WiP 11 (2018)

“Greetings, Al,” she said, with a shallow bow.  “Agrum Jdal sent me to show you to more comfortable and . . . expansive rooms.  The discussion of what to do, after your news, shows sign of being . . . extensive.  The Agrum does not expect it to end today, perhaps not for several days.”

Good, but also . . . shite.

Alaric did his best to imitate the bow.

“Thank you, and . . . Agrum? Jdal for your hospitality.  It’s been great.  But, I have my own place, and things, back on the surface.  I should really, probably, get back to them.  And the people who are with my team.  They’re probably getting worried about me.”

The woman’s face furrowed in confusion.

“Agrum Jdal assured the others that his spells detected no other humans, or Great Ones, for some distance from our temple.  Perhaps your . . . team?  Left?” she smiled.  “I may not understand.  The Agrum did speak for me so I might learn, but it is possible he and I misunderstood.”

Her tone indicated that she thought the possibility highly unlikely.

Deception was not his strong suit, any more than athletics.

“Alright,” Alaric gave in to the inevitable.  “After you . . ., uh, what is your name?”

“Polnica,” she said, waiting for him to exit the room, “but I prefer Nica.  Polnica was my great-aunt, surly and disliked by most.  If you will follow me . . .”

Nica led him down the corridor at a brisk, yet unhurried, pace.

He was quickly turned around and lost in the maze of halls and rooms.  From what Jdal had said, this had to be an area that was only open to the priests, dragons, and influential laity.

“Apologies,” his guide said.  “We are only a modest temple, at a remote settlement.  Or we were.  We were not used to guests and lack the guest quarters the more important temples host.  Agrum Jdal has ordered one of the unused priests’ quarters to be made ready for you.”

Being lost did nothing to diminish Alaric’s observation of his surroundings.  In fact, he seemed, to himself, to be hyperaware of the number of statues that decorated the halls.  It was his inspection of some of these that caused him to miss most of Nica’s statement.

“It’ll be fine,” he muttered, still distracted.

There were a lot of statues.

The woman apparently took his distraction as rudeness, since the rest of their walk passed in silence.

They came to a halt in a corridor that looked like all the others, save only that it had several doors on either side.  Nica stopped in front of one, though Alaric could see no difference.  She touched the door lightly with her fingertips for a few heartbeats.

The featureless door emitted a faint gold-silver glow for a couple seconds.

As he watched, the solid rectangle became translucent, then faded from sight.

Nica stood aside to usher him in.

“This door will open only for you or one of the higher priests,” she said.  “The Agrum has said that he warned you of the dangers of walking the halls alone.  Touching this spot here,” she indicated a discolored oval on the ivory wall, “will summon a servant, should you need anything.”

Alaric stood a couple steps inside a sitting room that was larger than a New York apartment.  He saw three doors off the well-appointed room, done in a restrained opulence.  There was no sign of gold or anything ostentatious like that.  If anything, the room was plain and understated.  But, even he could sense the wealth that the room represented.  His eyes took in the furnishings, more seats and tables than he would ever need, while his ears clamored for attention.

He had missed something.

“Sorry, what was that?”

“Does the suite meet with your approval?  It is not much, but . . .”

“No, no.  It’s fine.  Small temple, remote, right?”

“Yes,” Nica agreed.  “To the left is a bath.  To the right, the front is a study and workspace.  The back right is the bedroom.”

Alaric nodded his understanding.

As Nica turned to leave, he said, “Before you go, one question?”

The woman bowed, a hint of concern touching her eyes.

“Is the room wrong?”

“No, not at all.  Better than I’d expect, really.  No . . . about the agrum.  His perception, I am somewhat familiar with the theory, but how far does his perception extend?”

A light dawned in her eyes.

“You are concerned about privacy.  Of course.  The quarters are not outside his realm of knowledge.  But, he says he is only vaguely aware of activities in the temple in a general sort of way, unless he concentrates his attention on a particular place.  Which he rarely does.  The bath and bed are perfectly private, the Agrum would never intrude on either.”

“Thank you, Nica.”

So, he had only the word of a dragon priest that he would have privacy.

Good to know.

WiP 10 (2018)

Alaric closed the door and turned to examine the room.

When in doubt, he went to the nearest shelves and took down a book.

After skimming a few pages at random, he returned the tome to its shelf.  He recognized the characters as letters, but they were in no language he could identify, much less read.  Alaric gave himself a mental shrug.  He should have expected that, the books were all at least six millennia old.  Even if the priest had been lying, about the dragons being inter- . . . dimensional? aliens, there was no reason to think their books would be readable now.  After all, they would predate even cuneiform.

Reluctant to open the second concealed door yet, the sorcerer began to study the curios that shared the discarded book’s home.

His training as a historian of sorcery kicked in.

