Feelings had become tense in the cavern by the time the week known as “Scars Week” occurred. The DRC had opened all of Ae’Gura and the Neighborhoods, and released Eder Delin, Eder Tsogahl, and the four pods of Reziksehv to explorers. We had recently been warned that a dangerous and violent predator was stalking the wildlife near Negilahn, but we didn’t know what kind of creature it was, or even what it looked like.
In spite of Yeesha’s lessons in Delin and Tsogahl, we were not united. We argued constantly, especially over the Bahro.And we missed the leadership of Watson and Yeesha, both of whom seemed to have vanished.We did not know at the time how important “Scars Week” would be. I suppose no one ever knows how important an event will be before it occurs.That week is known as “Scars Week” because of the physical and emotional scars that characterized it.
The first scar was a physical one.
The first scar…was a crack.
The week began normally. Victor Laxman, one of the four remaining DRC members, was making the rounds from Neighborhood to Neighborhood. He was talking with explorers about the next Age the DRC planned to release, which he said was almost ready.
Suddenly, while talking with explorers, he received a message on his KI. After reading it, he excused himself, saying that there had been some seismic activity in Ae’Gura and that he needed to check it out.
We didn’t think it could be anything important. After all, the Great Scream had destabilized everything months before.
We forgot about Laxman and spent our time gossiping about Nick White, who’d just been fired from the DRC. I won’t go into too many details about why he’d been fired, other than to say that…well, that Nick was something of a ladies’ man. And I mean ladies in the plural.
At any rate, he was still here, but as one of us, not as a DRC employee. And we were all very concerned for him when he told us that he and Sharper were planning another expedition to Negilahn.
Sharper, Nick said, planned to hunt the predator.
Later that day, a KI-mail was sent out to all of us informing us that the “seismic activity” Laxman had referred to had resulted in a large crack appearing in the Kahlo Pub of Ae’Gura. As you can imagine, this immediately attracted explorers to that area of the cavern. Explorers reported that the Bahro were screaming more loudly and more frequently than before in Ae’Gura, but that didn’t stop people from checking it out.
The next day, explorers were still crowded around the crack when Wheely Engberg showed up the next day in Ae’Gura, with a friend. Rosette, Wheely’s friend, was visiting D’ni for the first time and Wheely wanted to show her around. They had already visited some of the Neighborhoods, collecting Markers.
The second scar was a false scar, a scar imagined to distract others from the real threat.
Wheely noticed the crack and wanted to explore that area, but explorers prevented her. Her father had been by recently to ask people to stay out of the area, and while the explorers were heedless of this advice for themselves, no one wanted Engberg’s daughter endangered.
Unfortunately, Wheely was too curious for her own good. She and Rosette announced over the KI that they had found a second crack at the library. When explorers rushed to that location, not only was there no such crack, but Wheely and Rosette had disappeared. Even their KI’s were offline.
And while some saw this as merely a teenage prank, there were others who worried about the sudden disappearances.
As it turned out, Wheely probably saved several of our lives that day.
When Laxman visited us again in a Neighborhood, explorers were less interested in the activation of the KI-light machine that he was announcing than they were in the whereabouts of Wheely and Rosette.
A good friend of mine and I were the first to speak up, asking Laxman if he knew what had happened to Wheely. Laxman shrugged it off and said he was sure she was fine–although we knew her, and didn’t think this was typical of her nature. As it turned out, we were right.
I urged Laxman to at least mention the matter to Engberg, and shortly afterwards, both were seen linking into Ae’Gura. They immediately went across the city, calling Wheely’s name. Explorers realized something was wrong, and joined in the search.
That was one of the most frantic days of my life. We all became a bit hysterical.
I remember screaming at Laxman to open up the barricaded part of the library, thinking that perhaps Wheely could have gone down there before disappearing. As I look back I can see I was being irrational, but then, we all were.
You see, we weren’t the only ones in the city that day.
As we searched, we saw several Bahro–saw them, not just heard them–standing on rooftops, screaming, linking in and out. It was rather terrifying.
At last, we were ordered out of Ae’Gura, and some of us had to be physically forced to go.
It was announced some time later that Laxman had been able to locate Wheely’s KI signal and turn her KI on remotely. It was coming from beneath the Kahlo Pub crack.
We all knew Wheely was somewhere below the Pub, but the DRC erected barriers to keep us out.
On the third day, Wheely finally managed to contact the DRC from her KI. As it turned out, she and Rosette had invented the library crack to get explorers to leave the Pub, so that they could come see the crack.
She and Rosette had gone to the Pub while explorers were distracted. At precisely that moment, as fate or Yahvo would have it, there had been a cave-in. Wheely and Rosette fell down into the chambers beneath the Pub.
Wheely told us, via the KI, that Rosette was dead and she herself was injured. Worse yet, her Relto Book seemed to have stopped functioning. She was trapped, alone with a corpse, tired, injured, and afraid.
Fortunately, the DRC had already pinpointed her location and was working to dig through the rubble to get her out.
I shall never forget, as long as I live, the tender encouragements of a father to his daughter.
