FRAWD Investigators: The Ambush | Scene 9

Lilly and Imogen trek through the thicker vegetation on the leeward side of the island, looking for the Xel’naga ruins. They pass the occasional giant, but collapsed, column. While she operates the detector now mounted in her stun rifle’s body, Imogen reviews with Lilly their goals here. They need to get past traps and possibly alter them, but not destroy them. The ruins need to look authentic to Neiman so that he does not grow suspicious of why Narud brought him here. In addition, if any traps can be modified to separate Narud from Neiman, that would make rescuing the scientist easier.

Lilly grows frustrated at how long the search for the ruins is taking, complaining that since protoss are tall, their predecessors’ ruins should also be so, regardless of how much vegetation has overgrown them. After a humid hour, Imogen’s detector finally gets a lock on the signal, and they find themselves at the entrance. Large broken stones are scattered about on the surface around an opening that heads down into darkness. The archway still stands. Through the vines that cover it, Imogen sees a very dark material, perhaps basalt or obsidian. When she pushes aside some of the plants for a better look, she finds that the worked stone is shot through with veins of a different blue-green material.

Imogen lifts a hand to touch it, but before she makes contact, she pauses to psionically check the area for dangers first. She senses no life below them, so whatever guardians are in place, a bengalaas is not among them. With that determined, she places her fingers lightly on the strange crystal twisting through the stone. 

A surge of energy flows through the unblemished Xel’naga temple’s power conduits. The structure is not overgrown yet and is even farther from the shore. These events happened so long ago that the planet’s sea level was lower. Bipedal beings move about in the vicinity, reminiscent of protoss but taller and with a lot more tentacles, including some on the front of their faces. The structure is not simply a battery, it is an accumulator, capable of charging and recharging with energy from beyond and then releasing it into this plane. It is an energy substation of sorts, connecting the different levels of reality. 

Imogen directs the vision, seeking answers on how to access the structure’s secrets. The closed door that the temple once had is long gone, so the way in is open, but foreknowledge of the dangers within would be helpful.

A Xel’naga—engineer? cleric?—opens the door and heads down into the seldom-accessed interior. Their pace is casual as they descend the stairs, but once they reach the long, oval-shaped room at the bottom, they brace themself and then take off at a full run. The emotions of the moment are not fear or anxiety, but intense focus. But certainly, these beings experience the same adrenaline rush as terrans when put under pressure.

Lilly waits patiently while Imogen listens at the door. Her partner has very sharp ears, so she tries to remain as quiet as possible. However, when the creepy ruins start faintly growing right where Imogen is casually leaning, that is too much for Lilly. She grabs Imogen’s hand and yanks it off the stone. The light slowly fades. At the confused look Imogen throws her, Lilly quietly explains, “Something turned on.”

“Oh!” Imogen begins constructing mental barriers—a maze, as Blight taught, not a wall—just in case the building has any psionic attacks of its own. This place seems psionically balanced in a way Imogen has never experienced. Constructing the mental shield is easier than it has ever been before, and it requires almost no attention from her to maintain after she gets it in place.

“Are you all right?” Lilly says, looking pointedly at Imogen’s hand, the one that had touched the power conduits.

“I don’t feel anything strange,” Imogen assures her. “But, Lilly, we’ve got to move pretty quickly once we’re down inside. Even the people who legitimately operated this place didn’t dawdle down there.”

“All right,” Lilly says agreeably. She cracks her neck and rolls her shoulders, relieved that the glowing crystal veins have gone dormant again. Then she readies her gun and heads down into the darkness.

Imogen pulls out her flashlight and then a better idea occurs to her. Anything she can do to help the temple’s defenses believe she belongs here would be good. She straightens her braid and pushes up her jacket sleeve. Underneath it she wears her psi-gauntlet, which she now ignites with just a moment’s concentration. She holds the blade up like a torch, and its light glistens off the crystalline veins lining the walls of the staircase. Lilly, already several steps down, glances over her shoulder at the change in lighting. Imogen tosses her the flashlight just in case they get separated. Lilly catches it and flicks it on, then resumes quietly moving down the stairs.

Before they have even reached the bottom, they spy a stone guardian at the left end of the oval chamber down there. Imogen recognizes this room from her vision. It is where the Xel’naga braced themself and then sprinted. “Wait a sec,” she tells Lilly. “Let me see if I can do anything about this.” She eyes the guardian, but it has no seams that Imogen can see. And since she detected no life down here, it must be a construct of some sort rather than a new type of alien, so influencing it psionically is out of the question. It is a little less than twice Lilly’s height and looks more like a protoss than Imogen had expected. Its eyes glow red, indicating that it is still active after all these years, but she does not see any mechanical weak points to go after. The stone statue has not responded to the terran presence yet, not at this distance. That may very well change as soon as they are within range.

The archway leading further into the complex is just across the short axis of the room’s oval, and it is too small for the guardian to pursue them through. “All right,” Imogen says, giving up on the idea of any sort of sabotage, “this is the point where we don’t dawdle.”

Imogen runs, and Lilly has no problem keeping pace with her, making sure to stay between the frailer woman and the statue with the creepily growing eyes. As soon as the pair of them enter the chamber itself, the guardian lurches out of its alcove, dust and vines falling to the ground around it. It strides with purpose toward them. They have almost reached the exit on the other side when its eyes brighten and red beams shoot forth. Rather than focus on a single point, they operate independently. One beam hits the ground in front of them and the other behind them. Then they slowly begin to close in on the terrans, igniting all the vegetative detritus along the floor in the process. Given the angle of the lasers, Imogen is able to skip over the front one from her position farther right. 

Lilly rolls under the beam and makes it out through the arch to rejoin her partner. She risks a peek back into the room they just came through. The guardian has returned to its perch, and she notices it is angled toward the stairway. That is good news for the trip out, as they will be able to remain out of its line of sight a bit longer when approaching from this direction.