“This is all just a theory, though,” Camon said.
“It makes sense based on everything Satda told you and everything that has happened,” Laoren said.
“There’s just one thing that is missing. I can’t find a location of the battle on any maps that I’ve looked at. I did find an annotated anthology that referenced a gazetteer in this library, but the page it referenced is written in a language or dialect that I did not recognize.”
Camon moved one of the books and showed it to Laoren, “I can’t say I’ve ever seen that either. It looks neither eastern, western, or elven in its origin.”
“If the battle is where Satda said it is, then that would confirm that this is the tale that I have been looking for,” Camon said.
“Maeshen might be able to help,” Laoren suggested. “He sees things much differently than we do, as you know.”
“If he can’t offer anything, I do have an acquaintance at the Imperial university in Rahttaay specializing in old languages,” Camon said. “I met her years ago at a conclave of the priests. She’s considered the leading expert in ancient languages in the Empire from what I can tell.”
Camon and Laoren took the gazetteer up from the table and set out to find Maeshen. He was not far off when they found him in another part of the stacks with several books unfurled on the table and his hands in the books.
Camon leaned over and whispered to Laoren, “How does he read those?”
“Just watch,” Laoren said.
They stood back, watching Maeshen as he swept his fingers up and down the page vertically, then horizontally. Camon could hear a low buzz coming from Maeshen he didn’t notice at first. Maeshen then stopped humming, turned the page, then resumed humming again.
“Like a bat,” Camon said. “Except he’s using magic.”
“Exactly. He’s very adept at it. He picks up all kinds of details, not merely the words on the page. He can tell what kind of paper was used, the kind of ink on the page, and many other details. He can spot forgeries and addendums with ease when you and I would have to train for years to spot these kinds of flaws.”
Maeshen finished the page and then said, “Laoren. Camon. How may I assist you?”
Laoren gestured to Camon, who took the book over to Maeshen and placed it on the table in front of him, “I was wondering if you could read this page?”
Maeshen felt around the table and located the book. He placed his hands on it, then drew his finger down the page’s side and through the binding. He placed his right hand over the page and hummed then stopped. “A map I see,” he said. He continued waving his fingers all over the map then paused, “This is old…very old. It looks like the eastern lands geographically. I do not recognize any of the places or names, and the language is one I do not recognize.” With that, he withdrew his hands.
“Thank you,” said Camon.
Laoren looked at the map over Camon’s shoulder. “So, you intend to take it to your acquaintance in Rahttaay then?”
“That would be my next move,” Camon said.
“It seems a trivial point to me. What you have is already enough to answer the riddle, is it not?” Laoren asked.
“I thought that myself,” Camon said. “Although I can deduce from what I know about what the nefarious plot may be, I still do not know who is behind it or why they want to do it. But if I had to guess, whoever it is, doesn’t want me finding out about it. It’s why they killed Satda and probably the reason they ordered Jorn and his companion to kill me off and take Achara. Going back east will certainly alert them and allow whoever is hunting us to find us again. I need them to do this so we can get close to them. Seeking out the professor should do just this if they suspect we are on to them.”
“It sounds risky,” Laoren said.
“It is. And it gets worse. I’m not sure, but I think Achara might have something to do with it as well. She is either as a vessel to create their demon lord or as the one to slay him – of which I’m not sure. Two seers are needed. Satda alluded to that. But I think Jorn’s failure to get her revealed that they are interested in her. Otherwise, why keep her alive?” He paused for a moment, “Is there any way I could get a copy of this map? Taking this book from the library wouldn’t be proper.”
“Bring it to me,” Maeshen said. Camon looked at Laoren, who gestured to Maeshen. Camon then took the book over to Maeshen, who felt its pages again. He turned and reached to a stack of parchment paper laying near him on a table. He placed a piece of it next to the book and took out a quill from his inkwell. He started moving his fingers on his left hand across the map with a hum. With his right hand, he shook the quill, and ink blots fell onto the blank parchment. He continued to do this, occasionally refreshing his quill with more ink. At first, the ink blots on the parchment looked random, but as Maeshen progressed, they started to form an image that Camon recognized as an exact replica of the map. When he was finished, Maeshen stopped humming and placed the quill back in the inkwell. “There,” he said.
Camon reached over and picked up the freshly drawn map, “Incredible,” he said. “Thank you again.”
“Glad to help,” Maeshen said.
“I think it’s time to inform Achara that we should be getting ready to leave then,” Camon said.
“I think I’ve taken her as far as I can with her gifting,” Laoren noted. “She’s incredibly talented as a seer. If anyone was to have her for evil, I fear that she could wreak destruction, unlike the world has seen in an age.”
“Then I’ll do my best to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Camon said.
With that, Camon left Laoren and Maeshen and went and found Achara. He recapped all that he had learned about the demons and the legend that he had found. She listened intently with a look of dismay on her face.
“So you think that whoever is behind all this is trying to make a demon lord to some nefarious end?” she asked.
“Something to that effect. That’s what we need to find out. The pieces all fit, but we are still missing a few to get the whole picture.”
“This trip hasn’t been in vain then. If this is like the legend, then the stakes just got a lot higher,” she noted.
“Yes, which makes our need to return all the more urgent,” Camon explained. “If we don’t root out whoever is behind this, then I fear for the worse.”
Achara sighed, “I never thought I would ever see something like this in my lifetime, much less be at the center of it all. It’s just a little much to take in.”
“Try not to dwell on it,” he said. “Let’s focus on getting our things together and planning just how we’re going to get back to the east.”
“Have you told Jorn that we’re planning to leave?” Achara asked.
“He was next.”
“You do plan on taking him with us then,” Achara said.
