Tales From a Thousand Worlds

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Echo of the Ages – The Crown of Fire – Scion of the Wyrm – Chapter 5

Chapter 5 – The Old City

It was not without some trepidation that Kathri approached the great gates that led into the Old City of Ciosala, the seat of power of the Mages. Always she had associated that with being captured, of being dragged there to stand trial before the law of the Mages. Being a citizen of the Conclave Kingdoms in some manner made it worse, for she had been raised knowing of the law of the Mages, and could not claim the ignorance of a foreign birth.

The towering entrance loomed large before her, the great gatehouse from which the key and scroll banner of the Mages swirled. Beside it the guards on duty seemed insignificant in comparison.

Esarrio marched straight on in, ignoring the guards, and into the cavernous opening of the gatehouse. Beyond the open gates stretched a tunnel, one that extended through the thick walls of the Old City, to a second gate. Unlike the first, this one was shut. Set into the gate was a much smaller door, which was open. Esarrio made his way towards it.

“When asked, give your name,” he told Kathri. “Your full name. Do not attempt subterfuge or any such thing. It will not work and in the long run will only cause all us problems, such as endangering the life of your friend.”

Kathri nodded as Esarrio stopped before the gates, nearby to where in the wall of the tunnel could be seen an opening, much like a large window. Through it, Kathri could see into a room set within the walls of the Old City. A burly man stood in the room at the window. He was completely bald, with a big bushy black beard that fell halfway down his chest, resting on the start of a paunch.

He nodded with familiar ease towards Esarrio as the Mage approached. “Archivist. Back so soon?”

“Business, as it is ever, is never as you expect,” Esarrio replied. He fished around under his shirt and pulled out an item that hung around his neck on a thin iron chain. It looked to Kathri to be a small disk of pale white, like ivory or polished bone. He passed it through the window to the bald man. “Archivist Esarrio Bellasi of House Abrvanate,” he announced in a formal manner.

The bald man took the disk and hung it up on the wall beside him. “Welcome back Archivist.”

Braethir took Esarrio’s place at the entrance, likewise producing a small white disc. “Braethir, Son of Col,” he announced, passing over the disc. “As for the rest, you know how it goes. You were there for most of it.”

The other man laughed. “True, but you know how protocol goes, and the Warden is a stickler for protocol.”

“How is your leg?”

“Improving. It won’t be long now and I can be back out where I am meant to be and not here stuck playing Gatekeeper.”

“You do such a good job at it though.”

The bald man grinned broadly. He hung up Braethir’s disc before grasping his hand in a solid grip through the opening. “Braethir, you old dog, welcome back. We still need to have that drink, no?”

Braethir laughed. “Of course, Avianto. I haven’t forgotten.”

Avianto chuckled before releasing the grip. “I know how that is.”

Braethir stepped away to join Esarrio and Kathri stepped up to the opening. Avianto looked her over, his eyes narrowing as he studied her. Kathri only in part returned the look. Avianto had the bearing of a warrior and seemed to be considering her for any threat that she might pose, despite who she was accompanying and her unassuming appearance. She was more interested in the room behind him, one with a door that led elsewhere through the walls of the Old City. There were numerous shelves in the room as well, ones that held a variety of items, many of which were weapons. A number of iron shod wooden staves were piled up on one shelf.

“Akathriana Deoca,” she said, speaking firmly, avoiding any use of accents, “Niece of Lord Entios il Codebia, Keeper of the Fields of Queen Eirania of Adarosa.”

A brow rose from Avianto at her words before he gave half a bow in her direction. “Welcome your ladyship.” He dragged a heavy ledger before him, a large leather-bound book secured with heavy iron clasps. He unclasped it before opening it, flipping through pages until he arrived at the one he wanted. Picking up a quill, he dipped it into a pot of ink and scrawled a message into the ledger. “I must ask you to turn over any weapons you might be carrying upon your personage,” he said upon finishing up writing. “You can pick them up again when you leave.”

Kathri drew her knife and passed it hilt first to Avianto. He made another note in the ledger before he placed it upon one of the shelves in the room.

