Disclaimer: This series of articles is written in-character (IC) and are mainly based on known facts or research. Although Max has taken some liberties or "artistic license" in some parts, like in adapting or intertwining the gameplay or the fiction into facts of reality, the article has been fact-checked by others in the GoMe and in most aspects is, to the best of our knowledge, factually accurate.
Just like many others making the Journey, I've been amazed by what I've seen and experienced. Many explorers still find their way down to the cavern and the magic world of the D'ni culture, visting the Ages and the remains of a once great underground city. So it might be interesting for all those newcomers, and perhaps also for old "veteran explorers" of the Cavern as well, to try and recapture how this all came about.
On one of my several trips down to the cavern a few years ago, I happened to ask Jeff Zandi if he'd like to tell me a bit about the discovery of the city and the D'ni inhabitats. By then, I had already mentioned to him about my visits to some European caves and about my writings for some magazines; we shared the same interest for archeology. With a bit of persuasion, this genuinely nice fellow finally agreed.
John "Fighting Branch" Loftin, born in Temple, Texas, USA, and Elias Zandi, (Jeff's father) born in Los Angeles, California, USA, had known each other for ages. Elias was a well-known collector and a man of some wealth and Loftin had, from time to time, provided Elias with some items to add to his artifact collections. Occasionally, Elias would remark that some of the artifacts seemed familiar to him, that he had sensed some kind of a spiritual connection but would never really elaborate more on the subject. I myself have sensed this same feeling with some Viking artifacts; a sort of déjà vu, an eerie feeling! You seem to recognize something you're sure you've never seen before. I do, in fact, have some Nordic ancestory but no real explanation for this phenomenon.
Loftin was well-experienced in the field of Geology and did some trips to the known volcano fields in New Mexico to study the lava tubes and geological formations. New Mexico has two major volcanic zones: the "Jemez Lineament" and the north-to-south running "Rio Grande Rift". They intercross in the area around Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The seismic activity in the modern day has been low in this region and the volcanoes are, for all intents and purposes, extinct. Due to their past activity, some explorers have unearthed lava and volcanic ash that sometimes can contain interesting crystals or stones like amethysts or agates. More on that can be found here.
During one of these survey trips in 1986, Loftin stumbled on something that would change the lives of both men.
Somewhere out in the desert of Eddy County, in the less populated south-east part of New Mexico, he found a large circular formation in the ground, approx. 60 meters in diameter. He also recognized a rock formation nearby that clearly showed signs of being a long-dormant volcano. Also closeby, he had found at least one opening to a lava tube, an old volcanic 'flood' that seemed to lead deep down into the ground. I've made a promise to Jeff Zandi that I will never reveal the exact location, as he's had his hands full already for years with explorers from all over the world who have felt the 'calling' and been visiting the site.
Some distance from the tube, he found broken remnants of some kind of machinery made out of hard, brass-like material and some bones from an animal with which he was unfamiliar. Another area of note was a large fissure in the ground. It had clear signs of having once been inhabited and used as a permanent dwelling, but had long since been abandoned.
Soon after that, Loftin and Zandi made preparations for their first short expedition down one of the lava tubes. On the 19th of March, 1988, both men went together through the entrance for the first time. Well beneath the surface, they passed remarkable digging machines of which Loftin had earlier only had a brief glimpse. Amazing feats of engineering, they appeared abandoned long ago as well. At that time, they had no idea of by whom, when, or why.
Working further in, they found a massive, artificially-made cylindrical tunnel running miles below. This would later be called "Descent" and known as "The Great Shaft" among the D'ni. Both men were completely overwhelmed by what they saw. To quote Elias Zandi from his son Jeff: "I have come to a place that I could never have imagined, and yet it seems I have come home." It's almost as if Elias felt a connection, then and there, with something he himself had never actually come into contact with before. I should note that Jeff Zandi has never shown me his father's journals or even told me where they are archived. The quote was taken from one of the very few early transcipts he had in his possession
On a second expedition, they went further down the maze and labyrinths of lavatubes, man-made tunnels and caves. They were very cautious but meticulous in their approach, mapping their way through and marking their trail so as not to get lost. Perhaps then, in the extensive network of tunnels, did they truly begin to understand the vastness of what they had discovered.
The third major expedition, from June 29th of 1989 onwards surpassed all their expectations. Their trek through the tunnels finally brought them to a big lake inside of an enormous underground cave...the place we now know as D'ni. In that time, they had managed to travel more than 30 miles (48 km) underground. In this moment, they started to become aware they had come across something never before discovered: a mysterious culture that lived under the earth called the D'ni. Or rather the remnants of their once great empire. Elias was said to have been "so overwhelmed that he collapsed to his knees and wept".
In the following months, Elias Zandi began to purchase the thousands of empty acres of land that surrounded this seemingly unimportant spot out in the New Mexican desert, while at the same time busily planning another expedition. He had also contacted an old friend of his, Dr. Richard A. Watson, to ask him to join them on their next expedition. On June 29th, 1990, the trio headed underground on an expedition that would last over three weeks. The trip took them even further into the cavern. They soon reached the largest of the islands on the lake: the D'ni capital city of Ae'gura.
The city had once been inhabited, but was now totally abandoned and showed signs of extensive structural damage due to some sort of catastrophe. During that expedition, they collected a number of rock and stone samples and a handful of items and artifacts. Among them, some writings and books written in an unknown language. Interpreting all the writings would become a continuous task over the coming years and would yield much information about the culture that lived there.
The following year, on a new expedition in the summer of 1991, a tragedy struck the group. John Loftin died in an accident at some point during the trip. Very little is known about what actually happened to him. Jeff Zandi only mentioned it briefly in one of our conversations and I never tried to press him on the circumstances regarding that, as I assume his father never told him that much either. All details, if any, might be found in Elias Zandi's own journals.
At some point at the very end of the 1980's, Jeff Zandi had been in touch with some of his friends, Rand and Robyn Miller, and briefly told them about the discoveries. Rand Miller, born in Philadelphia. Pa, USA, and Robyn Miller, born in Dallas, Texas, USA, foundedCyan, Inc. (now Cyan Worlds, Inc.), a gaming company, in 1987 and had produced some adventure games for children by that time. They would later join Elias and his team on their next expedi tion.
And thus was the beginning of the introduction of D'ni to the world at large.
Coming up in Part 2: Uncovering the D'ni, The DRC/D'ni Restoration Council and the Making of a Mythology.