They rode in silence at a trot for most of the morning. The Wall offered shade from the glare of the sun overhead. As they road along, Achara noticed a strange outcropping ahead in the rock face, and when they were right upon it, she saw it was a deep crevasse going back into the face of the rock. She studied it looking at the sides. She noticed a pattern of ridges that snaked up the inside walls of the crevasse. She also noticed that the walls of the crevasse were sloped and not straight up like the wall facing the plain. What started narrow at the bottom got gradually wider towards the top.
“This is the way up Camon was talking about,” she said. “I’m sure of it.”
“This is just a crevasse,” Jorn objected. “There’s no way up here. You’re just seeing things because you want to see them.”
Achara said nothing, but she turned into the crevasse and went along the floor, which was still covered in salt. The salt gave way to smooth red stone, which eventually started sloping upwards. They came to the back of the crevasse. There was a sharp switchback that directed them to a ledge that ran along the wall of the crevasse. She carefully navigated the switchback, and they climbed up, looking over the edge, down to the crevasse floor below. The path was no wider than three feet in most places. They came nearly back to the opening of the crevasse to the plain where they were now overlooking it from the ridge. There was another switchback here, and they continued to climb up as the path wound back and forth between each of the walls of the crevasse with switchback after switchback. And each time they came to the opening, they could see they were higher than they were before. The climb went on through the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. When they emerged from the crevasse, they came out into the top of the mesa. The sun was low on the horizon to the west. A gale blew cold and dry from the west with an unrelenting force. Achara studied the top of the mesa. There was nothing to speak of in any direction as it was flat and desolate like the salt flat only without the salt.
Achara wasn’t sure which way to go from here. She closed her eyes and let the wind blow about her face as she went into her mind. She let her conscience wander for a moment on top of the mesa in every direction before her eyes opened suddenly. “West again,” she thought. She then turned into the wind and started across the mesa with the horses behind her. Jorn looked like he was about to fall off the horse. The horses, however, seemed to be tireless on the mesa and kept moving without complaining. The sunset in the west and now the moons showed on the top of the mesa. Achara scanned the sky for any hints of the beast that had attacked them two days before. She just saw the moons in their different phases as she continued to ride.
After a few miles on top of the mesa, she saw a small faint light ahead of her. It wasn’t on her present heading, but she adjusted her course to investigate. When she drew near, she saw it was a small pile of stones. She stopped and stared at them, then dismounted and saw that they were the same red color as the mesa but were laced with an iridescent substance that reflected the moonlight. Jorn had fallen asleep on his horse, but he came awake with the stop. “What is it?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Achara said. “Some kind of rockpile of stones that is reflecting the light of the moon.” She then went back to get on her horse and noticed another light several hundred yards from her present position. “I think these are some kind of waymarkers,” she said, pointing to the light in the distance.
“Waymarkers? For what?” Jorn asked incredulously.
“Well, when you can’t build a road, you use waymarkers,” she said. “This mesa is already stone, and these rockpiles must be marking the way to somewhere.”
“Let me guess. Your library.” Jorn said.
“I don’t know where they go,” Achara said, “But I intend to follow them.” She remounted her horse and went to the next light, and it, like the first, was a pile of stones. She scanned for another, then spotted it. She rode with a canter to the next light and continued this general westward pattern of riding from one light to the next. The stones continued to mark the way through the night. Jorn had again fallen asleep on his horse and had somehow managed not to fall off.
Sometime well after midnight, Achara came to one of the stone piles, but as she did, she noticed something nearby in the surface of the mesa. She rode over to inspect it and saw it was an opening about twenty feet in diameter with a ramp leading downwards. She could feel moist air coming up from the hole on her face, a stark contrast from the cold, dry west wind that had all but chapped her face by now. “This must be it,” she said. An excitement grew inside of her as she circled the opening to the ramp. The hole was dark and foreboding in the night, but Achara had come prepared. She rigged up a torch from some of the supplies they were carrying. She walked the horses just into the opening out of the wind and lit the torch, which flickered low but gave more than enough light to illuminate the otherwise pitch blackness of the tunnel going down. She could see the walls of the tunnel had signs of fungus on them, and she surmised that there was enough moisture from the air coming up from the bottom to sustain life here. She walked cautiously, leading the horses downwards. The path of the tunnel sloped gradually. The surface of the tunnel was even, wide, and clean. Too even to be a natural formation, she thought. The tunnel went downwards for several hundred yards until it opened up into what appeared to be a large, round amphitheater-like room that opened to the sky above. She could hear the trickle of water coming from somewhere, and on closer inspection, she saw something she didn’t expect to see. “Plants!” she exclaimed. This woke Jorn, who sat straight up.
“What?” he murmured.
“Plants!” she exclaimed again, “Can’t you see them? And can you hear the water?”
“Where are we?” he said.
“In a garden by all my estimations,” Achara said. She looked intently with the dim light around, and she could see terrace upon terrace of plants that made up the room.
At that, they heard something crash and echoed through the chamber. Achara deduced that it came from one of the connecting tunnels, and she quickly got her crossbow from her horse. She extinguished her torch and waited silently. She then saw a glow coming from an opening on the opposite side of the room from her. Then a figure emerged. From the light it was holding, Achara could see the face of an old man with a flowing white beard and long hair. He wore a skull cap on his head and was adorned in white robes lined in gold, and he wore a large amulet around his neck.
