Plum Lake: Hilltop and Pit

This text originated as a role-playing scenario I ran on the Uru web forums. I acted as a "game master", but the game would not have existed without the cooperation of the other players. They have my thanks.

This is a slightly edited version of the original forum thread. I only simplified the formatting and removed a few out-of-character remarks. I also changed some graphical smileys into text... call me old-school. :)

You may want to read my discussion of how this game worked and what I should have done differently.

I finally got back to Plum Lake. I apologize -- again -- for the delay. There was Payiferen, see; and then when I returned to Plum Lake, it was night. "Night", I suppose I should say. The sun was still visible, just... very dim. Like something was obscuring it. It was as dark as night, anyway. I didn't think it was a good idea to keep trooping around in the vines without being able to see.

But this weekend "night" ended, so I went back today. (After spending last night on intensive marker-hunting! Enjoyable, but I wanted a change of scenery.) And I'm sure I'm near the hilltop.

It wasn't a campfire.

The vegetation thins out near the top of the hill. The crown is bare rock... with a crater in the middle. That volcano in the distance? It isn't the only one. I'm standing on its baby brother. A thin column of smoke rises steadily.

Except the ground doesn't look volcanic. Just cracked, weathered rock. More cracked around the hilltop, as if some force had... pushed upwards, and broken through at the very top. Come to think of it, the big volcano to the north (I'm calling that "north") isn't really a traditional ash-cone either.

I can see more hills from up here, scattered in all directions. I should fetch binoculars and see if all of them are leaking smoke.

It's lovely up here. I just wish I didn't have to hike through two miles of vine maze every time I link in.

Folks, I'd appreciate some input.

I went back with binoculars. My suspicion was right. This entire Age is "volcanic." That is, some kind of underground vapor has broken through to the surface in many places -- usually the tops of hills. (Quite possibly there's an subterranean pressure that's formed the hills in the first place.)

It's not true vulcanism, though. Not like we've seen in Gira. I approached the hilltop crater more closely... and it's not hot. No smell of sulfur or burning. Just an irregular hole in the rocks, maybe six feet across, with white vapor pouring up out of it.

The vapor is pretty thick at the crater mouth, but it dissipates fairly quickly as it rises. Like steam on a warm dry day. But it's not steam. I took a cautious sniff -- no comments please -- and there's no sense of moisture. It doesn't fog my glasses. And it smells... dusty lemons is the closest I can describe. Citrus oil and electricity.

I think I could climb down into the crater. It's not a smooth shaft; there are ledges and protrusions at every level. And some of them have been smoothed and flattened, in a definite downward spiral. Between that and the trail that led to this hilltop, I'm quite sure people went down that hole.

But the trail continues. It descends the east side of the hill (Plum Lake is to the west), and it's wider there. I haven't followed it yet. But I can see wooden structures of some sort in the next valley. Crude log-built towers is all I can make out, even with the binoculars.

So the question: do I explore the crater first, or go investigate the structures?


Do the task that's nearest,
Though it's dull at whiles...

The crater. If there's nothing of interest, then move on. That's what I would do.


maybe there will some informations about the craters in the tower, so i'll have a look at the tower first :)

Hah. Tie vote. I could wait for a third, but I only have this morning to keep exploring -- busy on Earth in the afternoon -- so I won't wait. Coin-flipping time. :)

Down the crater it is.

And I have returned to tell the tale, so I didn't suffocate or anything.

The crater is a very peculiar geological formation. It's not the conical hole that a volcanic explosion would create. It's not a lava tube, or an erosion gully, or the kind of crack you'd see after an earthquake. And it's not a drill shaft, although (as I said) parts of it have been shaped for easier access.

It looks most like a tunnel dug by hand... if someone could dig through rock with an enormous shovel, straight down. Irregular walls, lots of random chunky angles. Descending isn't quite a cakewalk, but there are handholds -- iron bars -- knocked into the wall at the tricky parts. No question that people went down there.

The mist, or vapor, rises through the shaft in a steady stream. The farther down I went, the thicker it was.

I got quite a ways down, and then started to see some kind of fuzzy white growth on the walls. I figured that was enough for a while, and returned to the surface to see if I was going to fall over in convulsions or anything. Haven't yet.


Well, we know some people who used to be quite good at digging...  :)

Certainly, but the D'ni were a lot more... professional looking.

I mean, they were the ones with giant digging machines. You can see the places in Ae'gura where they cut away the native stone -- the surfaces aren't polished, but they're machine-worked and very flat. (I'm talking about, for example, the walkway between the Museum and the Courtyard.)

This looks more like brute force. Only brute force that goes through stone like clay.

I went back down the shaft.

That white fuzz wasn't fungus at all, or any kind of plant. It was a fine crystalline growth. As I went farther down, the crystals grew larger -- like glittering sand. It was on everything, although fortunately it didn't stick to metal. I was able to brush the stuff off each handhold bar as I reached it.

Farther down yet, the crystals formed tiny rods, then larger ones; crayon-sized, pencil-sized. The walls were nearly obscured with crystal growth here. The stuff wasn't pure white -- more milky, with fine striations of translucency.