Given the potential for the objects to be crafted and bear powers, he resisted the urge to touch.  The tendency to assume they were artifacts of a religious nature was more difficult to ignore.

Although he thought of the place as a temple, that was the result of his training and knowledge of history.  And history tended to be written by the victors, he reminded himself.  Plus, he was dealing with living, ancient history that had been clouded by millennia of myths, legends, bad blood, and biases.  Most of what they had pieced together about the War and the days before it had been passed down orally for centuries before it was first recorded.  And the archaeological record had proven less than useful.

His victorious ancestors had gone on a destructive spree for decades after the War.  In the process, they seemed to have torn down anything the dragons and their minions had built.

At least anything they had found.

Obviously, they’d missed a few things.

There were rumors that the guardians of the Dragon Caves could, under the right conditions, commune with their sleeping charges.  But, there were always rumors of strangeness about that mysterious House.  They were a closed, isolated, insular, and neutral entity that most were happy to ignore.

He stood looking at a cylinder as these thoughts ran through his head.

The artifact was only about as long as his hand from fingertip to wrist.  It appeared to be some kind of opaque green stone, maybe jade.  The whole was carved in what he took to be stylized or abstract designs, curved lines and whorls.  It looked delicate and fragile, almost, oddly, lacy.

For a temple, Alaric decided, he would think it was a form of reliquary.  But, for a refuge, it could be mere decoration.  He had too little information, not enough context.  Or the context was inhuman in nature, or psychology, possibly beyond human understanding.

The second door was beginning to look more inviting.

He was halfway across the room, heading toward the unknown with unclear intent, when the first door swung open.

Alaric diverted himself back toward the refreshments table.

He hoped the move was natural enough to allay any suspicions that . . .

. . . the young woman who entered the room had.

She appeared to be a few years older than Jdal, clad in similar ivory robes.  The two could have been siblings.  In fact, they might be, Alaric thought.  He would, he realized, have no idea.  It would make sense, to some degree, for the servants to be related families.  Enhanced loyalty or something.

WiP 9 (2018)

“Gone?”  for the first time, Jdal appeared visibly shaken.  “They left?  But, why?  Surely the ancient foe could not have followed and the upstarts could not have . . . If they are gone, who rules in their stead?”

“The mundanes, er, humans have done well enough.  No worse than anyone else, at least.”

“Surely not.”

Alaric nodded, “They’ve moved on.  And they’ve developed and advanced.  They remember the War, but they are adaptable, more so than any other species, in some ways, and, well, developed.”

No falsehoods there.  The War was remembered by the mundanes.  As legend, myth, and fable, certainly, but remembered nonetheless.

Jdal sat, silent, for several minutes.

Alaric did his best to watch the young man, without being obvious about it.

He was not, he felt, particularly successful.

Eventually, his host rose and bowed.

“I shall have to consult and consider.  Please, relax here and take what you wish to eat and drink.  If deliberations . . . extend beyond a reasonable time, I will send someone to set you up in the priests’ quarters.  Please do not leave this room without me, or someone I send. For your own safety.  The passages, especially past the public area, where we met, can be . . . confusing.”

And, no doubt, filled with traps, Alaric thought as the young man rose.

Not to mention sleeping dragons.

The wall seemed solid again, after Jdal left.

Curious, Alaric thought for a moment, then tried forming a light ball, as he had done outside.

A moment later, a fist sized glowing blue ball appeared a few feet away.

He dismissed it almost instantly.

The wizardry took no energy, but he wasn’t certain just how much place mages knew about the area they were bound to.  He had studied the theory, of course, as required at the Towers.  But, the practice was rare anymore.  Finding someone who actually used it was difficult.  In theory, the bound mage could exert some control over the place and knew what went on inside it.  But, the extents of that control and knowledge . . . he just was not sure.  It did mean that Jdal could not leave the temple-refuge, though.  Of that he was absolutely certain.

It was enough to know that his wizardry worked.  He hoped, from that knowledge, that his sorcery worked too.  Without knowing when he’d be able to touch bare ground again to recharge, he did not want to use any energy to test.

At some point, Alaric assumed, things would go bad.

Then he might need every ounce of his sorcery to escape.

For whatever good a collection of detection and knowledge spells would do.

With nothing else to do, Alaric ran a mental catalogue of all the potentially offensive elemental spells and protection spells he knew.

The speed with which he finished underscored his growing feeling of inadequacy.  He really was not prepared for this and should have gathered a team.  Even some House-less non-Islanders would have been helpful.

Detection spells.

He sent a small bit of wizardry away, resulting in a green rectangle glowing on the wall.

The room’s door.

The one Jdal left through. . . .

And a second, on one of the other walls.

Interesting.

He touched the door they had entered through.

To Alaric’s surprise, it swung inward silently at his touch.

