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.”

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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.

Work in Progress

Just a little, unedited, scene I’ve been toying with


Scene—Outside Ruins (2018)

There had always been rumors, ever since the end of the Dragon War.  People started saying that some had survived, uncontained, within moments of the war’s end.  Everyone thought the stories were the delusional ravings of paranoids.  Everyone knew the weakest dragons had been slain in the war, and the strongest, the ones no one could kill, were imprisoned in an eternal sleep.

They all said the stories that some had survived, free, were flights of darkest fancy.

They all claimed that every site occupied by the dragon-lords had been located and destroyed.  The Houses and the guardians had books and maps showing every such location around the world.

Yet, here he stood a few yards away from ruins that did not appear on any of the maps possessed by the Houses or the guardians of the Dragon Caves.

Well, Alaric had to admit, it was the ruins of a human religious site.

He could see the worn, ragged, roughly phallic stone in the center standing on three semi-concentric circles of stone blocks.  Around it stood a ring of closely packed standing dark granite stones topped with matching lintel stones.  They were so tight that they formed a wall, pierced in four places by openings in the cardinal directions.  The lintels rose and fell as their standing stones ranged from nearly his own height to twice that, apparently at random.  A low earthwork encircled the entire site, behind him.  Lichens and stubby grass covered everything inside the circles.

Honestly, Alaric thought, it wouldn’t be unusual or out of place in most of northern Europe.  The grey sky and constant drizzle would be perfectly in line with parts of the UK too.

But, he was standing in an unnamed rainforest, in the mountains, almost exactly on the border between Washington and British Columbia.  And the site, according to his sources and a few basic detection spells, was pre-Columbian.  In fact, if he’d done the spells right, the site was older than the mundanes thought humans had been on the continent.

Alaric was certain that, despite appearances, one of the alcoves or possibly one of the ring steps around the central stone would recede.  If his research was correct, it would lead into the ground beneath the site.  The stories said that, in the last days of the war, a number of the strongest dragon-lords built hidden complexes in which to hide, in sleep or hibernation, and escape his ancestors.

Shifting the pack that rode heavy on his shoulders, Alaric strode toward the nearest arch.  His booted feet whispered over the low grass as his eyes roamed, trying to take in every possible detail.  Soon, he was passing under the lintel stone.  He paused a few moments to study the arch, ancient, massive stones planted upright in the ground with a third laid across the top.  As he expected, no mortar or other means of connecting them.  The ancient humans had relied solely on the weight of the stones to keep the structure in place.  The whole arch took three steps to pass through, then Alaric found himself within the grounds.

He looked around, confirming what he’d thought and seen from beyond the ring.

Seen closer, none of the alcove seemed deep enough to conceal stairs or other means of descent.  The vaguely phallic plinth appeared the more likely means of accessing any hidden complexes.  To be safe, Alaric walked the ring, looking into each of the five or six alcoves he could see.  He spared a glance at the moss sheathed conifers that towered over the site, and the weak sunlight that filtered through the overcast sky.

A vague sense for the weather suggested that the drizzle would get stronger before it abated.  Deciphering a combination on the plinth could take hours, possibly days . . . while reasonably dry.

He nodded to himself, “It’s sat for millennia, what’s another half day and night?”

His only answer came from a couple crows.

“Right,” Alaric smiled, aware of talking to himself.  “Shelter and warmth it is.”

He shrugged the pack off his shoulders and undid the straps holding a tent to the bottom of the frame.  The pack leaned against one of the arch stones while Alaric waved a hand.  The tent began pitching itself as its owner left the ring in search of firewood.

It only took a few minutes before Alaric shook his head.  Calling the deadfall “damp” would be a serious understatement.  Most of it was waterlogged at best.  With no other options, he gathered what he could and sent it floating along in a pile a few inches off the ground behind him.

An hour later, he was sitting in his dry tent, his pack laid on the floor next to him.  A modest fire was going a safe distance from the fabric, helped along by a tiny bit of wizardry, and a pile of fallen branches was drying nearby.  He’d rigged up a lean-to out of a tarp to at least attempt to keep the firewood slightly dryer.  The scent of a re-hydrated soup wafted into the tent from its small tin pan next to the fire.

Alaric pulled the pan off its hot rock and mostly closed the tent flap just as the drizzle began to be interspersed with fat drops of real rain.

As the light fell, the sorcerer unconsciously created a simple, fist sized ball of light.  The basic spell was familiar to all beginning wizards, one of the first things they learned to do.  He sent it to float near the apex of the tent while he ate and read through some notes he’d spread out on his pack.