The shaft narrowed perceptibly, with heavy chunks of crystal and banks of prism pressing inward. But I could start to see a dim green glow coming up through the mist from below. So I kept going.

Until finally the passage simply choked itself off. The blocks of crystal below me were massive, and angled together until there was no room to descend further. The vapor poured out from the crevices between them.

The green light was... I couldn't tell where it was coming from. It was shining right up through the crystal, I guess, and illuminating the mist. Still pretty dim, even at that level. But not much daylight was filtering down through the mist, so the green glow was welcome.

I'm pretty sure something is embedded in the crystal, down at the bottom of the shaft. I could make out a circular shape inside the wall. But I couldn't see a way to reach it.


I suggest a Maintainer team member should check this out... might just be dangerous. What if the crystals are sentient? What if they penetrate your skin, or you inhale the fine mesh fibres and discover that you too are beginning to change? What if you... of endless possiblities of terror.

Eee gads, man, get out of there before you infect the whole explorer community.   8|

Well, at least think about wearing a medical mask before you explore that area, and I'd run down to your favorite Gahreesen tank and get a Maintainer Suit ready just in case... better have some help from the Medical Guilds too.... Shiloh is an expert in inner cavern med advice.

Well, good luck... let us know what the green light is... I hope for your sake that it isn't alive   ;)

but then again, I hope it is, too...  :)

Pff, yeah, crystals of terror. You know, the DRC never inspected Relto either. Maybe the pine trees will start growing out of your ears. :)

I don't mean to trivialize the problem, really. But I have to take some shortcuts to keep this thread moving. I'm dealing with Plum Lake the way I've dealt with all the other Ages I've explored. Look around, try things, and assume that nothing is really dangerous. (As long as I keep my Relto book at hand! Which I will, trust me.) Let's stick with that.

Also, use what I've got on hand. I can't haul an extendable ladder up that hill, sorry. :)

As nobody has any further clever ideas about the crater... (This isn't a knock. I can't find anything else to do down there either. Yet.)

From the hilltop, another quarter-hour of hiking brought me to the towers.

There are two of them, but they're situated on either side of a large square pit. I don't mean a crater -- this is clearly artificial. It's forty feet across, maybe twenty feet deep, and the walls are smooth white tile. The pit floor is flat, but there's a lot of mud down there, so I can't tell what it's made of. Four heavy hatch covers stick up above the mud, one near each wall. (All closed.)

The towers themselves aren't very exciting. Two small wooden shacks on stilts, raised twenty feet in the air. Each has a doorway facing the pit. One is on the west side of the pit -- that's the one I can reach, obviously -- and one is on the opposite side.

What's more interesting is the T-shaped structure between the towers. It rises up out of the pit: a long horizontal pole, of dull metal, balanced on a heavier vertical pole. The vertical is rooted right in the center of the pit, and it's about thirty feet high -- meaning that the horizontal beam is ten feet above ground level. And forty feet long -- the full width of the pit.

And a rope ladder hangs from each end of the beam. The western one is right in front of me, as I stand between the tower and the pot. Annoyingly, the ladder is only twenty feet long. So it only goes halfway up to the tower and only halfway down to the bottom of the pit.

Oh yes: the brush presses tightly in on the north side of the pit, but there's enough room on the south to circumnavigate it without falling in. I think.

So now what? Ladders, trail around the pit, towers? Back to the crater? Or feel free to ask further questions about the things I've encountered.

(Of course I don't mean back to the crater. I Reltoed out to post this message, so it's actually a question of whether I stop at the crater next time I link back to Plum Lake. Take the back-and-forth for granted when you read this thread -- I won't mention it much.)


I'm curious about what's in the towers and what the purpose of this whole apparatus is. Can you see what's inside from the ground?

Also, can you climb the stilts? If not, I have a suggestion for getting up there. If you climb the ladder and pull it up behind you, you might be able to throw it up to the tower. It probably won't work if there's nothing inside the tower to catch the rope on, but it's worth a shot.

You should probably pull on the ladder a couple of times before climbing. You wouldn't want to fall into the pit because of some rotten rope.  :)


If I were there, I'd go inch around the pit and try and get as much detail on the whole shebang before doing anything else. Personally.


And when you have done the inching, it might be worth considering that the t-bar might go up or down given sufficient stimulus. Maybe it turns...

Climbing the stilts is, sadly, a complete non-starter. (I could never get up that rope in gym class, either.)

The towers have doorways, facing each other, twenty feet above me. That is, both doorways face the pit. I can see some furniture in the far tower... including bookshelves, which are always a thrilling find. (Heh.) I can't make out anything in the tower on the near side, since the angle is bad -- I'm looking straight up.

Well, I was wrong. I could only get halfway around the south edge before the brush closed in. (The pit edges are bevelled, so there's no way to crawl along them or keep a grip.)

But it seems that the trail around the south edge was kept clear deliberately. And here's why: just to the south of the pit, a metal post is standing up out of the ground. It's plain, and about waist-high.

The post has a hole drilled through its top end, a couple of inches wide. (Roughly drilled -- I can see cutting marks. A two-foot metal bar is stuck through the hole. The bar doesn't fit cleanly -- it's not like it was machined to go in there; someone just stuck it in.

