After several days with Stuckaneer’s family on Bannockburn, assisting them in their recovery, Lady Koralia is approached by Dillon and Laura. They tell her that a woman named Oracle Larissa wished to see her.
Lady Koralia decides to go alone, despite the protests of Kadan. Paxton seems to only half hear that she is even leaving, he is so preoccupied with his inventions. Doctor Wulfric continues to tend to the needs of the Gannok, who, though they have remarkable recovery speeds, are still not fully healed from their ordeal.
The twins lead her through the streets of Gailoch, coming eventually to what appears to be a small bookstore in a nicer part of the city. They lead her inside, and to a door behind the counter.
Inside, Lady Koralia meets the Oracle. She is an ancient woman, with eyes that seem to simultaneously see everything and be miles away. She thanks Lady Koralia for her good deeds here on Bannockburn, and tells her that she has a prophecy to impart to her:
A great devil arises in the mists
Set free by earth-shattering fire crafted in the sky.
The universe mourns for the loss of ancient gifts.
In the Home of Pythia, seek the way.
Save those stalwart stone minds
Save the Ming.
The woman’s senses return to her, and Lady Koralia thanks her for her time and wisdom, and begins making her way back to her companions. When she leaves the building, she realizes that the sun has made quite a path through the sky: it is now several hours later than when she went in, despite it seeming as if only a few moments had passed.
When she returns to the safe house, she speaks with Kadan privately, and lets him know that she spoke to Larissa, and shares her prophecy with him. The two of them recall some old mentions of Pythia from ancient Urth myth, and determine that it must be a reference to Delphi, the fabled home of the Oracle of Pythia. Lady Koralia, for her part, has never heard of the Ming, though Kadan vaguely recalls reading something about an alien species by that name.
They speak to the rest of the group, careful not to reveal the source of the knowledge. Paxton has read a few other things about the Ming in his time, and tells the rest of the group that if he is not mistaken, they are a mineral life form from a Lost World known as Gizeh.
The group make their preparations, and head off the Byzantium Secundus to reunite Stuckaneer with his family. Their trip goes without incident, and after placing a call to Stuckaneer and filling out the requisite paperwork, a touching reunion takes place. Stuckaneer promises the group that he is at their service, and urges them not to hesitate should they require anything at all from him in the future.
At dinner, the group debate what is to be done. Lady Koralia is in favor of leaving for Delphi as soon as possible. Both Kadan and Doctor Wulfric agree. Paxton attempts to argue, but quickly realizes that he is out voted, and instead asks Lady Koralia if they can get passage on an Engineer ship, and if Lady Koralia can arrange for him to use the labs on the ship while they are in transit. She agrees, and it is only through her various charms that the Engineers allow him remarkably limited access to their on-ship facilities.
The group arrives in Delphi without incident, and make their way to Baronet Evander Roydon Hawkwood‘s estate. En route, Paxton gives Doctor Wulfric a handful of special rounds that he has made for Vera, the good doctor’s favorite sniper rifle. He says that the rounds are equipped with small EMP generators, which should disrupt energy shields. Doctor Wulfric thanks him.
At the manor, introductions are made. Baronet Evander is an attractive, pleasant man, quick with a smile and very gracious. He even address Kadan by name, shaking his hand and smiling at him. He offers his guests rooms, and tells them that dinner will be served at six.
Doctor Wulfric, who has family nearby, excuses himself to have lunch with his parents, Niklaus and Annegret, who are also members of the Scravers and own a gun smithy. He shows his parents the special rounds that Paxton made, to which his mother replies, “Oh, my. It would be simply wonderful if we could make these. Alas, we don’t have the money to purchase the plans. If only something could be done.” Doctor Wulfric takes the hint, and makes a mental note to try to get a copy of the plans from Paxton.
Meanwhile, Lady Koralia and Lord Evander catch up, as she has been gone for nearly half a year at this point. She tells him of her travels, being careful to make it all sound less dangerous than it has been. He gives her a beautiful platinum necklace, with three flawless emeralds set as a pendant. She is brought nearly to tears by the beautiful gift.
The group all dress well to attend dinner. There are some minor officials from various parts of the local area here. Kadan is nearly bored to tears by the noble small talk. Doctor Wulfric finds the conversation tedious and hard to follow, as each person speaking seems to assume that the listener is already apprised of certain information to which the group is not privy. Lady Koralia is in her element, and surprisingly, Paxton does quite well, not blurting out random technobabble nor embarrassing himself a single time. Doctor Wulfric is concerned for his health.
During the dinner, one of the local officials makes a comment that the local Charioteer Agora has been researching the Delphi Jumpgate lately, but has been tight lipped about what they are doing. This, of course, results in dinnertime conspiracy theories that get progressively more outlandish the more wine is consumed. Lady Koralia and her group decide to look into these rumors the following day. As dinner concludes, some of the minor officials make their way to guest quarters, while others head to their own homes. Doctor Wulfric goes to spend the night with his family, while Lady Koralia and Lord Evander go to their chambers.
