Shayuri stepped forward and flung her cloak back from her shoulders, freeing her arms. Her fingers twirled in a complex dance before her, locking, loosing, locking again in a rapid series of signs. In the air before her a circle appeared, drawn in midair by blue-white light.
She spoke then, in a loud, commanding voice that rolled over the field...carrying far longer than it had any right to. The language was rough sounding, maybe a little like German. As she incanted, runes appeared within the circle, one by one. Once the inner ring was filled with runes the entire array flashed brightly and erupted into a horizontal stroke of lightning that painted the entire battalion of robots in livid black and white for a camera-flash instant.
It struck one of the larger robots squarely, and immediately the target was enveloped by an oval of translucent blue light. The two energies writhed and snapped at each other, and finally the lightning lanced through and licked over the robot's armored hull, drawing a blackened line down it.
The dragon-sage swore under her breath. "All right then, the big ones have some kind of force field. Good to know!"
"My ability to fly is a little limited," Shayuri admits, "but I've picked up a number of useful tricks. For example...if you have a good map and can mark where we are, and where we're going, I may be able to just teleport us there."
"Or...or your ship! Even better! We can go straight there, then all ride in your ship!"
Shayuri opened her mouth to argue, but paused to watch the image Dende conjured up. Her brows furrowed slightly as she took it in... Then she shook her head.
"That's...interesting. But no, I know the situation with dragons. However, there is substantial evidence to indicate they may be devolved from visitors from other universes, a long time ago. Several ancient civilizations independently describe...in somewhat fanciful terms...highly advanced, highly intelligence dragon-like beings with incredible powers that visited them. Sometimes even more than once. They left behind myths, and legends, and...in some cases either left artifacts or inspired native humans to create artifacts in their honor. Or...sometimes out of fear."
She held up a finger, then pointed at the image in the air. "But that is also very interesting. I would love to discuss this with you more sometime. It could go a long way to resolving some long-standing questions..."
Abruptly realizing that everyone was waiting on her, she quickly cleared her throat and straightened her shoulders.
"Having said that, artifact recovery is something of a specialty of mine. I'll help find and retrieve these dragonballs in exchange for an opportunity to talk about this 'eternal dragon' with you once we return with them."
Shayuri watched skeptically, her mouth curved into a disapproving frown.
"I don't know who you are," she began, "but I am going to need more to go on than your word for this. I sincerely doubt there are powerful artifacts called 'dragonballs' out there in the world. If there were, I'd have heard of them."
With a touch of drama, she flung back her hood and swept her cloak out to the sides away from her. She had long, pointed ears with gold piercings, a pair of short, sharp horns sweeping up from her head out of her long red braided hair, and a spattering of red scales along each cheekbone. A pair of small reptilian wings poked out from under the cloak as she moved it out of the way. She was clad in furs draped over some kind of armor crafted from overlapping burnished copper-red scales.
"I am Shayuri, the Dragon-Sage. I have traveled the wide world for years now, seeking every scrap of lore, every lost writing and artifact, about the ancient and noble dragons."
Her gleaming gold eyes fixed on Dende suspiciously. "...and never once have I heard even a whisper of 'dragonballs.' If these things are real, as you claim, then I will of course join an expedition to recover them."
Egypt - Catacombs under the Temple of Hibis
North of Kharga
Stone grated over stone as the walls slid apart again in the passage ahead of Shayuri and the three men who'd dared come this far with her. Locals, all of them, swarthy and swathed in desert clothes and scarves. They were rough customers, but Shayuri had looked for over week in more reputable quarters for local help and come up dry. The fact was that this expedition under the Temple wasn't sanctioned and was therefore either dangerous or futile or both...and regardless was illegal. That limited one's options. They were steady though at least. The other one had taken off running after the first trap had nearly killed them.
This one was the fifth.
"That's good news," said Shayuri as she pulled the now-crushed staff that she'd used to trigger the trap at a distance back. She had her hood up and a cloth mask protected her mouth and nose from dust and fumes. As such she looked almost normal, save the strange yellow-amber of her eyes. "Traps mean we're on the right path."
The three men glanced at each other, and one said, "It also means it's more dangerous. More danger...more money."
Shayuri grinned under her mask. "You want money, earn it. You and you, go to the carvings on the wall. The crocodile on the left, and the heron on the right. There should be release switches hidden in them. Hold those down until the rest of us are through, then I'll disarm it on the far end and you can join us."