I could pull the bar out easily, but this ring and chain is hanging off it. A steel ring, the size of my hand, looped over the bar; and a chain leading down to a hole in the ground. The chain is clearly connected to some underground machinery. And it's pulled taut. If I pull the bar out, it'll retract back into the ground. No idea what that'll do, but I didn't want to touch it until I'd described it all for you.

Sir Pyke:

Well, you've got nothing much to loose in my opinion. It doesn't seem like it's connected to a loaded cannon underneath your feet. Also I'd reason that something that could kill would be better secured.

Unless it's a cunning explorer trap and some hunters are watching you saying: "He'll pull the bar; they always do, then WHAM!"

You should look around for a giant net. Anyway, I say go for it.

Behold the bar I have gotten!

I was right. As soon as I dislodged the ring, the chain rattled back into the ground. Rattle-rattle-kerchunk-HISSSSS.... Whatever's down there is pneumatic.

The HISSS was one of the hatch covers in the pit opening -- the south hatch, directly below me as I stand by the post. Rose straight up like a clamshell. The area beneath it wasn't deep; maybe it's more of an access cover than a hatch. From my vantage point on the side of the pit, I could only see some kind of cloth inside.

Problem is, the hatch didn't stay open. I heard something venting pressure for about fifteen, twenty seconds. As soon as the hissing died away, the hatch snapped back down.

Anyway, the chain is fully retracted now. Only the ring is visible, at the base of the post. And I have this metal bar. Now that I look at it, it looks like one of the handhold bars from inside the crater. Plain steel.

Sir Pyke:

I know it's a bit destructive, but could you break through the crystals with that bar? That green light has got me curious.

Worth a try.

I took the bar up the hill and down the crater. Unfortunately, whanging away at the solid crystal surface was a hopeless task. I just knocked a few chips off.

The smaller crystal prisms, farther up, are more fragile. I was able to knock off a couple of chunks, each a couple of feet long. But the massive block that that circular shadow is embedded in -- no way.

That's odd.

(Don't you love the ones that start that way? That's funny...)

I had left the metal bar and the pieces of crystal on the hilltop last night. (I prefer not to carry things back from new Ages unless I have a reason. Despite my earlier flippiancy, I do worry about contamination. Also theft.)

Anyway, when I went back to check today, the crystals were gone. The bar was still there -- untouched, as far as I could tell.

(Let me clarify the interaction model for this thread...)

In general, after I post an action, I will wait for suggestions. If someone posts one, I'll follow it. Then I'll go back to waiting. I will not take new actions spontaneously. We're taking turns, basically.

If, when I log in, I see several suggestions, I'll pick one to follow. This means that I'm passing over the others -- for that turn! But I don't plan to go back and pick up earlier suggestions. This means that, if you had an idea, and you still think it's good, you should post it again.

Don't be shy, don't be discouraged that I ignored you, and don't worry about crowding the thread. It's going to get long no matter what. Feel free to include reasons why your idea makes sense; I am paying attention to that.

(The alternative is to go back for every suggestion I missed. That seems like it would become non-interactive very quickly. Besides, old suggestions won't always continue to make sense. So I'm not doing that.)

If you were to take the bar and slide it through the chain, would the chain pull up, or is it being held down with too much force?


Huh. I wonder if the crystal thing is a creature taking them, or a physical reaction from the crystals themselves? Maybe they're chemically fragile and something in the outside air made them dissolve over a night's time.

If you're up for it (though I admit the structures are probably more interesting, I just like crystals a lot) I'd propose an experiment: leaving a little 'rabbit trail' of crystals from the source out to that hill, and seeing if any of them vanish - or, even better, if some of them only partially vanish, or don't at all.

The ring is held down with some tension, but not so much that I can't pull it up. (I don't need the leverage of the bar.)

I could hear gears winding back up as I pulled the ring up. (And feel them!) When I got it up to waist-height -- the height of the post -- something engaged with a clank. Sure enough, when I let go again, I got the rattle and the HISS, and the south hatch opened for another twenty seconds.

I experimented with it for a while, but that's all I could get out of it. Releasing the ring when it was less than fully extended didn't do anything; I think the gears just unwound. I tried "pumping it up" by yanking it repeatedly -- trying to increase the open time, or the pressure, or something -- but that was no good.

(I could reset the thing back to its original state by putting the bar through the post, pulling the ring out, and hooking it over the bar. I don't see any point to that at the moment, though. And the bar may be useful elsewhere.)


it looks like you've tried everything but go inside the towers..can ya get into them?


Ok, sure... take a chance. Can you get to the South Hatch in that 20 seconds? Can you get into it? Or do you think its going to lock you inside without a way out?

Maybe there is something around there that allows you to lock that hatch open? Hmmm ... got to be a way. Maybe you better link back to your Relto, go to the city or your bevin, and find someone close you trust and go on back and see if the two of you can get that hatch open for good...

I can't climb up the tower legs, as I said. (The rope ladders may help, but I haven't touched them yet.)

And I certainly could get to the open hatch in twenty seconds... if I jumped down into the pit. Twenty feet, straight down. I'd wind up more interested in reassembling my broken bones than in the contents of the hatch.