“You are free to go on through, your ladyship,” he told Kathri. “Welcome to the city of the Mages.”

On stepping through the door set in the inner gate, Kathri emerged out into the sunlight so bright it almost left her eyes watering as she blinked, trying to adjust to the intensity. The air had a hint of warmth to it, more alike to spring than to autumn and the approaching winter.

Most strange. The sun is brighter and the air is warmer than it should be, as if the Mages can control the weather here.

As her eyes grew accustomed to the light, she could see the vast expanse of the Old City open up before her, as large as any city and yet one sparsely populated. It was a place not quite gardens and not quite wilds, existing somewhere in between the two.

The main river cut through the centre of the Old City, starting off in the north where the land rose higher into a series of low hills. The walls ran along the tops of them, the river plunging through a heavy river gate before cascading down a series of minor falls. From there it flowed across towards the southwestern side of the Old City, to were it flowed out through another river gate, continuing on through the outer parts of the city down to the sea. Near to the falls, the land rose up along the river in a series of cliffs, overlooking a churning bowl of water where the falls crashed down. Buildings perched along the edge of the cliffs. Even further south, the land stayed well above the level of the river, though there it sloped upwards more gently rather than taking the form of cliffs.

Everywhere through out the Old City there were trees, growing in small copses and in larger clusters, while the ground was covered with long, swaying grass. Many of the trees were laden with fruit, waiting to be plucked and eaten. Wild flowers greeted the eye wherever one looked, bright still despite the lengthening of nights as winter began to close in. Paved walkways wound through the grounds, passing by small ponds and lakes. Stone benches and pagodas were dotted among it all. Most of the buildings were over near the river, especially along the cliffs. Of them, quite a number were built in unmistakably Hajanri style, dating back to the times of the Princes. Changing styles of buildings marked the progression of years and the evolution of design, changing from Hajanri to Vigosan. From many of the more recent one rose tall towers capped with tiles.

One building stood dominant above all others, immense in size. It drew the eye to it so that no matters the wonders of the Old City, it alone dominated thought and attention. Situated in the centre of the Old City, it rose high above any other, capped with a vast dome, one that had been sheathed in red gold that gleamed in the sunlight. Lesser domes surrounded it, as if lifting the bulk of the central dome up into the air. Massive columns formed the facade of the building, ones made of the purest white stone, supporting the roof and forming a covered walkway around it.

The domed building was the great Debate Hall of the Mages, where they convened to discus matters, elect officials and make decisions that affected not just then but also the world as a whole.

Even with the aid of the Mages, it had taken the better part of a century to build and was rightfully acknowledged as one of the marvels of the world. Not just that, it was reportedly the largest building ever constructed, unrivalled by anything even in ages past built by the hand of previous civilisations.

They certainly know how to make a statement, Kathri reflected as she gazed upon the building.

Esarrio ignored it, heading instead along a winding path, one that made its way to the eastern parts of the Old City. To the eastern side, and the north-eastern, the trees grew the thickest, verging on a forest. The air above them was thick with birds and their calls, their winged flight carrying them from tree to tree. Smaller buildings peeked out here and there among the trees, for the most being of the original Hajanri build.

The forest itself, as they entered it along the path, had a light, open feel to it, with tall trees of straight limbs which spread out broad canopies. Beneath it was grassy sward, strewn with many flowers.

The building that Esarrio led them to, deep within the forest, was one of the larger ones, of an early Vigosan construct, being rather plain and functional, constructed of grey stone blocks and roofed in dull grey slate. It lacked the elegant style of the older Hajanri buildings or the imposing grandeur of Vigosan buildings of later years. While it stood at the height of a two story building, the few windows set in it reached from near the floor up towards the ceiling, being narrow in dimension as well.

A smaller structure jutted out from the front of it, in which were set big, solid wooden doors that were bound with heavy iron bands. Esarrio pushed on them, sending them swinging ponderously open. Entering through them Kathri found herself in a small antechamber, at the back of which were another set of doors that led into the building proper.

