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The Other War (Cover)

Chapter 70 - The Other War
Black River Canyonlands
Valence, Babylon
Pentagon Worlds, Clan Space
August 10th, 3063

Rebekah watched as the Vaga said prayers over the dead under the stars. The men gently placed them in the river, bodies hitting with a muted splash before sinking rapidly as the stone weights did their work. Ajmal came back aboard as a gentle wind blew bobbing their boat slightly as she pressed into her jacket. “There is new reason to fear going beyond the weeping wall. People disappear all the time up there. I have never seen enemy attacks so vicious though, even Burrock slavers were not so sadistic.”

“Apparently our enemy is more relentless and terrible then I thought. All the more reason they need to be exposed and destroyed.”

The following day the Black river was filled with the remnants of Foehn winds superheated by friction from falling down Valence’s Great Plateau to the East, where features ranged from merely large to mind-blowing. Even hundreds of kilometers away the hurricane force winds swept up the tiniest of sand grains wearing even the mightiest of the gray-green basalt pillars over time. Beyond them even weak breezes turned more powerful as they rushed through narrow fissures creating dangerous and unpredictable conditions below.

These two forces created wonderful karst features like those found in Terra’s Zhangjiajie over time. Seasonally the winds shifted as the ridge heated up creating a monsoon that changed the flow, instead of dropping hot air it pulls cold air from the jet stream West to East. This constant pull of hot and cold had shaped Valence’s rugged topography for eons and had made its way into the Vaga(bond) mythos with its emphasis on circles in behavior, dance, and adornment as well as their traditional cave dwellings resembling Yaodongs.

The badlands above were heavily eroded with no soil and only the most primitive of life clinging to the canyon edges and within cracks. Lichens and algae absorbed light from Tigris (Babylon’s sun) above but provided little nourishment to the water below. Further downstream where conditions were less harsh and open scrubby plants and grasses grew forming a chaparral that fed the Vaga’s flocks and other life who in turn were eaten by Goliath Scorpions and Coyotes. This far upstream the Black River was cold and devoid of anything but microbial life slowly breaking down the stone for nourishment.

Down in the canyons things were cooler and more stable meteorologically and biologically but geologically everything was falling to pieces. Freeze-thaw cycles and erosive winds made rockfalls common. More than once they came upon a narrow passage made unnavigable by a fallen boulder just barely visible in shadow beneath the water’s surface. Sometimes whole cliff walls fell in, and others were braced with metal brackets to stabilize them. Jagged stones to the side and below the calm cool waters were always waiting to piece their hull and drown them in darkness.

They stopped for lunch, dropping anchor,  “I just had to choose to infiltrate this way.”

“It is a good plan, Beka. No one would suspect an amphibious infiltration force ascending the cliffs.”

She could only look in dismay as a large boulder had wedged itself above them some time in the recent past. “With good reason. These canyons are wind tunnels of doom filled with deceptive shadows hiding keel-breaking stones, narrow passages requiring poles to traverse, always under threat from falling rocks, and icy water forming treacherous rapids and whirlpools. It is amazing your ancestors ever made it this far.”

The man smiled and took another sip of tea admiring the fine veins of rock in the boulder poised to crush them should gravity give it the opportunity. Without further pause they set off once more, gradually closing along the serpentine paths navigating fast flowing water and other hazards with apparent calm. “The human spirit is a curious one. Many were lost attempting to go up this river but enough made it through that we can continue their work. I feel it is like your Clans a constantly unfinished work, we may never know how far these passages go or what might be hidden within. For all we know there is some alien civilization that lived here once and was lost to time.”

“Or some mummified remains of the first complete with a new strain of Babylon Plague dormant just looking for a new host.”

“We leave the dead in peace should we find them in the desert. Many perished in the first years of colonization and during KLONDIKE. Desiccating winds and little microbial activity preserve them until they disappear, their bones scattered like the stones above.”

The air around them grew cool and humid, gray-green canyon walls shimmered with water. Around her the Vaga paused said a prayer and placed their hands on the stone. “This is the Weeping Wall, Rebekah.”

Rebekah looked at the sight in astonishment, the wall itself was wet each tear like drop slid down to join the others in the river below. She too put her hand on it and felt it cold, “A water seep, there’s a massive aquifer beneath us.”

“We are actually within an underground lake here in this canyon, however due to the stone’s permeability only some of it can leak out at a time. This wall is the largest of many we have found so far but there are many more upstream. Each one contributes a small volume, but they are numerous and with them the Black River is sustained."

"To us it represents the many tears shed since the Exodus during wars. So, we always stop here to pay our respects in the hope that one day it is dry, and no more tears are shed in grief.”

She looked up at the wall and its constant flow, every second more fell. Few knew that the Vaga were a people sustained by symbolic grief. Overcome with emotion she too felt a tear form in her own eyes remembering those that she had lost. The droplet trailed down her fingertips and joined the others. Ajmal watched her for a moment before giving the order to continue on to the shrine and beyond to their target.

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