With a wordless glance at each other and her, the two moved to heed her instructions; the carvings were just short of the trigger plate for the crushing mechanism and though they put a brave face on, sweat beaded on their foreheads despite the subterranean cool. The demonstration of that trap had been visceral. It was all too easy to imagine one's body between the stone plates.
Minutes later though they were all through, and there was just one obstacle to go...a deep chasm, across which was a wall of sandstone bricks, with an archway lined by hieroglyphs that led further in, with a chamber visible beyond. The anchor points for a bridge were visible, but the actual bridge had long since collapsed, leaving only a good twenty foot gap.
The three henchmen swore quietly and started looking through their backpacks. "Do you have rope left?" "...no, I used it to pull that wheel thing..." "...what if we get the boards from the passage that led down here from the..."
"Gentlemen," Shayuri interrupted. She held out her hands. "Come here please. We're too close to be stopped now. Take my hands."
They hesitated, but when one of them stepped forward to take hold, the others followed suit.
She started speaking in an unearthly language none of them recognized. Not English, not Arabic or anything else. The syllables were gutteral, alien. One of them yanked his hands free and barked, "No! Stop! What are you doing?!"
There was a sound like a whipcrack then, or a peal of thunder. Glowing lines traced out geometric patterns that bent and twisted, and something like letters that no human hand had ever written. Dust and something like steam plumed up around Shayuri for a moment...and when it had passed, they were gone. On the far side of the gorge they appeared in similar fashion.
The other two quickly let go and backed away, eyes wide. Shayuri looked back at the one left behind and called, "Don't worry. We'll be back shortly. Stay if you like, or head back."
With a motion of her head, she added, "Come on, you two."
They moved further in and entered a large open chamber with a high ceiling covered in frescoes who's colors had faded with age, but could still be made out. Stones were arranged in semicircular rows around a central altar; a raised platform with some kind of shrine atop it. And in the shrine...
A stone. Almost like an absurdedly large pearl or opal perhaps...the size of a grown man's fist and perfectly round. Its surface shimmered with colors seen and unseen when light struck its surface.
"That's it," Shayuri said hungrily. "The eye of Hibis...it was here all along. They just had to go deeper..." She took a breath. "All right, from what I've read, it's not meant to come out of that, so we'll have to break the altar open. You still have your crowbars, yes? We'll..."
She paused and looked back. The metallic clicking sound, it turned out, was what it had sounded like. The actions on automatic pistols. Her henchmen smirked.
"No. We have done enough. You break it open, then we will take the eye from here."
Shayuri rolled her eyes and planted her fists on her hips. "Really?" she demanded. "And how are you planning to get back across the gap back there? If you were going to make your move, this wasn't the right time, guys! You should have waited until you were back with that other guy...and were back across...so you had your full force, and weren't dependent on me for anything. Ugh." She buried her face in her hand for a second and shook her head.
"All right. Well you should know that I've spent a very long time looking for this, and I'm not letting ANYTHING get in my way," she warned then.
The voice was something new, belonging to none of them. Shay spun around, startled, and spotted a short, rotund man in weirdly stereotypical Persian attire...colorful vest and baggy pants...with skin that was so dark it looked actually black, like the night sky. Round, white eyes were fixed on her unerringly.
"The Guardian of Earth wishes to speak with you about a matter of great importance," he explained nonsensically, in a deadpan voice that betrayed nothing.
Shayuri looked from him back to her traitorous minions...who both had bug-eyed shocked expressions...then back to the...the genie? He was even standing on a carpet. As much as she was tempted to simply ignore him, some instinct caused her to at least act like she was taking him seriously.
"Can...it wait just a moment?" she asked. "I'm kind of in the middle of something h..."
"...No," was the immediate response, and the genie reached out to touch her without any fanfare or hesitation.
And suddenly the subterranean gloom was a riot of light and color! Shayuri yelped in surprise and covered her sensitive eyes, stumbling away from the bizarre creature that had...what had he done?!
"Who ARE you?!" she demanded, squinting between her fingers as she looked wildly around. "Where have you taken me?! Take me back at once! You have no IDEA what you've done!"
Then Shayuri realized she wasn't alone here. Two others were looking at her quizzically. She did her best to regain some dignity, straightening up and squaring her shoulder. Still clad in a tan tunic and breeches, with a darker brown hooded cloak, worn leather gloves, and a white mask over the lower half of her face there was relatively little of her that could be seen other than that she was fairly tall and slim.
She cleared her throat.
"Are either of you responsible for me being here?" Shayuri asked, doing her best to sound polite despite her growing impatience. "If so, I'd be happy to talk in a minute or two if you could send me back briefly. I...was just doing something incredibly important."