On either side of the room where a pair of plain wooden benches. A guard in black brigadine sat on each one, their helmets set down beside them and their spears and shields resting against the walls. They were talking to each other on what to Kathri sounded like mundane matters regarding rosters and duty, barely paying attention to the trio as they walked through the antechamber to the door at the back of the room. Kathri thought that she caught a momentary flicker of annoyance cross Esarrio’s face as he observed them.

The second set of doors led into a chamber that took up most of the building, one stretching up to the roof, supported by plain but solid pillars. Everywhere that she could see was taken up by shelves, each filled to near overflowing with tomes and manuscripts, scrolls and parchments. There were even older forms of literary records to be seen, in the form of skins, clay or stone tablets and even inscribed bones. At big, heavy tables that took up the middle of the room between the shelves were a number of men and women, studying items that they had taken from the shelves. Some had quills, ink and parchment, and were making notes on what they read as they went.

The light that came in through the windows was narrow, barely enough to see by, though on each table was set a glyphstone set in what appeared to be a candlestick. It shone illumination over the workspace for those reading and writing.

Her fingers itched as Kathri looked around at the stored knowledge before her, the vast and famed Library of Ciosala.

What I wouldn’t give to be let loose in her even for a day. The clues I could find…

Set just before the entrance to the Library was a large circular desk, open in the middle. From it the length of the library could be observed, as well as the entrance. A rotund man sat behind the desk in the opening, his black hair greying at the temples and streaks of it showing in his long beard. He had an open, congenial face and a merry twinkle to his eye.

“Archivist Bellasi, this is a pleasant surprise,” he greeted Esarrio as the Archivist walked over to him. He had the kind of voice that boomed and would frequently be found laughing, and even speaking in hushed tones it carried.

“Loremaster Barado,” Esarrio replied in greeting.

“He is the Keeper of the Library,” Braethir said as an aside to Kathri, “The chief librarian.”

He doesn’t exactly fit what I conceived a librarian should look like. He seems far too jolly for that, more like some form of travelling jonguleur.

“What can I do for you this fine day?” Barado asked.

“I require some information, Barado.”

“And you thought to come here for it?” he asked and then laughed, though he kept it low. “What in particular are you after?”

“I am looking for information on the tomb of Emperor Ajanathad of the Hajanri, specifically on who may be buried with him.”

“I had thought that you had given up on the fruitless search.”

Esarrio’s smile was thin. “You know how it is, Barado. The search never ends. It only gets delayed.”

Barado laughed again. “That is true. What you seek is a rather specific piece of information.”

“I know, but I do seem to recall that I did read something related to it many years ago. It might have been Ravia Sagalada’s On the Emperors or perhaps Giunte Raganda’s Burial Rites of the Hajanri.

“You think that they might have some clues as to the location of the Emperor’s tomb?” Barado asked.

“You never know where you might find a clue that will lead you to your destination.”

“It has ever been so.” Barado frowned as he pondered for a moment, tapping a thick finger to his lips. “I do believe that On the Emperors is currently unavailable. The Magister requested it for research and one cannot deny what the Magister requires.”

Esarrio nodded slowly in reply, his face reflecting a certain glum acceptance of the news.

“I should be able to help you with the other one though,” Barado stated. He eased his frame out of his chair and left the desk, headed down the right hand wing of the library. As he lumbered along, he scanned the shelves as he went. Kathri could see markings on them, in the form of old Hajanri numbers and letters.

Some form of cataloguing system, she presumed. You would need one to keep track of anything in a place of this size.

Barado seemed barely to need it though, leading them unerringly to one part of the building, and a specific shelf. He stopped before it, studying the tomes as he ran his hand across a series of spines. A frown creased his broad face as he came to an empty space. “That is odd,” he said in a low rumble. “It should be right here.”

“Is it out?” Esarrio asked.

Barado shook his head, the frown remaining. “It was here yesterday, of that I am sure, as Lord Safalha wished to see it.”

“Lord Safalha, the Qamdira?” Braethir asked. “That seems a rather strange request for him to make. What would a Qamdira noble wish to know of ancient Hajanri burial rites for?”

