“If you would care to elaborate?” Trace said, her tone neither casual nor convivial; the mage was on edge, rare venom dripping from her words.
Tinkerwell either didn’t notice or flat-out ignored it. “We’ve been hearing a lot of stories about the legendary Cavern of Echoes,” the gnome replied. “Its unique nature suggests concepts thought rather fictional by schools of both practical and arcane thaumaturgy.”
Blue could feel the mage bristle at the use of the term practical. The engineer continued on, heedless of the way Trace’s corona suddenly re-flared, intensified. Blue was starting to wonder if bullheaded rambling was a trait common to gnomes, engineers, or both.
“”Echoes of the past, indeed,” Tinkerwell said, with mounting excitement. “Hallucinations both auditory and visual, usually linked to the subject’s personal history. Fifteen –admittedly unsubstantiated- but totally unique accounts. Oh, this is Merrimas!”
“Merrimas?” Blue said, stunned. “Great big creepy cave with all sorts of hoodoo happenin’ up in it…and you reckon it’s some sort o’ holiday?”
“An exaggeration, of course. But you’ll have to excuse my excitement. I’ve never been so…so…right in the middle of things before! I intend to chronicle everything I see here; the sight, the sounds…even the smell!”
Trace finally let her corona fade, though her irritation burned just as bright. “You engineers,” she said with a slow shake of her head. “Always getting mixed up in things outside your experience. You don’t have any idea how out of your depth you are, do you?”
Blue found herself surprised; she’d known the magician for a good long time and while the latter had always had a sharp tongue and had no patience for foolishness, this was something different. At first, she had thought Trace was taking the engineer’s mere presence as an insult to her own calling. But while the mage had been a lot of things in Blue’s history, petty wasn’t one of them.
“On the contrary, Mistress Scholar,” Tinkerwell replied. “I’m fully aware that the …unique nature of this cave defies the very boundaries of my understanding and most of my fellows. But you see, that’s the very reason why I’m here. Mystery’s just another word for the Undiscovered, and I do so love discovering things.”
“There are things in this world that are of the Other, Tinkerwell,” Trace retorted, not bothering to hide her exasperation. “Things that defy logic and reason. You’re not the first tinkerer I’ve come across in my travels, nor the first one believing that they’ll be able to catalogue the Unexplainable.”
She fixed him with an even gaze. “I wonder how long it’ll take for you to go mad?”
I wonder how long ‘til I do? Blue thought grimly. The day had taken a strange course from where it had begun in that seedy bar, so far away. But here she was now, in what had proven to be a haunted cave, with some faceless threat within its bowels. She’d forgotten why she was even here other than-
-she’d been summoned by an old friend. From the Days that Were. Who’d expressed the need for her skills and her prowess. And once upon a time, she’d swore to someone the both of them had held dear that she’d answer a summons from one another.
“Pshaw,” was the gnome’s reply. “I’ve found the more fantastic tales from around the Frontier aren’t without their embellishment. You know, there’s talk of some silly-headed elf out in St.Graves that claims to be an Oracle? Rumor has it if you find her, she’ll tell you your future but in such a way where it’ll make your present very difficult.”
“We know,” Blue and Trace said in unison, neither one of them noticing. The gunslinger took off her hat and slapped it against her thigh, shook off some of the dust. “Awright, professional posturing aside, folks, I reckon y’all are fixing to keep on, correct?”
“Indubitably,” said the gnome.
“Yes,” Trace nodded with resolve. Then, softer, “Alone, if I must. Blue, I don’t blame you if you don’t want-“
“Damn right, I don’t want to,“ the gunslinger said. “But I reckon you told me there’s some serious business happening here, right?”
“I wouldn’t lie to you,” the mage said. And then a moment, later. “Never again, like I promised once upon a time.”
Blue nodded. “Then I reckon you got a shot at convincin’ me otherwise. But that means one thing; the truth. I want to know everything we’re up against, and I want to know it right. Damn. Now.”