Episode 10 — Fast Boats and Ur Relics

The two al-Malik hovercrafts are closing in on Lina's speedboat, firing with clear intent to disable or destroy. Aquilegia and NeVaga open the hatches and shoot back. NeVaga's devastating accuracy sends the al-Malik personnel dodging, but they keep firing their much heavier weapons. Observing the hovercrafts' lesser manoeuverability, Aquilegia yells at Lina to jink and cross the path of the nearest pursuer, drawing it into the line of fire of the second hovercraft, which in turn is hit by a few more well-placed shots from NeVaga.

Outgunned by the opposition, Aquilegia decides to slow down their vehicle. She grabs a small anchor and swings it into the propeller. The other hovercraft is fast approaching, however; NeVaga crawls along the speedboat's hull, reaches out and slashes at the skirt of the air cushion that supports the craft. Another slash and it starts losing control, moving erratically; a stray piece of debris goes ricocheting into the fuel tank and it explodes! The entire hovercraft shudders and goes up in flames.


Meanwhile, Aquilegia jumps onto the other, damaged hovercraft and seizes control, convincing the crew to surrender. After a bit of an argument with Lina, who would rather finish the entire crew off, Aquilegia convinces her sister to swing around and leave them on Mustapha's disabled fishing boat, trussed up. She keeps one younger crewman to pilot the hovercraft back, following Lina's speedboat to her hideout along the southern coast of the Tabaristan Sea.

Lina does little to clarify the situation, revealing only that the attacks of the Fishermen's Guild against the independents has nothing to do with commerce and everything to do with the Guild's belief that a Second Republic city lies under the waves in this area. However, she says, it's really much worse… She clams up, preferring to show them what it is in the morrow. Aquilegia and NeVaga spend the evening getting their bearings and looking at the village. Lina and Aquilegia exchange tales of the last few years, including their father's betrayal of the Known Worlds and humanity. Lina is particularly interested in Aquilegia's contacts with non-humans, such as Sir Thoktika'a and the Changed.


The next day, she and Winitran, a local fisherman, take the visitors to an area far out sea aboard a fishing boat, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Lina tells them to wait, and dives. After half an hour, she returns with a small submersible that seats up to four people, and invite Aquilegia and NeVaga aboard. Under the waves, they can see that they are near a submerged peak. As they dive, Lina tells her story.

After running away from home, renouncing her family name, and signing up with the Muster, she grew disenchanted again — courtesy of a stint on Stigmata — and left without settling with the Muster Guild. She earned a living as a freelancer for a while until about a year ago. She was on Criticorum when the conflict between the Fishermen's Guild and the independents heated up and the Muster were hired. Still feeling resentful toward the Muster, she sold her services to the indenpendents. Although she soon realized there was little money to be paid working for them, she started sympathizing with them… and with the secret they guarded.

Criticorum sailors, it seems, have a legend of the Leviathans, giant sea creatures who guard a mysterious sunken city. However, the legend speaks of them inhabiting the larger Ilaha Ocean, not the interior Tabaristan Sea. But Lina has learned from the independent fishermen that they and their archaic, long-isolated people have a pact with the Leviathans right here: the sea giants help them fish, and the fishermen keep all other humans away from this sunken city. Even more extraordinary, the city does not in fact date from the Second Republic or even the First, but to an immensely more ancient Ur era. Indeed, the Leviathans were not sentient until the Ur gave them sentience and charge them with guarding their city. The Leviathans then formed a bond much later with a population of humans.

All the fishermen worship the Leviathans instead of the Pancreator (Aquilegia shudders to hear this) and communicate with them, apparently mentally; Lina says she has only been able to communicate with the Leviathans through the fishermen. As she tells the tale, the submersible reaches and moves through the promised sunken Ur city; the squarish, massive bodies of Leviathans, eyeless and mouthless, swim around them. Finally, Lina brings the sub around to reveal the biggest secret: half silted up, there in the silent city is a Gargoyle of the Ur, similar to the one found on Nowhere. Awuilegia stares in wonder at all she sees.

Although it is hardly necessary, Lina points out what a bad idea it would be to let the al-Malik or the Guilds get their hands on their very own Gargoyle and an entire Ur city. Both NeVaga and Aquilegia try to contact the Gargoyle, but fail. Lina says she too has been unable to get a response. She is certain, however, that the Fishermen's Guild has an inkling of the value of the city, though they still mistake it for a Second Republic relic, but has no idea how they learned of it. Now they have also attracted the interest of the Muster and the al-Malik.

They return to Lina's fishing boat. While Lina is returning the submersible to its hidden underwater hangar, Aquilegia and NeVaga question the fisherman Winitran about his people and their relationship with the Leviathan. He placidly assures them that "they would know" if anyone of his people, the Imazighani, had betrayed the secret, even by mistake, to the Fishermen's Guild. However, he does not know whether they would be aware of Psionic intrusion, such as through Mind Sight or Wyrd Sight. He says the Imazighani are able to dive as far down as the Gargoyle, but he doubts that Aquilegia and NeVaga would be able to survive at those depths, even with diving equipment.

Back at the village that night, they speak with Lina about their next steps. Unless Aquilegia can produce some appearance of being able to convince Lina to leave Criticorum, the al-Malik are not going to let her walk free again but rather will keep her as a potential hostage. Lina has been using her contacts to get equipment like the speedboat and the submersible (Criticorum is a huge commerce hub full of smugglers and trafficants), but has no "inside" on the Fishermen's Guild. They discuss ways of averting discovery of the city: diverting the Guild towards a decoy site such a real Second Republic remnant; or discrediting the information that got the Guild interested in the first place, returning the whole search to the status of legend.

But in order to act, it seems they need to find out how the Guild heard about the sunken city and how much credence they put in the rumour. Enough, at least, to hire the Muster at considerable expense, and to spend a year in a trade war…

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