He stuck his head out into the hall, and pulled back quickly.

Across from the door stood two statues of armored semi-humans bearing stone swords.  He was certain they had not been there when he first came in the room.  The priest had said there were constructs among the temple’s guards.  As a place mage, the younger man likely could control the constructs and probably knew he had opened the door.  Since he had not seen them before, he had to assume they were at least potentially animate.

And probably meant to keep him from exploring.

For his own safety.

Sure.

As they said, pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

WiP 8 (2018)

Alaric voiced a concern that had been bothering him, “You keep saying ‘we’.  What do you mean?”

“Why, the other guardians and attendants,” Jdal said, with a smile.  “The Great Ones left a number of guardians, both living and constructed, to protect their temple.  And, of course, they cannot be expected to wake without a sufficient number of attendants to see to their needs and desires.”

“Of course not.”

Shite, he thought.  That sounded like the makings of an army.  An outdated army, to be sure, but if they had numbers, and magic . . . neither the mundanes nor the magical community knew.  And neither were unified, united to face a determined assault.  Assuming, of course, that this was not the only hidden refuge, and depending on the numbers involved.

And how many dragons were hidden here.

Hells, even one dragon could wreak enough havoc to destroy the Doctrine of Secrecy.  Not to mention the loss of life.  If the old stories were true.

“Jdal, our knowledge of the, um, great ones is rather out of date, as I’m sure you can imagine.”

The young man nodded.

“Would you mind telling me about them?”

“They are the Great Ones.  They are, hmm, forces of nature.  They are wise, powerful, and the rightful governors of this, their adopted, world.”

Alaric mentally shrugged.  It was not the most helpful . . . then his brain caught up.

“Did you say ‘adopted’ world?”

Jdal nodded, “Indeed.  The sacred texts tell us that the beings you know as dragons did not originate on this world.  They . . . evolved on another where they were lords of all they saw, holding a place between mortals and the divine.  Their power and their magic were supreme, second only to the myriad gods.  But, they came upon a foe so fearsome that even the gods fled and the Great Ones, despite their strength, could not prevail.  So, they too fled.  They found the only place where they could survive and their enemy could not follow: Earth.  Here, they found a people that treated them as gods.  They saw no reason to . . . disabuse these primitives of this notion.  They let the people serve them and bring them riches.  In return, the Great Ones protected and taught them.  The people learned architecture, philosophy, even how to use wizardry from their . . . benevolent protectors.”

“Until the War.”

“Yes.  Until some of their servants, children, ungrateful as they were, determined to usurp the position of their parents and take the thrones of greatness for themselves.  For a brief time, the outcome looked doubtful.  So, in their wisdom, some Great Ones protected themselves, as a safeguard.  I assume, by your presence, that the fortunes of the upstarts turned and this temple’s presence was, somehow, forgotten?”

“It was forgotten,” Alaric confirmed.  “A lot has been.  On the other hand, much has been discovered and learned too.”

He hoped that his host would not press the question, and thought frantically for a way to change the subject.  He didn’t want to seem too ignorant, or let Jdal know exactly what had been lost, in case things went south.  But getting exactly that information seemed increasingly likely to be crucial.

“Who governs now?  Or have the Great Ones’ lords divided the realm again?”

Shite.  Shite.  Shite.

“Uh, no ‘great ones’ govern.  They’re gone, have been for years.”

There, he thought, that should be safely vague.  Avoid the details, neither confirm nor deny.  Just like when he talked to his superiors at the Tower before leaving the Island.

WiP 7 (2018)

As the door closed behind the priest, Alaric found himself in a sort of waiting room or parlor.  He struggled to find a term that would bridge the gap between the room and his conception of a temple.  The walls were lined with floor to ceiling sets of shelves, themselves covered in myriad knick-knacks and bound tomes.  He assumed the former held some religious purpose, perhaps artifacts or relics.  The scale tiled floor was covered by a matched pair of rugs woven with abstract patterns.  When he stared too long, he felt a hint of vertigo and the harbingers of a headache.  A small host of upholstered chairs were arranged in groups of three or four around the room, mostly on the carpets.  They appeared as chairs everywhere at first glance, but there was something unsettlingly odd about them that Alaric couldn’t quite pin down.

He sat on the nearest chair that faced the door.

Alaric immediately shifted, trying to get comfortable.

After a few minutes of fidgeting, he gave up.

Instead, the sorcerer approached one of the sets of shelves.

He let his eyes roam over the artifacts as his mind wandered.

Jdal’s assertion that the wards and doors opened because they recognized dragon, or servitor, genes kept playing in his head.

The ancient man, he decided, had to be mistaken.  Back in the War era, they couldn’t have known about genetics.  Jdal had probably confused the word.  After all, he’d only been speaking English for maybe half an hour.  And he had been isolated from the world for millennia.