(I know we've taken some pretty crazy leaps in some Ages. But Plum Lake's gravity is, if anything, slightly higher than Earth's.)


can ya get the rope ladder off the end of the beam and use it to get down the hatch?

or you said the beam was the length of the pit can ya get up on it and walk or scoot across the beam to the other side of the pit?

The rope ladder has turned out to be more and less useful than I expected.

I went back to it (the ladder by the west side of the pit, that is) and gave it a good yank, just to see if it was firmly attached.

It's firmly attached to the beam, all right. But the beam moves. It turns out that whole balance-beam arrangement is a pivot, like some of you suggested. As soon as I put any weight on the ladder, my end of the beam -- the west end -- tilted down until it reached ground level.

So now the ladder on my end starts at ground level, and hangs down to the bottom of the pit. The east end of the beam, of course, is now up at the level of the east tower. So that ladder leads from ground level up to the tower entrance, which would be great if I could reach that side of the pit. But I can't.

This gives me access to the pit, of course. So I climbed down to have a look around. Really nothing to add that I couldn't see from above. Forty feet square. Layer of dried mud underfoot. Big thick hatches to the north, south, east, and west. The hatches are solidly shut and there's no direct means of opening them; no handle or wheel. Just a heavy hinge at one edge. I tried to pry one open, but that was futile.

I went back up and gave the ring another yank, but it takes much more than twenty seconds to work my way along the pit, climb down the ladder, and run back to the south hatch.

And, no, shinning my way along the beam is not an option. It's rough wood and not very wide. I might make it partway hanging hand-over-hand; but the way it's braced, I couldn't reach the center pole, much less around it to the other side.

Special feature: a diagram! Done in special hyper-realistic Zarf style. More or less.

(Click for larger view.)

This is the current state of the pit. (When I first arrived, the beam was level.) The green areas are paths. Note that the east tower has no paths leading away from it. As far as I can tell from this side, it's completely surrounded by vines on three sides (and the pit on the fourth side).


Well, that adds some new ideas to the mix... nice pic!

Ok, it looks like that poles swivels round as well as up and down, yes? It seems whoever built this was either bringing supplies down into the pit, or hauling something up from those four hatches you cannot open.

Now to find a way to use the leverage to open a hatch using the chain tied off to the latch and then pulling from the other side. But how to lock the pull chain once you are able to open a hatch? Is there any type of notches or extrusions on the sides of the pit? Any hooks to slip the chain into after you pull a hatch open?

What about your steel pole? Can you use it to lever a hatch open?

Another thing: any signs of antecedent use in the towers above? I saw you'd been in one of the towers. What about the other? Mabye they stored some of the items they hauled up form the pit in these towers; or, were they used as guard posts? Was the pit a mine? Is there anything else close by that shows they dragged anything form the site? Maybe a sled of some type? Marginal rough ruts or anything as a sign of an old road by which they hauled heavy items?

Not sure what else could help at the moment, just a few things to check out and see if this was a mining opertion; or some other type of compound....


bring some rope with ya next time you go there, add some length to them ladders.....

tuck the west end of the rope into the hatch, firmly securing it when it shuts on it.....

then use them muscles ya have and climb up the east end of the rope to the tower :) :)

The pole swivels only vertically. Not side-to-side at all.

The hatches, actually, don't have latches at all. Not on the outside, at least. They have hinges, but those are inset and there isn't any space behind them -- no room to get a rope (or pry bar) in.

(If the hatch were open, there would be plenty of space, but that's the problem...)

No, I haven't gotten up into either tower. I can partly see into the far one, that's all. (The angle isn't great.)

I get the impression that all this was built, and then the vines grew up around it. Or maybe the vines were cleared back first. If so, it was a long time ago; there's no visible distinction between old growth and new growth. Anyway, if there are any roads or ruts, they're overgrown and I can't find them.

I might be able to bring some rope in. But I can't reach the east ladder at all. (If I could, I could just haul that end down and climb up the ladder.)

Flinging rope is, unfortunately, not something I'm great at. Each ladder is, as I depicted, just a long rope with bits of wood tied in at intervals. It's not something I can easily snag with a weighted rope, or even a hook.


Yeah, probably want to Relto back and get some twine or nylong string, then tie that to the rope on one end, and tie a triple bevel of rocks in with a halyard knot. It's a sort of interlacing knot that old sailors used to tie sails, but is good for using on rocks too. I say this for the simple reason it works for camping trips when you have to flip a rope over a high pine tree to get the food or water out of bear's grasp. It also works for climbing and rocking when tossing a clip to another level.

Might be worth a try. The mechanism must have a purpose, and I bet you'll find something in the towers. So your best bet is to find a way to get that rope over the tower in a way you can use some specialized hitch knots or even a timber hitch to lock the poles and use them as leverage to haul you up one side while using weights to fall down the other...

Yeah, using weight on on end and then hauling the other up, and then tying it and leverageing it in a pulley like system to haul you up using a foot hold might do the trick....

As I feared, this wound up being a lot of time and frustration without any progress. Sorry...

I think I will stick to things on-hand in Plum Lake in the future.