The following day, after an early wakeup call, the group make their way to the Charioteer Agora. The desk clerk, a minor Apprentice, tells them that Guild business cannot be discussed with outsiders. However, Lady Koralia puts on her famous charms, and asks to speak to a ranking officer. The girl agrees, as her script doesn’t have a contingency for this event. She fetches a man who introduces himself as Commander Brandon Estes. He takes the group to his private office.
Once there, Lady Koralia briefly tries to convince Commander Estes that her interest was purely curiosity, but he will not be taken for a fool. He knows that random Nobles don’t just show up unannounced after hearing such rumors purely out of curiosity, so he levels with the group. He tells them that the Charioteers are fairly certain that they have discovered a new set of coordinates through the Delphi Jumpgate. He believes that they lead to a Lost World, and he would like to lead an expedition through the gate. The arrival of Lady Koralia and her retinue is beneficial to him: due to her status as a Questing Knight, he can make the trip without having to go through the lengthy process of filing for Imperial dispensation. Since the group has Enhenduanna, he also would be spared the tedium of having a random Church official inspect everything and go along for the ride. So he is more than willing to take the group along, as his curiosity as to what is through the Gate is far greater than his care for the bureaucracy involved in doing so the proper way. The group agrees to his terms, and they schedule to begin the expedition in a week.
The week passes without major incident, though Lady Koralia does fear some loss of hair after agreeing to host a “small” pool party in her manor for Doctor Wulfric’s nieces and nephews, which turns into an impromptu family gathering with over a dozen children ranging from age 5 to age 13.
After the week has elapsed, they meet with Commander Estes at the spaceport and begin loading up for their journey. None in the group has traveled through a Jumpgate without a Jumpkey before, so they aren’t sure exactly what they are in for. As it turns out, all they are in for is a lot of waiting as the ship’s Think Machines input the coordinates manually, and a slightly more turbulent ride. Having arrived in a new system, the ship sends out some small scouting ships to take readings of the systems planets. They find evidence of human habitation on the closest planet to the sun, and decide to take a shuttle down and investigate. One their trip to the planet’s surface, they see a gleaming desert world with three seas and narrow habitable zones around them. They also see a number of enormous, strange crystal towers dotting the desert. They find a large city, which seems to have a functioning spaceport, and decide to touch down there. As they exit the shuttle, there are hundreds of human gathered to watch, curious as to who these newcomers are. They see a sign at their docking bay that reads, “Welcome to Memphis.”
They are quickly greeted by an older man wearing nice clothing and what appears to be a necklace of office. He introduces himself as Governor Khonsut, and asks that they please accompany him to town hall.
Once there, he asks the group why they have come to Gizeh, and how they managed to get through the Jumpgate. They spend a great deal of time talking: the group updating him on the events of the Known Worlds since Gizeh’s Jumpgate was sealed, and him telling them of Gizeh’s politics and culture. Doctor Wulfric and Enhenduanna seem especially horrified by the Gizehn’s common use of technology and ideals of religious freedom, while he seems horrified at the current state of the Known Worlds. The entire group is taken aback by the fact that the people of Gizeh have no conception of the Universal Church, and instead practice a number of ancient, pre-Reflective faiths.
After such conversation is held over strong, aromatic coffee, they discuss why the group has come to this world. They tell Khonsut that they heard rumors that the Ming were facing some sort of catastrophe, involving fire from the skies and something rising from the mists. They say that they are eager to speak with the Ming, if at all possible. Khonsut warns them that speaking to the Ming is frustrating at best, if one can even get an audience with them: the desert nomads are fiercely protective of them. When asked why they are frustrating to speak with, Khonsut tells the group that the Ming see all of time as one continuous moment, with no differentiation between past, present, and future. Their advice is valued by all Gizehn, but they are seldom sought out due to the difficulty in understanding their wisdom. If the group wishes to speak with the Ming, then their best bet is to find the desert nomads and plead their case with them.
As for the fire from the skies, Khonsut says that it cannot be anything from within the system. At least, not in terms of technologies: the ancestors of the Gizehn decommissioned all orbital ship weaponry when the Jumpgate was sealed, using the parts in the construction and maintenance of the planet’s cities. As to the mists the group mentioned, he says that the only place on the planet’s surface he knows of where actual mist forms is near the Hapi Sea, far to the south, beyond a mountain range. He does point out that if the term “mist” is used less literally, then the Deep Desert is ravaged by sandstorms that could be described as mist, but he is unsure of what their source of information was and what they could mean.
Khonsut is clearly curious as to how the group heard any rumors of activities on Gizeh, but doesn’t voice his curiosity. He offers the group bed and board in his own home, and when asked about payment, he tells them that no Gizehn would dream of asking for payment for hospitality.
The group discusses their possible courses of action, and decides that the easiest way to proceed will be to investigate the area around the Hapi Sea, as that is a given fact that cannot change or move, unlike the sandstorms or the desert nomads. The group begins making their preparations.