That had to be it.

Otherwise, he had implied that some, or all, humans, or sorcerers, were descended from the dragons or their servants.  That couldn’t be.  It flew in the face of all the histories recorded by mundanes, sorcerers, and non-humans.  Plus, if any genes came down from the humans who had directly served the dragons, they would have to be trace amounts after hundreds of generations.  Even if the families intermarried for a while . . . the genes would have to be too diluted.

Maybe.

He probably should have paid more attention as a novice.  Surely one of the healing masters had covered genetics at some point.  If they had said sorcerers were descended from dragons, he was certain it would have stood out.  That’s not the sort of thing a person forgot, especially with the history both species had.

These thoughts kept Alaric occupied such that he did not notice the door open or his host return until he heard the scrape of metal on wood.

Turning, he found Jdal standing near the open door, next to a gleaming tray.  A few plates and glasses, the former laden with unfamiliar foods and the latter empty, covered the tray.  A crystal bottle filled with a red-purple liquid sat on the table.

“Our stores are well preserved, but somewhat lacking in variety,” Jdal said, waving toward the table’s attendant chairs.  “But, we are happy to share what we have with our kin.”

The sight, and smell, of food reminded Alaric’s stomach that breakfast had been a long time ago.

He settled in the uncomfortable chair, noting that Jdal sank smoothly into its companion, and, at the other man’s nod, dug into the offering.  At first, the unusual scents were off-putting and Alaric thought about spoilage, but as Jdal ate too and seemed to suffer no ill effects, hunger born of exertion won out.

A short time later, with the initial pangs sated, both men leaned back in their chairs.

Alaric continued to shift slightly, trying to find a way to relax in comfort.  Jdal, he saw with a touch of jealousy, seemed perfectly comfortable and at ease.  For a second, he wondered if the chair was bespelled, to keep him off-balance and unsettled.  He dismissed the flashing thought, though.  Thus far, his host had seemed entirely courteous.

The younger man set down his glass and seemed to savor the flavor for a moment.

“You say the crescent region is divided today, Al?  It occurs to me to ask, when was it last united?”

Alaric thought for a few moments in silence.  Mundane history was not his forte.

“I guess, maybe, Alexander the Great . . . he died . . . maybe 2400 years ago.  Well after the War.  Before that . . . I don’t think it’s been unified in over 6000 years.  That’s the beginning of recorded human history.  The War had been over for a long time before then.  That, I do remember well.”

“So, at least six millennia have passed since the Great Ones went to sleep?  That their preservation and protection spells have held so long is a testament to their greatness,” Jdal mused.  “There is, I suppose, much that we must learn before waking them.”

WiP 6 (2018)

“I am Jdal, caretaker of this refuge.  No, ‘temple’, I think,” the young man finally said.  “Apologies.  I needed some words to process your language.  I am told we are quick, but we are not as good as the great ones with language.”

He paused, then smiled serenely.

“Welcome, Al, to a temple of the Techall.  Dragons,” he added the last at Alaric’s apparent confusion.

Alaric noted, suddenly once the initial shock was over, that Jdal had a mix of blue and silver auras.  So, he was the source of the place magic, and the strange new one.

“Thanks,” he said.  “What did you mean ‘refuge’?”

“A mistranslation, I think.  Your pardon, I am still acclimating to your language.”

“Sure.  Sure.”

After all, you’ve only been speaking it for a few minutes.

“Forgive my impatience, but since you are here and passed through the wards, I assume the War is over?  And it is safe for the great ones to return?”

“Hmm.  About that . . . Yes to the first.  To the second, well, it’s complicated.  But, how’d I get through the wards?  I just touched the door.”

“No one told you how to pass through the wards and open the door?” Jdal’s brow furrowed, “Has the knowledge been forgotten?  The doors and wards open when they recognize a great one or a servitor of the great ones, with the correct family line and heritage.”

“You mean genetics?”

Jdal’s head tilted slightly to the left as he considered.

“I believe so, yes.”

Hells.

“Ok, I’m gonna need a few minutes.”

It seemed, Alaric thought amidst the tornado in his mind, that they both had quite a bit to talk about.  Assuming the guy could be trusted to be honest.

“Of course.  I suspect there is more that I need to learn than I, or the Great Ones, had anticipated.  If you will follow me, there are side rooms upstairs with, reasonably comfortable, seats.”

In something of a daze, Alaric nodded and followed his guide up the sweeping stair to the left.  They ascended to about a third the height of the room, he absently noted, before the steps stopped at the next floor.

There he found both sets ended at a wide corridor, easily broad enough for nine or ten people to comfortably walk side by side.  His eyes and mind, seeking something to focus on, settled on the frescos and murals painted on the walls.  Brilliant colors, amazingly strong after uncounted centuries, depicted what he assumed were supposed to be great or important moments in dragon history.