Okay, maybe it's a long shot, but it sounds like the crystals you can get are fairly tough. And I'd like to see what's inside that south hatch. Break off a crystal, then make your way back to the south rim of the pit. Pull the ring and release to open the hatch, then drop a crystal into the hatch opening while it's open. Assuming the 2-foot long crystals are big enough and strong enough to hold the hatch open.

Potential problem is that if the crystal lands on whatever is in the hatch, then the cover closes on the crystal, it could damage or trap the item. Aim well, and hope you can use the steel bar to pry the cover up enough to release any trapped items...

That almost worked, only not very well.

I went down the crater for some crystals -- the biggest ones I was able to knock free were about an inch and a half wide. Then I went back to the pit and gave the ring a yank. The hatch opened again; on cue, I flung the crystals down at it.

Two problems. First, it's not a very precise throw. One crystal landed inside, a couple hit the hatch rim and bounced away. One, however, fell nicely across the rim.

The hatch closed on it, which was the second problem. SCHRACK. Like a candy cane slammed in a door hinge. I guess the crystal substance isn't that hard, as minerals go.

Now, there was enough crushed white stuff under the lip to prop the hatch open -- just about half an inch. Encouraging! But not helpful. I tried prying it farther open with the metal bar, but the hydraulic machinery (or whatever) is just too strong.

I tried again with some more crystals, but I couldn't get the hatch to stay open much more than that. I can (barely) see inside, but whatever cloth material is down there is too far below the hatch for me to make out. Much less grab -- even if I wanted to risk my fingers in there. The crushed crystal was never stable even on my best attempt. I could hear it squeaking... almost hissing... under the pressure of the hatch; occasionally it would slip slightly.

One possibility is of course to repeat this trick, flinging down the bar instead of crystal rods. The problem is, one, I might lose the bar entirely; it could fall inside the hatch. (I have plenty of crystal available, but only one bar.) And, two, even if I get it right, the bar would be permanently wedged in the hatch -- and I'd still only have a one-inch gap to play with. The chance that the bar would wedge in vertically is minimal; I couldn't get that to happen with the crystals at all.


Do you have enough rope to stretch from the chain to the hatch? If so, you should be able to pull the chain from the bottom of the pit.

No, just some scraps.

Something is up with this crystal. I went back today, and once again, all the pieces I'd left were gone. (The area around the hatch was fairly littered with the stuff last night, after all my experimentation. Today, nothing.)

The hatch is, unsurprisingly, closed again. The half-inch of powder that was holding it open is gone as well.



Would this be a good time to bring up my experiment thought from the previous page?  ;)

This would be an excellent time.

So, as you suggested, I got some crystal bits (all about the same size) and left them at regular intervals from the bottom of the crater climb to the top. And then I took pieces of various sizes, including one large prism, and put them down on the hilltop outside. And then I sat and watched them. (I had time to spare this evening. I figured everyone in-Cavern would be at the ADM meeting, which I really, really wasn't interested in...)

By darn if the stuff doesn't sublimate in the open air. After a couple of minutes, a thin trail of white vapor was rising from each crystal -- straight up, like incense in very still air. After a few more minutes, I could tell the crystals were shrinking.

The small pieces went fastest, as you might expect. They shrank to chips, then grain-size, and finally vanished in minuscule puffs of vapor. The thicker chunks got thinner, until they were hair-fine strands or plates which broke under their own weight and went entirely. I'd say my biggest chunk took about 45 minutes to sublimate away completely.

The crystals in the crater also seemed to be shrinking -- at least, the ones nearest the surface were. Farther down, the sublimation rate got too slow for me to discern in one day. I imagine the crystals at the bottom of the shaft are growing, but that must be a geologically slow process.

Sir Pyke:

This is exciting!   :D

Maybe I'm visualising the mechanism incorrectly, but...

Could you stick a crystal where the bar would go in the pole? Then you could loop the ring over the crystal, then climb down into the pit and wait for it to sublimate. You should have enough time to at least get a good look in the hole.


Hah! So they DO sublimate, and it wasn't just someone stealing them. Interesting.

There's no way you should go through that hatch with a crystal assist, then, because who knows if you could get out - well, okay, you could Relto out, but then you'd be back at the beginning again.

Sir Pyke has a very interesting idea there.

Nice. That did it.

I rigged up a nice thick crystal, hung the ring over it, climbed down into the pit, and waited. It only took about twenty minutes -- the tension of the chain was enough to break the crystal well before it vanished.

And inside the hatch is... wait for it... a bunch of blue cloth.

Okay, okay. I yanked it out before the hatch closed. At first I thought it was just a yard of blue silk. Faded greyish-blue, not deep royal blue. But after I straightened it all out, I realized that it was actually a drawstring sack. Nothing inside, sadly, but it's got a loop of cord in the rim that lets me pull it tight shut.

There's no dust or dirt on the fabric -- I guess there wouldn't be, since it's been protected by the hatch all this time. I say "silk" just to give you an idea of the texture. It's shiny, slick, and a little stiff. Looks waterproof, in fact.

Now, since I know you're going to ask, the hatch itself opens onto a sort of metal drainpipe leading downwards. The pipe is almost a yard wide, but a heavy steel grate blocks it off just a couple of feet below the hatch. That's what the sack was resting on. Maybe it washed into the hatch, once upon a time, and fetched up on the grate.

