Chapter 4 – Reasons for Concern
The trio sat around a long table that dominated the dining room of the house. It had been made of costly woods, carved and polished until it gleamed a rich golden red in colour. A pair of ornate silver candle-holders were set upon it. They held the white wax candles that only the rich could afford, not the yellowed tallow ones that most were forced to use. Not that they were needed, for a series of yellow glyphstones had been mounted on the wall, ones, that Kathri suspected, would provide far more light than any candle.
Braethir had a mug set before him on the table, alongside the short sword that he carried across his back. Both Esarrio and Kathri remained empty handed, their thoughts elsewhere.
Astiara’s words had been troubling, Kathri’s face creased in a deep frown as a result.
“What did you find in the tomb?” Esarrio asked, studying Kathri intently, his dark eyes focused on her face with a gaze that reminded Kathri of a hawk studying its prey.
“Treasure, beyond anything you can imagine. It was an untouched tomb, belonging to one of the greatest of Hajanri Emperors.”
“And the Crown of Fire?”
“It was there,” Kathri told him. “I saw it, bright as the sun, but it was protected. We could not approach it due to a Guardian that stood watch over it. It was there when I left as well, which was after Astiara. I do not know why he thinks it was taken.”
Esarrio nodded slowly, his brows furrowing. “Who are the they that he refers to?”
“I also do not know that. There was no one else there.”
“What about the sarcophagi?”
“There were some in the forechamber, as normal.”
Braethir and Esarrio exchanged looks and she could read the concern in their eyes. Braethir upholstered the heavy magelock at is side and set it down on the table before him, slowly spinning it around.
“Is that a problem?” Kathri asked.
“Maybe. Were they still there when you left?”
“I did not see. I could not make my way back by that route and so took another.”
“We are going to need help,” Braethir stated. “As is the man upstairs,” he added in tones grim.
“What are the two of you talking about?” Kathri asked. “Who was buried with the Emperor, and why are you so worried about them?”
Esarrio and Braethir looked towards each other again before the rangy Braethir shrugged. “It is your call, Esarrio,” he said, picking up the mug that sat on the table. “If she is to be of help it may be best that she knows.”
Esarrio sat quite for a moment, staring down at the table in front of him. Kathri could see the thoughts turning over in his mind, the intense consideration that went on write large on his face. He came to a decision after some time of thought and nodded though he did not look entirely pleased by the idea. “Have you ever considered why it is that the Mages seek to keep looters out of the ancient ruins and tombs?”
Kathri shrugged with seeming indifference. Many had contemplated the reason though few deviated from the standard response. “You don’t want competition for the treasures that may be found in them.”
Esarrio’s smile was thin. “No. At least initially that was so, though it may be in part why we do so now, but it did not start out so. We know the dangers that are contained within such places and we are trained and equipped to deal with them, unlike many of the amateurs that are just after wealth and fortune.”
“I have handled all the dangers that I have come across so far,” Kathri pointed out. “I can handle the traps and wards.”
“Up until now. So far you have been lucky, but one day your luck will run out and it may not just be you that suffers. There are things out there, buried beneath the sands and hidden in lost ruins that would rend your mind if you were to stumble upon them. I am not referring to traps here, or not just traps. There are contraptions and arcane constructions worse than any trap. Some were designed that way and what they are doing stored in tombs and the like is a matter I do not wish to speculate on. Other started out with more peaceful intents, but after centuries or even millennium, even the most carefully crafted of spells can break down, becoming corrupted and producing results far more disturbing than that of their original purpose.” Esarrio paused in his speech, looking bleak. “We think it was something like that which caused the Great Fall. The Hajanri uncovered a device of an older age and attempted to study it. It did not end well as it went wrong, very wrong, bringing an Empire crashing down in utter ruin and rendering large parts of the lands that formed it all but uninhabitable.”
Kathri had not heard any put forward a view as to the motivations of the Mages that matched the one that Esarrio expounded to her, one profoundly disturbing.
“If that is the case,” Kathri said, “Why have you not made it public? Why all the secrecy and the war against those who seek to uncover the lost ruins of the ages and the treasures they contain?”
A half chuckle came from Braethir, one that cut off quickly as he took a swig from his mug.
“There have been long debates about that very matter,” Esarrio admitted, pointedly ignoring Braethir. “Rather heated debates. For the time it is felt wiser by many that the current arrangement is for the best.” His frown as he talked spoke volumes on his opinion on the matter. “If we did, how many would actually believe us? Enough to halt the trade? Most would merely believe, as you do, that we seek to keep all the treasures of the ancient ruins to ourselves, and that attitude would go double for those that live outside of the Conclave Kingdoms, where they trust us not at all. Then there are those that would seek out any such dangerous items and would not hesitate to use them. We once found an arcane device that would render every living thing in a city into a desiccated corpse in an instant. Do you think for a moment that our enemies would not use it against us should they get their hands on it?”
Kathri shook her head. “No.” Far too often she had heard those who partook in the game of the need to destroy the Mages. She had long considered it mere wishful thinking. Between the Mages, the merchant princes of Ciosala and the Conclave Kingdoms, there were none who could match their wealth, their power and their influence.
Perhaps they knew something that I didn’t, Kathri reflected. Perhaps they sought out one of those devices. They would use it too, if they found one, that is for certain.
“Which brings us to what you found in the tomb, and what may have gotten out,” Esarrio said.
“You are concerned about who is in the sarcophagi?”
“I thought that they contained relatives of the Emperors, buried alongside them.”
Esarrio’s face was a mix of both grim concern and uncertainty, warring for dominance. “Perhaps. We are not entirely sure who – or what – is contained in many of them. Relatives are more common among the latter Emperor’s of the Vaidapur Dynasty. The early ones held the bodies of worthy foes who fell as the Empire grew, a curious honour for those who bravely fought to resist it. There are some, though, who were not placed in the unbreakable crystal to honour them but to imprison them, enemies of the Empire that they hunted down, to be held for all time.”
“Imprisoned, as in alive?” Kathri asked.
Esarrio nodded. “We believe so.”
Kathri’s face blanched somewhat at the though of that fate. “That is horrific.”
“It may seem so at first glance, but with some of these creatures, if we are reading the clues left behind about them correct, were not particularly pleasant.”
“That is putting it mildly,” Braethir added dryly.
“What is more,” Esarrio continued on, “They were ones not easily killed, if they could be killed at all. There is some debate over that matter, of the meanings and translations of ancient Hajanri texts.”
“How many sarcophagi in Ajanathad’s tomb?” Braethir asked.
“A dozen,” Kathri told him.
“That is an impressive number,” Braethir mused. “The question remains as to who, or what, Ajanathad had buried with him. There is only one person that can answer that, Sarr, and he is in no state to do so. We are going to need some help on this one, digging out what information we can.”
“Will Astiara be all right?” Kathri asked.
“I do not know,” Esarrio admitted. “I had hoped that you could provide some answers that would allow us to aid him, but it seems that you can not.” He sighed, a resigned sound and shook his head. “We are going to have to go into the Old City, which I did not want. Things are a little uneasy in there at the moment, so it is best that you say as little as possible, to anyone, and on no account mention the tomb of Ajanathad.”
“It is not my first run in with the Mages,” Kathri pointed out. “I know what to do.”
Previous Part Next Part
If you have enjoyed, please vote for Echo of the Ages over at Top Web Fiction.