Alaric only managed to see a few before a door, that had looked like part of the wall, silently swung open.  Jdal stood beside it, patiently waiting for him.

The robed man bowed his head briefly.

“There is much I wish, need, to ask, Al.  But, I understand you have traveled far,” Alaric caught the other man’s eyes sweeping over his sweat and dust encrusted clothes, “and are tired, perhaps even surprised.  Please, be comfortable in this room.  We have some store of provisions.  I will endeavor to assemble suitable refreshment.  But, I must ask, first, how much time has passed since the War ended?”

“Honestly?  No one is entirely sure.  Sorry.”

“Ah.  Then, perhaps . . . who is king of the crescent lands?”

Crescent lands?

Oh.

“There are,” Alaric tried to do a quick count in his head, “several nations in that area now.  Only a couple have kings.  I think.”

“I see,” Jdal bowed his head, in thought.  “I will have to consider further, and find another touchstone.  In the meantime, please, be comfortable.”

WiP 5 (2018)

Continuing, still largely unedited and, as always, comments and feedback are very welcome


Tentatively, as if approaching a rabid dog, Alaric stretched out a hand toward the nearer door.  He closed his eyes tight the instant before making contact, screwing them up, anticipating something awful, painful, and unpleasant.

First one eye, then the other, peeked open.

Nothing had happened.

In fact, the corroded metal felt oddly warm to the touch.

Not hot, but not the cold he expected either.

It was significantly warmer than the air in the small cave.

Alaric almost yanked his hand back as he felt a sensation not unlike a troop of ants walking across his bare hand.  He forced himself to remain still, as he felt no threat.

Looking down, he saw the blue and silver auras of the door extending, enveloping his hand.  They stopped at his wrist, but where they touched him, the ant feet tingle continued.

After a few seconds, the sensation withdrew.

The halo retreated.

And the doors swung silently open, as if they hung on freshly greased hinges.

They revealed a broad room of ivory white, thousands of candles in sconces and chandeliers lighting themselves in rapid succession.  The ceiling rose far above his head, supported by carven, barrel pillars.  The floor looked like marble set in a pattern that evoked reptilian scales.  At the far end, just starting to come into sight as Alaric paused on the threshold, were twin sweeping stairs that rose like wings out of the floor, curving outward then back in.

He crossed the doorway with his eyes roaming feverishly around the cavernous room.

The aged off-white, lit by a whole city of candle flames, was overwhelming.

He found, as he stepped nearer, that the flames highlighted details. The columns bore arm’s length images of draconic figures interspersed with half-dressed and wholly naked human-like beings.  What they stood for, who they might have been, if anyone, was beyond him.  As he turned a circle, Alaric guessed that the entry room alone could give the historians and artists of the Island decades of material to study, at the very least.

Alaric drifted deeper into the room, his eyes wandering everywhere in wonder.  He wanted to take in everything he possibly could.

At the thought, he dug into a pocket for his camera.

It was while he was furiously filling the device’s memory card that he realized he was no longer alone.

Slowly, the camera came down as he found himself stopped a few yards from a person.

The young man, barely out of his teens, stood barefoot between the two staircases.  His loose robes, that mimicked the ivory walls, made it difficult to focus on more than his face and raven black hair.  The shoulder length locks framed a pale face that Alaric assumed had never seen sunlight, or at least hadn’t in millennia.  The newcomer was in front of a, maybe ankle height, rise in the floor that formed a rim around the space between the stairs.  And he seemed healthy enough, despite their environment, Alaric decided as he took a closer look, his camera dangling forgotten by its wrist strap.

They stood for several minutes, simply staring at each other.

Alaric’s mind raced.  He shouldn’t have, he thought, come running straight down the stairs.  He should have brought some supplies, at least something to defend himself with.  In his eagerness and excitement, he’d completely forgotten the possibility, his theory, that there might be living, unconfined, dragons in the world.  And they might have guardians and servants.  Of course, they would.  They wouldn’t want just anyone stumbling upon them and finding a way to capture or kill them in their sleep.

For his part, the stranger, Alaric had to admit, looked calm.  Almost serene, even.  Maybe a touch quizzical and curious.

The silence and mutual inspection stretched into the uncomfortable stage.

“Um . . . sorry for intruding?” Alaric finally felt compelled to say.

“Intru . . . ding?”

“Yes, uh . . .”

What did one say when one broke into an ancient, lost, temple and found it was still occupied?

“Um, I am Al . . .” Better to stop there and not give his full, real, name.  Some stories said the dragons had access to name magic.  “I’m a, well, I guess I’m an explorer, a historian of sorts, I suppose.”

“I . . . historian . . . explorer.”

“Yes.  I come from . . . far away,” he continued.  Better not to mention exactly where he was from, especially given that sorcerers hunted dragons after the war.  “I was looking for this place.”