I pulled the crystal trick another few times, to make sure I got a good view. The drainpipe goes straight down about six feet, and then angles a bit to the south, so I can't see any farther than that. (It's quite dark, but I can see a hint of that green glow coming up from below.)

The grating doesn't open. It's welded in place, part of the pipe and hatch construction. If there's a way down, that isn't it. The bars are heavy -- rough steel, thicker than the one I'm carrying around, and about three inches apart.


Cloth? Weird. Well, now you have a Sack of Holding, congratulations! :D


So, with this sack you can either:

A. Carry some crystals for a longer period of time before they sublimate, perhaps to the lake to see how they react with water

B. Carry some lake to the crystals in the cave to see, again, what happens

C. Carry some lake to the pit to use in some way as a counterweight on the ladder apparatus. I admit I haven't yet figured out how, though...

Oh, and (D), depending on what happens when you mix crystals and water, you could pour some lake down the open hatch.

That's a lot of water hauling over a long and treacherous distance. I'd say take a few crystals down to the lake (using the bag to make them last longer) and see if they react at all with water. Then bring some water back with you to the cave area and we'll figure out what to do from there...

Oh, and I'm sure there are plenty of other things you could do with the bag, but I'm brainstorming at this point...


This sounds like a lot of work, but if you really want to get into one of the stilt-huts, you could attach the bag to the bottom of one of the seesaw ladders and fill it with enough rocks to counterbalance your weight. Then you could shimmy along the seesaw to get to the hut.

Make sure you keep your hand on your Relto book the whole time, as it could be a bit hazardous.


Ok, my honest opinion...

If the drain goes down, it must come out somwhere.... maybe you should look around and find where this drain may come out. Let's figure out what they may have been doing here. Was this a water processing station of some type? Mabye the lever was worked at one time to lift water up and down to replenish cisterns that were once attached to the towers. Any sign?

Since the hatches are sealed off, then it means they never used the hatches to go down to other levels; or, they sealed it off before they left so that others would not be able to explore the hidden mines. But if form follows function in design, and it seems the D'ni never built things unless there was a specific use, then we need to understand what it is this whole complex of machines served.

It seems you're going nowhere with the hole in the ground. Are there any other types of D'ni made structures around? Mabye hills that look unatural, and D'ni made... maybe hiding some type of opening into an underground complex. Mine shaft, etc.

It seems it is time to continue exploring a little farther out from this area to see if there are other things that tie into this complex of machines and levers....

I am late today, so I'll bend my rules a little and pack together a few suggestions...

I have not seen a drain outflow anywhere. It probably doesn't head in the direction of the lake, since the hill is between the pit and the lake. And I've gone as far as I can go in any direction; the overgrowth just doesn't allow arbitrary hiking. So I think I'm out of luck there.

Shimmying along the beam, as I said earlier, is too much for me.

I will head over there now and try the notions with the crystals and the lake.

Many negative results, one interesting one.

I don't need any special tricks to get crystals back to the lake. The biggest ones I can break off are still there, albeit thin, after the downhill hike.

I dropped one in the water. It sat there and began developing tiny bubbles on its surface. It didn't seem to be reacting with or dissolving in the water; it was just evaporating as usual, although at a somewhat slower rate. (Maybe because the water is cool, maybe because of the pressure difference.)

The bag is indeed watertight. I got a measure of lake water in, and it didn't even drip. (Although the bag is big enough that if I completely filled it with water, it would be too heavy to carry.)

The interesting outcome is this: the fabric is airtight too. I threw my last crystal into the water in the bag. It continued sublimating, but I noticed that the vapor was puffing the bag up slightly. I tightened the drawstring, and got the upper half of the bag to rise up like -- well, like a half-inflated sack with water in the bottom. (Darned if I can think of a better way to describe that. Standing up off the ground, waving back and forth slowly...)

The bag doesn't seal perfectly; once it was mostly inflated, I got a white trail leaking up out of the neck. So I'm not going to get a bang out of this. Nonetheless, probably good for something.


So the vapor from the crystals lifted the water? That's a strong lifting force! Do you think it could lift enough water to counterbalance your weight on the ladder? That is, you could carry the bag up to the pit, climb down itno the pit, affix the bag to the west ladder, then toss in a crystal and seal it. The bag would lift, raising the west ladder and lowering the east ladder. Then, as the lifting force of the vapor dissipated, the water would weight the west ladder, raising the east ladder (with you on it) to full height...

I'd be amazed, though, if the vapor from the crystals was strong enough to lift that much weight. At the very least, though, you could use that trick with as much water as it can lift to explore the area immediately under the east tower...

Okay, wow, you're onto something. You did slightly misunderstand me, though.

The gas definitely seems to be lighter than air, now that I look at it. But it wasn't strong enough to lift the water off the ground. It was just the upper half of the bag, hanging upwards off the "anchor" of the water in the bottom.

(The gas is light, but water is heavy! A pint a pound the world around.)

(Sorry, forgot international players: "Wherever in the world I am, a liter weighs a kilogram." :)

(No, let's not get into different gravitational constants in different Ages...)

