The Road turned its last corner just as I realized I was finding it difficult to breathe. Even the White Swarm can only help so much. And we were well above the altitude of many living things, as the rocks and snow and ice around us told. The land of canyons topped out in a horseshoe-shaped snowfield that ringed the top of the watershed. In nicer climes, I could have imagined it filled with flowers. The Road straightened out and crossed it, climbing right for that caldera that the Shuni called the Cup of Gods.
Which wasn’t much to look at, really. Just a depression within a broken-into circle of cliffs that marked the base of the even-higher pair of peaks that came together there.
Well, not a circle, exactly. “Hey, Nogilian,” I said. “I thought –”
“Yes,” came the affirmation beside me. “It is not as it should be. It is not as it was.”
We rode closer. A caldera, Elmy, is the ragged circle torn in the earth by volcanic eruption. It usually tops mountains, though they can form in other places. It may have a gap on the downhill side, as this one did, where lava once flowed out. It should not have a sharper, clearer, tapered cut on the uphill side where there is no water to carve it. Ever.
“Something has happened here,” Nogilian said. “The Guardian Vah Yonise once brought me to this place. The pass could not be reached then. These cliffs have changed.”
I hesitated to voice my thoughts. It seemed too incredible. We crossed the broad snowfield.
“The fire of a Black Orchid’s interstellar drive,” I said as we went, “Cuts straight through rock even from high orbit.”
I glanced over to see Nogilian’s eyes seeking my own. “There were such ships battling around Thaeron,” he said. “Ten years ago, while my world was falling. Some fled in haste.”