“Yes. He’s my responsibility, and I can’t in good conscience leave him here.”
“I’ll try to be nice,” she said sarcastically.
Achara went to start gathering her things and packing them. Camon left her and went to find Jorn, who was busy sweeping a tunnel near the Lifewell.
“You don’t usually come looking for me,” Jorn greeted. “It must mean that you have something to share. Good news, I hope.”
“I guess it depends on your perspective,” Camon bemoaned. “Achara and I are leaving the library and headed back east. I wanted to see if you were still looking for a way out?”
“Of course,” he stated. “Are you planning on going back the way you came?”
“I want to avoid the West Watch if possible, but our road is to Rahttaay, which goes to the Watch.”
“At this point, I think I want to avoid the Watch too,” Jorn said. “There’s nothing there for me. I’m not going to find work escorting caravans with a busted leg. What’s there to do back east?”
“Depends on what you like. It’s never too late to try the priesthood.”
“Priesthood! Hah! You are crazy!” Jorn laughed.
“Well, if you want to go with us, you can. We have an extra horse, and I could probably talk the monks out of a saddle.”
“What’s the catch?” Jorn asked.
“You play by my rules, and we won’t have problems,” Camon warned.
“Easy enough, I’m in.”
“Good. Pack your things. We leave in the morning.”
“Not much to pack really, but I’ll be ready,” Jorn said.
Camon went back to his table in the stacks and gathered his books and returned them to the shelves. He retrieved his notebook and inserted the map Maeshen had drawn under the cover. He then went back to his room and packed his things into a pack and readied his sword. While he was doing this, Laoren came to the door and knocked on the doorpost. “Come in,” Camon said.
“Are you planning on going back the way you came?” Laoren asked.
“It’s the only way I know how to get here safely, and even it has its risks as we learned,” Camon said. “But I get the feeling you’re about to tell me something useful.”
“Well, that all depends,” Laoren said. “Like you, I’ve been doing a little research of my own, and I’ve made some interesting discoveries that you might find helpful.”
“Go on,” Camon said.
“How do you suppose this place was built?” Laoren asked.
“The conventional story says the elves built it some time ago. Who else would have the magic or knowledge enough to create a Lifewell?”
“It very well may have been the elves, but my question was ‘how,’ not ‘who.’ I guess you were implying that they carved it out of this mesa and built this elaborate system of rooms and tunnels.”
“Something like that,” Camon said. “What’s your point?”
“The priest who found it noticed a trickle from a crevasse, but he immediately recognized the magical properties of the water. He returned with a quest to discover its source, and that’s when he found the Lifewell and this complex. But he assumed that the Elves created it because of the Lifewell, and the explanation stuck, going unchallenged. What I found takes it to a whole new level. You see, we think of this mesa as a natural formation, formed like the mountains and rivers are formed and the rooms and tunnels as what was built by the elves.”
“Are you suggesting that the mesa is not a natural phenomenon?” Camon asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Perhaps,” Laoren said. “What I discovered was that this library is not the only complex in the mesa. It’s really part of a large complex network of tunnels spanning the entire mesa end to end. But through the years, natural forces have caused cave-ins that have blocked some of the tunnels and weathered the rock faces to appear as if they were natural.”
“What led you to believe otherwise?” Camon inquired.
“Some vague references to an ancient kingdom in the desert in some of the mythologies, which I found this,” he said, giving Camon a leaf of paper.
Camon took the leaf and stared at it for a while. It was covered in runes lined up neatly in a grid of rows and columns that he did not immediately recognize, but he turned it ninety degrees clockwise. He then placed his finger on one of the rows, which read it right to the left. “It speaks of a road it calls the Heavenly Way…”
“It took me a month to figure out what you just did in fifty seconds!” Laoren exclaimed.
“Sorry, it looked elven in origin, but I spotted a character that I recognized. It was probably written by an elf to be cryptic for a human to read in the elven way, right to left,” Camon explained. “But even so, the text speaks of the Heavenly Way running east to west at night. Travelers on the Way do so at night and rest during the day. Provisions are provided for those that don’t bring them.”
“The Heavenly Way, as I discovered, is a road that runs on top of the mesa,” Laoren said.
“Wait…“Camon said. He turned the leaf over and held it up to the light. “There’s a map on it,” he said.
“Where?” asked Laoren.
Camon showed how the grid, when viewed from the back, created a coordinate system. There were a series of dots that showed through making a path that wove its way across the page. Some of the dots were marked in red. Laoren examined them more closely, “Those are the waymarkers on the surface. I wasn’t sure, but they must mark the road.”
“Waymarkers?” Camon asked. “You mean those rockpiles?”
“Yes,” Laoren said. “Under the moonlight, they glow. I believe the red ones indicate stopping places for travelers on the road.”
“There’s only 4 of them,” Camon noted.
“Yes, which is why the Way might be useful,” Laoren said. “I tested it walking and I was able to cross the mesa east to west in three days,”
“That’s impossible,” Camon said. “It would take weeks to complete that trip.”
“Yet here I stand,” Camon said. “Maeshen tells me it was how he came here.”
“I never got his story of how he came here,” Camon said.
“Maeshen served in what many considered to be an occult group of priests composed of those who possessed exceptional gifts and abilities despite their handicaps. He found a reference to it in an ancient tome back West in their library and made the journey here by himself. He used the Way from the west. Truth is, Maeshen doesn’t talk about his past much.”
“Incredible man,” Camon said.
“That he is,” Laoren said.
“If we want to catch the road, then we should leave tonight.”
“Wait a day, then go. I promise you will need your strength for the journey.”
“Sounds like a plan. I’ll tell Achara and Jorn,” Camon said. With that, Camon went back to packing, thinking about what lay ahead of them.