The silence descended once more.

Alaric had run out of things he felt safe to say.  The other seemed to be processing, even repeating random words.  Probably didn’t understand English, and why would he?  That was another oversight to add to the list.

WiP 4 (2018)

Continuing.   This is, currently, unedited and, as always, feedback is welcome.


Logically, it shouldn’t be too much, because they wouldn’t want their followers killing themselves.  Probably.  Plus, that would get into death sorcery, and I’m not going there.  So, the trigger should only take a little, not enough to cause lasting harm.

Of course, they’d probably assume that anyone who came to wake them would know what they were doing.

Which he emphatically did not.

Still running options through his head, Alaric unfolded the saw and used the teeth to slice his finger.  He carefully re-folded the saw and set it down out of the way.  He squeezed the finger to get the blood flowing faster.  As the crimson bead grew, and the finger throbbed, he watched and waited.

Once it looked like his entire finger was covered in red to the first joint, Alaric wiped the thickening liquid on the standing stone.  It seemed logical to start with that one, as the pedestal stones could be any of a couple dozen or a combination.

He stepped back, waiting for something to happen.

When a low grinding as of two boulders rubbing together became audible, he passed a hand over his minor cut.  The skin knitted together, leaving only a red stain on his skin to indicate that it had ever existed.

Alaric watched as the pedestal stones crept downward into the ground.

After a few minutes, they formed a staircase so narrow that he had to turn sideways to keep from scraping the walls.

He created a ball of yellow-white light and sent it floating a few feet ahead.  The walls were rough hewn blocks, each about the height of his leg and equally wide.  He ran a hand along a couple and decided they had been formed rough, not become that way through age.  The stairs were shallow and narrow, causing him to inch along, carefully checking each step.  After a few feet, he lowered the light ball to knee height so he could see the stair better.

As the downward spiral continued, Alaric thanked whatever gods might exist that he wasn’t claustrophobic.  He had to crouch as much as the narrow space allowed to keep from bouncing his head off the ceiling.  His knees ached, both from being bent and from being barked on the walls, after a handful of turns.

Hours seemed to pass with his muscles complaining and shaking at every shuffling step.

Finally, Alaric reached the bottom and found he could stretch somewhat.  The base of the steps was a chamber, maybe a couple paces on either side.  It wasn’t a tall room, but compared to the stairs it was a cathedral.

The ball of light revealed a single arch of rough basalt.

He sent the light ahead and ducked to look through the dark portal.

It opened to a shoulder height tunnel that looked like the excavators did a half-assed job cutting through the rock.

At least it’s more roomy than the stairs.

Alaric shrugged to himself.  He’d come pretty far, but the Towers would need harder proof than he had.  Squat or crawl?  That was the question.  Whether ‘tis better to have aching back or bruised knees . . .  Uncertain of what was ahead, he didn’t want to spend any magic on minor healing of aches and pains.

Crawl, he decided, given an unknown distance.

With a quick detection spell that said he was roughly seventy feet beneath the surface, Alaric knelt and crawled through the arch after his light.

He sighed with relief when the tunnel opened up several body lengths later.

Alaric unfolded his body, knees cracking, in what appeared to be an entry cavern of some sort.  He created and threw a couple more light spheres to better illuminate the space.  The chamber was maybe thrice his own height, about ten times that in width.  And, perhaps forty feet, in front of him was an ornate, heavily worked lintel and doorway.

The frame contained a corroded double door about twice his height, the once shining metal buried under scales of orange-green verdigris.  Closer, he could see a few dulled patches of the original bronze peeking through.  Each door had three plain, beveled panels of the metal with what looked like gold inlays along the edges.  Two handles, each as tall as a man, formed parallel lines in the middle, both carved or cast to depict dragons in flight.  The triangular pediment showed several dragons standing in attentive or threatening postures.

He started looking for signs of a lock or other means of keeping the doors closed.

His heart thudded against his chest as his eyes slid over the gates.

As back at the campsite, Alaric let his vision shift just slightly.

The fading golden nimbus that indicated dragon magic emanating from the doors confirmed his theory.

But, it was joined by a stronger aura of . . . blue.

Place magic?

Old, but not unheard of among modern sorcerers and wizards.  Still, odd to find down here.

And there was a hint of the grey of wizardry . . . no, it was shinier than grey.  It was . . . silver?

What magic gave a silver aura?

Nothing came to his mind.  Over the years he’d spent learning wizardry, then advancing to sorcery, no one had ever, to the best of his memory, mentioned what magic had a silver aura.  Eight aura colors.  That’s all there were, according to the sorcerers in the Green Tower.  Including one that hadn’t been seen in millennia—the gold he was looking at—and one that was illegal anywhere sorcerers gathered—the black aura of death sorcery.