I dumped the water entirely, in order to get a better idea what was going on. I put a large crystal into the empty bag, and then tied it off. (And tied it to the post, to make sure I wouldn't lose it while experimenting!)

The bag expands fairly quickly. It bobbed off the ground almost immediately. Within twenty minutes, it was fully inflated and straining upward on the drawstring.

It's certainly not enough to lift my weight. I'd estimate twenty or thirty pounds of upward force. And it maintained that quite well. I didn't have all day to watch it, but I came back a couple of hours later and it was still inflated.


Idea! Let's see if I'm picturing this right...

With your inflato-bag primed and ready, if you went back to the two structures/pit/tilty-pole...

1.) Climb ladder on the near side up to the top of the tilty-pole.

2.) Tie bag to tilty-pole.

3.) Climb down into pit and release ladder.

4.) HOPEFULLY watch the bag tug up on the tilty-pole enough to pull it on a diagonal, such that the opposite ladder now dangles into the pit.

5.) Climb opposite ladder.

Of course, if it works you might end up stuck on the far side of the pit. Heh.

Sir Pyke:

If worst comes to worst, he can just Relto out, then slog through the maze of bushes back to the towers, then lower the ladder again That's a risk I'm willing to take  ;)

Your understanding is perfect. And your recipe is perfect as well. (Except that the west side of the beam is at ground level, so I didn't have to climb up to reach it.)

And on the far side of the pit is... just about what I drew in my diagram. The base of the east tower, surrounded by undergrowth. No way to climb up, and nowhere to go.

But I found something leaning against one of the support stilts. It's a sword; or maybe I should say, a light saber; or maybe I should say, a toy light saber.

That is, there's a hilt, which is heavy, cylindrical, and machined into rings. There's a "blade", which is an eighteen-inch rod of black glass. And when I hold it and squeeze the hilt, it hums. Oh, not really like a light saber, and it doesn't light up or anything. Or destroy walls. Just a mechanical whine, like a television tube. I tried touching the glass rod (carefully!), and it just felt like glass.

You are quite right that I had to Relto out. Heh. No big deal, I'm linking in and making that hike a couple of times a day anyway.

I'm not updating the diagram, by the way, so remember that the beam is now tilted the other way, and has a balloon tied to the west end.

It's rather frustrating, because when I approach the pit, I see the ladder leading up to the west tower. But of course I can't climb up, because as soon as I put any weight on the ladder, down it comes.

On the other hand, this means I can still get down into the pit. (And out again on the east side.) I just have to Relto out each time, because the balloon bobs back up when I let go.


Perhaps the frequencies emitted by your new toy have an effect on the crystals in the cave. Let's do some experimenting there.

Oh, and you can always tie your steel bar to the west ladder to keep it down if needed. Beats having to relto out and hike back up from the lake. Of course, you could also untie the balloon and fix it to a leg of the tower, or to the post on the south rim, until you need it again.


Woohoo! My theory worked!  

Okay, so now we have a - uh, thingie. (Tilty-pole. Thingie. My language is deeply scientific.) My first gut feeling is to see if it interacts with the crystals somehow, maybe the hum resonates or something...

edit: And if I had clearly read Seagull's post, that would also have been helpful. Pfft. Okay, in that case, I second his motion.

You seem to be getting a good sense for Plum Lake, folks.

I took the sword down the crater[*]. Powering it on didn't have any obvious effect. But when I pressed the black rod against a crystal, a loud squeal and a jet of white vapor shot out. And the sword began melting through the crystal. Like a hot knife through dry ice.

I didn't need you folks to tell me to start digging through to that circular shadow in the wall. I got a fair way in -- the bottom of the shaft is now littered with crystal chunks -- but it's slow work, and I didn't manage to reach it before I ran out of free time for the day. I will return tomorrow.

[* Someone is probably going to ask me how I got the sword out of the pit, since I said I wasn't carrying Plum Lake artifacts out of that Age. Obviously, I left it underneath the west ladder, relinked, climbed down the ladder, grabbed the sword while holding the ladder down, and then tied the ladder to the sword and let it carry it up to ground level. Obviously. :) ]

Finally carved the wheel free of the crystal. A wheel valve is what it is: there's this heavy steel pipe running up from below. It turns horizontal and disappears off in the direction of the pit, and just below the elbow is a big spoked valve.

It took me forever to burn off all the little bits of crystal from the bearing, so it would turn.

Yes, I turned it. (What else would I do?) There was an enormous rush of pressure in the pipe; it levelled off after a few moments, but the valve is clearly open now, and the pipe is hissing steadily.

I hiked back down to the pit... behold, all four hatches are standing open.

Unfortunately, this doesn't get me anywhere new. The three other hatches are exactly like the first: a vertical drainpipe blocked by a grate. And there's nothing hidden inside them.


Anything happen now when you pull the ring on the south rim?

The ring seems to be bypassed now. I can pull it up and it rolls back, but there's no hiss and nothing happens in the pit.


Wow, lots of new developments... no other convinient bags in the other hatches? Hehe.

Man, I wonder how fast those crystals grow? I wonder how long the Age has been left abandoned by... er, whoever or whatever built the structures, D'ni or otherwise.