“Now that I do know,” Barado explained. “Lord Safalha told me that among the Qamdira nobility, the latest rage is to build tombs in the style of the ancient Hajanri, and given that he was here and had access to the greatest depository of knowledge known to man, he felt it wise to take the opportunity to gather as much information on it as he could.”

“Perhaps he took the book with him,” Kathri said.

“Took it? No, that is impossible,” Barado flatly stated.

“Because he is a noble and you can not conceive that they would resort to such things?” There was a touch of bitterness to Kathri’s laugh. “Trust me on this, the nobility got to where they are by being a bigger group of thieves than any of us mere mortals.”

Barado chuckled, a gleam in his eye as he did. “You certainly are a feisty one, but, no, hardly. I’ve known too many nobles in my time to trust them entirely.”

“It is physically impossible to take items from the library and the loremasters not to know of it,” Esarrio explained. “The buildings is warded tight and the items thaumaturgically tagged so that if one went beyond the bounds of the building all would know of it. The guards out the front are more for decoration, though they are displaying a somewhat lax approach to their job.”

“I know,” Barado agreed. There was a touch of a scowl to his look as he went on. “I have hard words with the Warden about it. We will see if it has any effect.”

“You are certain that he did not take it?” Kathri asked, persevering with the line of thought. “There are always ways into, or out of, a place for those who really wish it. Give me some time and I’d have your prized tomes spirited away.”

“Hah, I like this one,” Barado said to Esarrio. “In this case it is most likely that he simply put it back in the wrong place. The amount of trouble we have with that, especially from those who should know better, would surprise you. It doesn’t make our job any easier, let me tell you.”

“If the books is thaumaturgically marked, as you say, so that it can’t leave without triggering wards” Kathri said, “Couldn’t you search for it by homing in on the mark?”

“Unfortunately no. We have tried and experimented over the years to try to do just that but it hasn’t proved feasible. The problem lies in the fact that all the items are marked with the same generic signature. We have many thousands of items here, and to differentiate them so that we could search them out individually would require each to have their own unique thaumaturgic signature. That then leads to other problems, as so many of them in such close proximity would cause feedback and other related issues that would render it impossible to do what we set out to achieve. So we have to continue doing it the old fashioned way. I will get my aides onto it, Esarrio, but you know how long it can take to locate an out of place item in a collection this large. It could take minutes or alternatively it could take weeks.”

Esarrio frowned even as he slowly nodded in agreement. “Can you think of anything else that might be of help?”

Barado tapped at his lip as he considered the question, half looking up towards the gloom of the roof far above. “There may be a couple of items that could be of possible use,” he said after some period of thought. “A rather obscure Tsialan author, Sischiye of Dighii, wrote a couple of works, both on Ajanathad, and both relating to his death and burial. There could be something in them to help you out. They should be near by to here, from memory. If you would follow me, I will see if I can locate them for you.”

Kathri looked around her as they walked along, following the course that Barado took, inspecting the books from time to time. She could read, at the insistence of her uncle, a fact that marked her out from most of the general populous. It had come much in handy in researching up old legends and rumours on the ruins that she had explored, but the sheer volume of books on display would take a lifetime or more to get through.

Barado stopped at a point a little way along the shelves and extract two small volume from the collection. “Here you are, Esarrio,” he said, passing them across to the Archivist. “I do hope that they are of help.”

“Thank you, Barado. I will let you know if there is anything else we may require.”

Barado nodded and turned, heading back towards the front desk. Esarrio took the two volumes across to a nearby table and set them down upon it. “What is your Tsialan like?” he asked of Kathri as he pulled out a chair and sat down upon it.

“I can say hello, possibly even goodbye.”

“Mine is not much better,” Esarrio admitted. “I will need your help with this, Braethir. This may take a while,” he warned Kathri.

“Mind if I have a look around then?” Kathri asked.

Esarrio considered the request for a short moment before he nodded. “Very well, but mind what you say and be careful where you go. Most of the buildings here you won’t be able to enter, not without the company of a Mage.”

“I shan’t go far,” Kathri told him.

~~~~

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