Alaric looked more closely at the auras, letting most of his light globes wink out.  While looking at the auras, he had no need for other light.

Moving closer to the doors, he sought patterns in the halos.

When his stomach grumbled a while later, Alaric was certain that the gold was merely residual.  Just an aura left behind from regular contact with the magic, probably a lot of dragons passed through the doors over many centuries.  The blue seemed to be protective in nature.  The patterns were unfamiliar, but had a hint of the modern protection spells he’d studied and used.  The silver, despite its oddity, held some vaguely recognizable shapes.  He decided they were probably detection and alarm spells, as those seemed the closest fits he knew.

The question was whether he could dispel the protections and alarms, and whether he even needed to.  The beings who had put them in place were long since dead, unless they had some sort of self-sustaining city inside.

Or were comatose, hibernating.

If that were the case, they could be waking even as he stood on their doorstep poking around.

WiP 3 (2018)

Continuing.  I have about 7-ish more pages (after this installment) typed, then I switched to hand writing.  This is, currently, unedited and, as always, feedback is welcome


The central stone was roughly phallic in shape, like it had once been precise but was misshapen by weather and time.  It may, he thought, be representative of sex sorcery.  The concentric rings of stones . . . possibly earth sorcery.  Two of three, or four if currently illegal and immoral magics were included.

He got up and looked around the stone more closely, seeking symbols of sacrifices or death.  Maybe a worn stain, possibly scratches in a recognizable pattern.

After an hour, he had to conclude that either his theory was wrong, the signs were not there, they were too slight to see in a cursory search, or any trace of evidence had been obliterated by time.

Really, he thought, there should be a team working on this.  But, no one at the Island’s three Towers would believe his theory, without physical evidence.  Actually, who knew about the Red and White Towers?  They claimed they shared information with every tower of sorcery, but he knew his own Tower, the Green Tower, kept its own secrets.  Partially because the blood and sex sorcerers followed immoral paths and used others to get power, not like his own earth path.

It could, Alaric finally admitted to himself, take weeks to even begin to unlock the secrets of the site.  Assuming there really were any secrets to find.  The treefolk and eldren could just be reacting to the fact that the stones were shaped and placed by humans.  To them, sometimes, that alone seemed to equal “cursed and dangerous”.

Alaric spent a couple more hours bent over the pedestal stones, looking intently for any scratches or other signs of marking that seemed artificial.  He concluded that all of the pieces of native stone, he’d used an elemental spell to determine that all the stones were granite or basalt, were simply worn by time, weather, and lichens.  In fact, the last covered more than half of each stone.

With a faint sigh, he rose and stretched, his back muscles complaining as they were forced upright.  He kneaded his lower back as he surveyed the site.  Since it’s gonna be a while, may as well make it comfortable, he thought.  Water was near enough.  Shelter, he had.  Cleanliness, some basic wizardry, although not as satisfying as a bath, would handle that.  Food, he’d brought enough for a good week still, unsure of how long it would take to find the site.  Light was no problem for even a first year student.  Bugs, though . . .

Alaric walked a circle a few feet beyond the ring’s outer stones.  He left a small trail of energy, each circuit added another layer of protections.  First, a ward against insects to make the place more comfortable.  Then something to keep mundanes away, even though the site was remote.  Random hikers were always a possibility.  A third, fourth, and fifth circuit added a few other minor levels of protection and alarms against detection spells and intruders.  They wouldn’t stop a determined problem, but should deflect casual looks and give him some alerts if necessary.

The next couple days passed with no further progress or insights.  Alaric learned a lot about rocks and ancient chisel patterns.  He created and dismissed dozens of theories about the site’s layout, composition, structure, and form.  He cast scores of spells, both simple wizardry and complex sorcery, in an attempt to divine some sort of information.  Consequently, he also spent a fair bit of time half-dressed, recharging his sorcerous batteries, both internal and his ring.  A veteran of library research, he’d expected fieldwork to be more exciting, somehow, maybe even faster.  Logic said otherwise, but there was still that hope.

On his fourth day on-site, Alaric decided to simply sit in front of his tent.

It was the first completely dry day since he’d arrived.  He had not seen the treefolk or eldren since their first meeting.  In fact, he’d seen no one in over a week.

Since actively searching the site had yet to yield any answers, Alaric simply sat and stared into his campfire.  He hoped the flickering, crackling, twisting red-orange flames would trigger some unconscious connection that his mind was working on behind the scenes.

Alaric came back to full consciousness with a start.

Something had been forming in his head.

Really, it made sense and seemed simple.  One of the blood sorcerers would probably have tried it straightaway.

He unfolded himself and crawled in the tent for a few moments.