Right, then. Is the east ladder long enough that you can wedge the end of it inside the east hatch and then turn off the "vent fan", trapping the ladder inside the hatch and securing it so you can climb up to the west tower? Or perhaps you could have the hatch secure your steel rod, and tie the ladder around that for the same result...

Similarly, you could explore the east tower.

Oh, good. The ladders are indeed long enough to catch that way. I have now climbed up into the west tower.

(This trick doesn't let me get into the east tower, though. Think about it: I lower the west ladder and trap it in the hatch cover. The east ladder is now raised... so I can't climb up out of the pit on the east side any more!)

So what's in the west tower? A couple of shaky wooden stools, and a big wooden lever. The place is otherwise empty. Some marks and nail holes on the walls imply that there might once have been more furniture or equipment, but it's long gone.

(I would love to tell you that I saw the lever linkage running down from the tower into the ground. But it must be either inside one of the stilts, or running alongside in such a way that I couldn't tell the difference.)

The stools don't look very interesting, so I pulled the lever.

Tremendous rushing noise from the pit...

...and I look out of the shack, to see it slowly filling with water.

I swung down the ladder -- down to ground level, I mean, not all the way into the pit. (Which would have been both impossible and stupid, since the west ladder now ends at ground level...) The water seems to be coming in from vents just under the rim; I guess some of the upper tiles were valves.

I sat and watched until the pit... I suppose I should now say "the pool"... was full. The inflow slowed and stopped before it overflowed. The water has the same indigo tint as the lake, although it's muddier. (From the stuff that was originally in the pool bottom, I suppose. The water flowing in looked clear.)



I'm stumped. Seems like you have three options. Either (1) use the ring to drain a small amount of water form the pool, perhaps figuring out where it's going, (2) use the valve to drain all the water out of the pool, perhaps figuring out where it's going, or (3) go for a swim and relax for a bit. Not sure any of those options does any good, but there they are.

Anyone else have any other ideas?

Yes, I can swim across the pool. This isn't exciting, because the east ladder is still caught in the hatch -- that is, it leads down, not up to the east tower.

I gave the ring a pull, and the south hatch did its usual trick. However, water began dribbling in from the vents as soon as the water level dropped. Since the hatch was only open briefly, the pool was refilled quickly.

So I went down the crater to open all four hatches again.

(I left the water turned on. I figured that I would lose access to the west tower as soon as the hatches opened -- the ladder would no longer be secured. If the water was off, I'd be back where I started.)

(Oh, and in case you were wondering, the balloon-sack is still tied to the west end of the beam. Seems like the most effective place for it.)

No surprises at the underground valve. I climbed back up, and walked downhill. The hatches were indeed open, and the pool was draining rapidly. The vents were gushing, but four yard-wide hatches give an impressive flow rate, and it was only a few minutes before the pool was empty.

The current scoured the pit floor clear of mud.

It's not a tile floor. It's glass.

Water ripples over the glass, pouring down the pit walls and out the hatches. But I have seen the spaces below the World.

A green-lit abyss, filled with shifting pale clouds. Not veils or layers or planes of mist, but vast storm-banks of cloud; flowing in slow currents, welling up, sinking into the depths. The clouds cut soft shadows across the emerald radiance, and shafts of light spear up between them.

The downward view is framed by four thin waterfalls -- the outflows of the drainpipes. They curve outward -- probably to keep the view clear -- and then end; four streams of water fan and disperse into the distance.

Far below, tiny shapes drift from cloud to cloud. They look like minnows. At this distance, they must be longer than whales, sporting in the jet-streams of turbulence. Occasionally one passes through the light; it glitters like a fluid diatom.

I knelt on the glass floor, water soaking into my trousers, and watched.


Wow! Sounds vaguely reminiscent of Spire, in a way. What a surprise!

So there's no doubt in your mind that what you see under the glass is real? Not an illusion - your current thoughts are that below the crust of earth is a massive space?

It looks real. I suppose anything I see in another Age could be an illusion... (shakes fist at Kadish...) but I think this is exactly what it appears to be.

Doesn't put me any closer to the east tower, sadly.


Well, now that the water's on, you can wedge the west ladder into the open west drain, then close the drains. After the pool is filled, swim across and climb up into the east tower. (you'll probably need to move the "balloon" to the east side...)

And done.

I just needed to remove the balloon and deflate it, actually. I lowered the west ladder by yanking on it, and then it was fastened down, so the east ladder was up.

The east tower is a mess. It's bookshelves, all right. Books on the shelves and more books scattered across the floor. Some of them have been ruined by weather. None of them are linking books, and none of them are written in D'ni. The language is entirely new to me; it looks like a calligraphic script, clusters of tiny fluid strokes, but in vertical columns.

It is an enormous find, but it will be a long time before I have catalogued or begun to understand what I've found.

I think this will have to be the end of this phase of Plum Lake. I don't have anything transcribed for you folks to translate -- that would be a lot of work, even to get started! So I will take a break. When I have an idea for what to do next, I will post about it.

I am very grateful to you all for helping me out. This was an experiment, and your participation has made it a success.

Last updated May 4, 2007.

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