He called out into the darkness, “Welcome, young Achara.”
Achara leveled her crossbow and spoke, “Who are you? How do you know my name?”
“You told me,” the man called out. “Come into the light, and let’s talk.”
Achara lowered the weapon but kept it close by. With her free hand, she led the horses and Jorn further in, and she came closer to the man holding the light.
When she got closer, the man saw her and nodded, beckoning her towards himself. She came into the light from the man’s torch. “Ah, that’s better,” he said.
“You can put down the bow. I’m no threat to you,” he assured.
Achara reluctantly set the crossbow down next to her and stood up again.
“Your friend there looks like he could use some sleep.”
“He’s no friend of mine,” Achara said. “More like a prisoner.”
“Prisoner?” the man balked. “Prisoners don’t usually ride with their captors.”
“Well, if he could actually walk, then he just might.”
“So he’s injured, I take it?” the man asked.
“Yes. By my hand. Or rather, by my bow.”
“Odd that you keep someone who wants to kill you alive, isn’t it?” the old man said.
“He didn’t want me dead, only Camon.”
“Camon? So he’s the reason you are here. And where is he?” the man asked again.
“So, this is the place!” Achara exclaimed.
“Why yes,” the man said. “You asked where it was, and we told you which way to go. Was that not you out there on the mesa? But still, where is Camon?”
“That was me. But Camon didn’t make it…”
“How?” the man asked.
“I don’t know. Some creature attacked us out on the flat.”
“Ah, the amphiptere. Fearsome creatures they are. Yet you and your prisoner are here. That can only mean that Camon stood against it in your defense.”
“Yes,” Achara admitted. “I’m afraid so…”
“I’m truly sorry. Come. Your journey has been long. Take a burden off.”
“Wait a minute,” Jorn interjected. “Where exactly are we,” Jorn asked. “And how do you know Achara and Camon?”
“You’re at the Library of Hongsamut,” the old man said. “I know Camon from his past journey here. And young Achara…well we’ve just met.”
“He didn’t believe this place was real,” Achara said.
“Yet here he is,” the man said.
“But how do you know Achara?” Jorn said. “You knew her name before you met her.”
“Because she told us,” the man said again.
“But how?” insisted Jorn.
“There are other ways of communication that don’t require speaking,” the man said. “And they aren’t limited by distance.”
“Impossible. This is some ruse. Some set up that you concocted,” he accused, pointing at Achara. “You’re trying to mess with my head.”
“Jorn, you are the impossible one,” she said. “You didn’t believe Camon or me. But now that the proof is right in front of you, you can’t seem to acknowledge it, only deny it. But nevermind you.”
She then gestured to the man, who led them up and out of the garden, down a tunnel, and into another room that also opened to the sky. He went over and lit a few candles and brought out some bread and water. Despite his disbelief, Jorn clumsily got off the horse and crawled over to the table and ravenously ate the bread and chugged the water.
“You act as if you haven’t eaten in days,” the man said.
“No thanks to her,” Jorn said.
“I don’t think we’ve gotten your name,” Achara said.
“Oh my,” he said, “My apologies. I’m Laoren.”
Achara ate some bread then asked, “Why wasn’t I able to hear you on the mesa like you heard me? I only felt a premonition.”
“Because we didn’t speak,” he said. “We only give what you need to know for those seeking answers.”
“So a whim is enough?” she asked.
“Out there on the mesa,” he said. “Were you sure which way to go? Or where you ambivalent?”
“Ambivalent,” she said.
“Then, an intuition is more than enough.”
“Yet here you are.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“That’s better,” Laoren said.
“Now, might I help you with your animals?” Laoren offered.
“Yes, thank you,” she said again.
She unsaddled the horses and then took the load of the Appon, who had become their packhorse. Laoren then led them to a trough of water on the opposite side of the room, and the horses drank deeply. With Achara’s help when they were finished, they led them down another tunnel to a set of rooms off the tunnel converted into stalls. They put the animals in the stalls, and Achara gave them each a good brushing before she returned to the room where they ate the meal. Laoren and Jorn were conversing about the library. Jorn was coming to grips with the reality of its actual existence.
“I’m still having a hard time believing this place is real,” he said.
“In the morning, I will show you around,” Laoren said. But not until you’ve had some sleep.”
Laoren graciously helped Jorn up and helped him down another adjoining tunnel to a room that he opened. They were simply furnished with low beds, a simple chair and table, and a washbasin. Jorn took the place, and then Laoren led Achara to another room furnished much like the other.
“Again, thank you,” Achara said to Laoren.
“Please rest,” Laoren said. “There’s much to talk about, I sense.”
Achara then closed the door and waited until she heard Laoren leave. She then quietly bolted the door shut and then lay down on the bed. The bed was far from luxurious, but it was infinitely better than sleeping on the ground as she had been doing for weeks now. She much welcomed its modest comfort. As she lay thinking about the events of the day and meeting Laoren, she drifted off to sleep. She had been asleep for a while when her eyes shot open, and she sat straight up in bed and stared at the wall, then shouted out the name, “Camon!”