When he emerged, Alaric had the folding saw he’d used to cut firewood.  He tucked it under his arm before approaching the central monolith again.  The question was, he thought, which to choose.  Was it the base, or the standing stone?  And was there a ritual involved or would one spot work?  The questions were too far beyond his meager knowledge, his understanding was only of the most basic theory.  But, it seemed like all three sorceries would be keys.  The standing stone covered two, in shape and nature.  The third would have to be provided by someone seeking entry.

The theory seemed sound.

The details, though, were where the trouble started.

Having a team on this would have been nice.

But, he didn’t have one.  So, experimenting we will go.

WiP 2 (2018)

Continuing from the previous post


Some time later, the dishes scoured by a small bit of summoning wizardry, the tent’s light dimmed and Alaric settled himself in his sleeping bag.  He lay on his back for a while, staring at the nylon ceiling and listening to the rain drum on the outer cover.  His mind wandered, tracing imaginary passages and caverns beneath the ground, an ancient temple complex turned hiding place that had been buried by millennia of sediment and detritus.

The tunnels, the entire facility, thrummed and throbbed with a low, headache inducing bass hum.

Alaric sat up.

The ancient halls weren’t humming, that had been a dream.

But, he was awake and the low, barely audible, thrumming bass was still there.

He scrambled, disentangling himself from his sleeping bag.

As he fumbled to unzip the tent flap, his right thumb rubbed across the bone ring he wore on that side.  Good, Alaric thought, there was a fair amount of energy in his personal stores and device.

The sound grew marginally louder once he was outside.

The fire had burned out some time ago.  The sun was rising over the rim of the stone circle, stretching rosy tendrils from the east.

Looking around, he counted at least twelve eldren surrounding the ring. Their gold-green skin nearly blended into the foliage where they stood on the edge of the clearing.  He slowly realized the bass hum came from the humanoid creatures, as their bodies gently swayed with the rhythm, vine-like head tendrils swinging in time.  He wasn’t sure if they were capable of speech, in fact Alaric doubted if any sorcerer on the Island had ever seen more than one or two eldren at a time before.  They rarely left the woods of their treefolk creators.

Sorcerer and eldren stood and stared at each other for several minutes.

He felt the pressure starting to build over his right eye when the clearing abruptly went silent.

Even the birds and rustle of the squirrels and breeze in the trees stopped.

A barely audible groan escaped Alaric’s lips.

Shite.

The eldren faded back into the trees as another figure appeared.

It didn’t so much step or glide as simply move.

Treefolk.

He hadn’t seen one since a trip to the Grove of Dodona on the Island, when he had still been learning wizardry.  Mostly, they kept to themselves and Island’s other residents left them alone.  Sorcerers usually just saw them once, when they studied the species, magical history, and the Island’s history as kids.

This one had to be close to ten feet tall, its body a bizarre hybrid of plant and animal parts.  The stories said that the first treefolk had once been human, earth sorcerers like himself.  But, they pushed the sorcery too far and transformed.  Now, they’d left humanity behind.  No one was quite certain how much humanity was still in them, enough to communicate certainly, but perhaps not enough to truly understand.

It stopped a few yards from the woods.

Alaric got the feeling that even that distance was difficult for it.

After a few heartbeats, the treefolk spoke, its voice gravelly with lack of use.

“This place . . . accursed . . . danger . . . leave . . . old magic . . .”

Alaric nodded, “Old magic.  That’s why I’m here, to study . . . to learn.  I haven’t seen any curses.”

“Accursed . . . danger . . . leave.”

“Do you mean dragon magic?  Is this an ancient dragon place?  Or . . . death sorcery?”

“Yeeees.”

“Yes, what?  Dragon or death?  Is it inhabited or abandoned?”

Without an answer, the treefolk backed into the woods.  In seconds, it had vanished from sight, joining its eldren minions.

Well, then.

Alaric shook his head.  The treefolk were odd, always had been, from what he’d heard.  Very few communicated well with humans anymore.  And they’d left any sorcery they’d had far behind when they changed, a trade for other powers.  It was said that they were capable of wizardry, like everyone else.  It was possible that it sensed dragon magic, which no one really understood anymore.  On the other hand, if it had sensed death sorcery . . . that was a whole other issue.

It warranted further study, anyway.

But, first, breakfast.

By the time he got the fire back up, ate some rehydrated eggs, and cleaned up, the sun had risen enough over the edge of the stones to illuminate the whole ring.  Alaric left his tent up and started pacing around the circle.  He let his vision shift, to see magical auras.  His boots stood outside the tent, the contact between bare feet and the earth letting him recharge a bit of magical energy.  The process would go faster if he stripped off and stayed still, meditating, but there was work to do.

If there were any auras, though, they were too faint to see by normal means.

The hard way, then, he decided.

After nearly an even score of circuits, he sat on the ground a few feet from the central stone, tugging on his boots.