby, and people were following it. How had a trail become worn in a place seemingly devoid of plant life, which by all the rules I knew would have also precluded animal life?
Around me were several different sorts and even different species of what were obviously sentients, although even on the trails, there was plenty of room between individuals or groups. Humans I obviously recognized. There were also human variants, like a group of tall pale white stick-thin people with bright blue or violet eyes and hair that ranged from white to pale blue to pale yellow. It wasn't the thin of starvation or inactivity as they had excellent muscle definition, instead it seemed to be what was natural for them. I did a quick scan; genetically they were as human as I was, which is to say human with a few additions. As I walked, I discovered that there were also an amazing variety of nonhumans, from anthropoid to saurian to insectoid and just about everything else imaginable. As I said, this place appeared to break all the rules I thought I knew.

The trails seemed to follow mostly higher points in the terrain. At irregular intervals, there would be a junction or a branching. Some of them were barely footpaths, others were worn so smooth and wide they might as well have been a paved highway. Gently sloping swaths of bare rock surrounded us, none of them more than a few times human height. Despite the presence of the various sentients within my sight range, there were no permanent structures visible anywhere.

Visibility was low; there was a ubiquitous mist. Vision was restricted to no more than a few minutes' walk at most. At times, it was as low as perhaps sixty long paces or so. Nonetheless, it seemed we were on the inside of what could be most easily described as the hollowed out center of a large rock, the cavern no bigger than I could travel completely around at an easy pace in a few hours. What was holding us to the surface of the enclosing rock wasn't easy to describe. It wasn't gravity, and it wasn't centripetal force like an annular habitat. It seemed to be a byproduct of dimensionality that seemed to increase the closer you got to the center of the cavern. It seemed I weighed no more than half what I had on Nexus, but dimensionality varied from barely more than three to three point eighteen just over the narrow range of elevations I'd already encountered. Up at the very center, it seemed most likely dimensionality would be the full eleven. You could hear water falling constantly; sometimes the trail would parallel a small stream for a distance. Above us, somewhere in the mist, were some kind of multicolored light sources. I wasn't certain how many there were at present but I was certain there was more than one. The thick mist precluded shadows, but there were diffraction patterns in the mist that were beautiful, gold and blue and red and white sparkles. Further establishing the particulars seemed like something that could wait until I was established.

On second thought, maybe what I heard wasn't necessarily water. It was liquid, and the only liquid I'd seen was water, but I couldn't be certain that all of the liquid I was hearing was water. And since my brain had kicked in, I decided that before I wandered off too far I'd better mark my point of arrival and see if I couldn't figure out the translation that had brought me here. An inter-bubble gate was a major working; I should be able to back trace it for some time but it would never be easier than now. No, I wasn't planning to renege on my deal to leave the Empire and stay out, but knowing where I was in relation to the Empire would be useful someday. Besides, if survival necessitated me sneaking back to the Empire at some point in the future, better I was in a position to make that decision based upon practicality rather than have ignorance eclipse one of my options. With that in mind, I began a return to my starting point.

But when I turned back around, pulling my wheeled pallet behind me, I encountered a small troop of what appeared to be somewhat crustacean-like creatures. They thought of themselves as the diligar. They had hard exoskeletons, which obviously molted at regular intervals while growing. Six three-segmented, insect-like armored legs supported each one, perhaps knee height off the ground or a little more, rising slightly towards the front of the segment. They had a broad, fleshy, flat tail, also armored, behind their torso. A front segment of their torso rose at an angle roughly two-thirds of the way from horizontal towards vertical, to a final elevation about my own height, and sprouted four more armored, three segmented legs, each with four fleshy manipulative appendages in a rectangular pattern at the end. Probably not as flexible as human hands, but plenty good enough for grasping, and twice as many of them. Two faceted, insectile eyes on short, independently moving eyestalks rose from the top of the front segment. Color seemed to be very dark brown, fading around the edges of the segments to a dirty white. Age seemed to make the colors more vivid rather than darker. Perception said that only the underbelly of the horizontal torso was less than fully armored, likely where they escaped their shell when it was time to molt. The three individuals out of fourteen who seemed to be highest status had a metal plate across this vulnerable part of their belly, held in place by fibrous straps. Several others had a similar covering that might have been a piece of a previously molted shell. It seemed likely the species had aquatic ancestry, and still spent some part of their life cycle in water. They carried bladed, serrated iron spears slightly more than human height in length.

I was pulling my cart along the trail at the fold of land between two gentle hills, walking back the short distance back to where I'd appeared when they confronted me with angry sounds and gestures telling me to get off the trail, I was an obstacle to them. Fair enough; there were fourteen of them and only one of me although it would have been just as easy for all fourteen of them to walk around my cart. Auros made it easy enough to understand what they were thinking despite the language barrier. Yes, they were being more aggressive than there was reason to be, but I wasn't looking for trouble, and it was better not to get involved in any confrontations before I understood the set-up around here. So I began pulling my cart off the 'trail' to allow them to pass.

Their young leader, decorated with a red star in four points, hauled off and tried to hit me with his blade, thinking to punish me for not having been faster. For having the temerity to think that perhaps I had the same right to the trail as him. And that I was not going to tolerate. My charged bondsteel sword was in my hand, and I parried, forcing his spear down into the ground with the flat of the dark gray blade. He would have had to have been blind not to see the difference in quality of the metals. I was yielding the trail because I didn't want trouble, not because I was incapable of contesting it. And I stood there calmly, gaze on the closest thing he had to a face (the area between his eyes), while I used auros to send to all of them, I yield the trail because I prefer not to fight. If that's your desire, go in peace. But if you're determined to have a fight, there's no point in me evading one.

Several of them were mentally startled at the message. An older member of the troop, with more discretion and perhaps a veteran's eye for how easily I'd responded, tried to defuse the situation, gently tugging his leader in a direction that would have taken them both around me and the cart.

The leader wasn't having it. Obviously a young male, he barked a short command, and tried to wrench his spear away from my blade in attack. The other soldiers began moving their spears in my direction.
I simply stepped inside as the leader's spear wrenched away, and calmly cut him in two just above the angle in his carapace. The bondsteel blade was sharp, three to four atoms across on the edges, and hull-charged. I could have cut a solid steel block almost as easily as I cut through the young aristocrat. On the back stroke, I caught the three spears closest to me, gathering them on the strong part of the blade in a classic circular parry before I used the base of the main edge to cut the heads off those spears.

I took one step back, viewing the tableau in front of me, sending We are taught that those who attack us should not do so with impunity. Your leader attacked me twice, but he has paid with his life. This doesn't need to go any further.

The Fountains of Aescalon is available in e-book and paperback from both Amazon and all of the Books2Read retailers



#fantasy #manyworlds

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on August 11, 2020 7:22 AM.

Excerpt from The Monad Trap was the previous entry in this blog.

Premise: Calmena and the Preparations For War series is the next entry in this blog.

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