Wheely lapsed in and out of consciousness throughout that day. At first she tried to tell us a little about the room she was in–there were strange symbols that looked similar to the Bahroglyphs. But more importantly, Wheely announced to us that she had suddenly become aware that she was not alone. A Bahro was in the chamber with her, watching her.
It was the closest any of us had ever been to a Bahro, but most of us believed that at the very least, the creature would not have any reason to harm her. Even Wheely’s father said he was certain the Bahro only wanted to help.
And at first, it seemed to.
Wheely grew terribly thirsty, but awoke with her thirst abated as if by magic, and during that time, her KI registered her as being in various other Ages. We all assumed the Bahro was helping her–but if so, why did it return her to the chamber?
By this time, Nick White had returned from his trip with Sharper. They had not caught the predator, but Nick had heard the news of Wheely and had returned to help.
Sharper, he said, was still hiding in a hunter’s blind in Negilahn, waiting for the predator to go after the bait he had set. And then it did, and Sharper was in pursuit. From then on, it was radio silence for him.
Meanwhile, the DRC had managed to dig through the ground to the floor of a building, but they still had one more floor to go. There was something odd about that building–something that’s never been explained.
According to Nick White, he and Sharper had seen an odd symbol outside the Pod in Negilahn–the symbol of a crooked line, with circles on either side. That same symbol, according to Nick, was in the building the DRC had reached.
As the day progressed, the DRC kept digging and the explorers kept encouraging. All across Ae’Gura and the Neighborhoods, explorers were sending messages of hope, and after the abatement of Wheely’s thirst, we were all so grateful that she at least had a Bahro for company.
When the DRC was mere minutes away, Wheely reported that the Bahro that was with her became agitated. She said that it had begun scrambling about the ceiling and floors, making angry sounds.
Wheely said that she was frightened, and that the Bahro kept repeating the word “Noloben”. Noloben–which, if we are to believe Cyan, was the Age where many Bahro were tortured by a depraved D’ni man.
Then Wheely screamed and was silent.
The DRC reached her–what was left of her. The Bahro was gone. The symbols were gone.
Wheely’s body was still there.
According to reports from Sutherland and Sharper, it was mangled, defiled, torn to pieces. And unfortunately, one of the first to see it was Michael Engberg himself.
You must understand that we had been very foolish in how we’d viewed the Bahro. Nearly everyone was divided into two camps–one that believed that the Bahro had killed her, and one that believed it was innocent and had tried to help.
I don’t think it occurred to anyone until after the fact that there could have been more than one Bahro in that room with her, at different times.
The third scar was an emotional one–the scar we all felt for Wheely, and for Michael, after her death.
The next day, all across the cavern, explorers wore black in mourning. And though it was a sea of sorrow, it was also a sea of unity.
There was still a great deal of debate. The question on most people’s minds was: had the Bahro killed Wheely? And the second was: if so, then why?
We got our answer when Sharper returned.
Our sorrow for Wheely had mostly driven our concern for Sharper from our minds, but we were relieved to see him home safe and sound. He brought ill tidings, however.
Sharper had followed the Negilahn predator, only to discover that it was laying a trap for him. That predator, he told us–that brutal, violent, evil creature–was a Bahro. And not just one Bahro, but many.
Sharper spoke of a legion of the creatures, gazing at him with evil eyes and preparing to destroy him. But before they could, he was rescued–by another Bahro.
And then he learned what very few of us had suspected–the Bahro were at war. Civil war. It seemed that after their freedom from enslavement, they had divided into at least two factions, and one of these was malevolent.
Undoubtedly the Bahro that slew Wheely was one of these. Was it the same Bahro that had quenched her thirst and helped her?
Most people think that the Bahro was toying with Wheely, keeping her alive to observe her, as Esher did with the Bahro on Noloben.
But I myself hold to the belief that there were two Bahro in that chamber–the one that helped her, and the one that came later and killed her. I suppose it’s all academic now.
Michael Engberg sat in the Kahlo Pub for most of that day. The DRC reopened it and asked that they respect his grieving process, which as it turned out, involved sitting and staring, stone-faced, at the place where Wheely was buried.
But later that evening, he finally moved. He began wandering from Neighborhood to Neighborhood, muttering to himself and ignoring explorers.
Then Engberg suddenly cried out, “Dr. Watson!” and immediately linked to the Nexus.
Shortly thereafter, his KI was noted in the Descent–the last known location of Dr. Watson. Then it went dark.
Sutherland and Kodama, both DRC, came looking for him later, and we soon learned that he had vanished, perhaps for good. And we couldn’t really blame him.
Not knowing what else to do, the DRC went ahead with the scheduled release of their next Age, Minkata, which means “Heavily Scared”.
And this was the fourth scar, the physical pockmarks of an Age whose name means “Scarred” in D’ni.
We linked to Minkata with heavy hearts, and discovered something that roused our curiosity.
Upon the stone in the center of the Minkata desert is a symbol–a symbol we’d heard about, but never seen. The symbol from near Negilahn and from Wheely’s death chamber–the symbol of a crooked line, with circles at either side.
And in the end, that was what united the explorers. Not the Team Ages, but the death of a teenage girl.
Written by Carl Palmner, edited by Malfhok