“But first, we need to make ourselves presentable and not wreaking with the smell of animals,” Camon said.
“I’ll second that,” Achara said.
“We’ll need to get some clean clothes first,” Camon said. They found a tailor who was selling nice, but humble clothes, and Camon bought new clothes for all the travelers. Camon then led them all away from the docks down one of the main avenues until they came to a place that looked like an ordinary house, but with a sign that read, “The Lukohk Inn.” Camon opened the gate, went onto a pathway that led up to the front of the house. He removed his boots and opened the door and went in. Achara and Jorn also removed their shoes and followed. The inside of the house was as immaculate as the outside. Ornate furniture and sculpture decorated the house. Everything was polished to a shine, even the floors. A large, broad staircase went up to the second floor. They heard footsteps coming from upstairs, and then a middle-aged woman appeared at the top of the stairs. She was well dressed in a scarlet felt dress and wore her golden hair up with a golden pin.
“Camon?” she said. “Could that possibly be Camon?”
Camon smiled, “It’s me…”
“You look like you just crawled out of the river, and you smell like you’ve been rolling in a pigpen,” the woman rebuked.
“Good to see you too, Thirak,” Camon said.
“Goodness me,” she said. “Please, go take a bath. Yes, you know you’re welcome and all that. Just please, get cleaned up.”
Camon ushered his companions in and led them to a washroom. Household servants helped them fill a bathtub multiple times as they each bathed and changed into the new clothes. Everyone was happy to be free of the stench of animals. They gave their laundry from the trip to the household servants who took it to be cleaned. Once everyone was clean, Camon led them back to the reception area, and Thirak greeted them, “Now you look more like the Camon, I remember. What brings you to town?”
“We’re here to pay a visit to the university. I need to meet up with an old colleague of mine,” Camon said.
“And who are these two?” she asked.
“This is Achara and Jorn,” Camon said, pointing to them each, respectively.
Thirak inspected Achara, “He should know better than to be dragging a girl like you through mudholes,” she said half eying Camon. “It’s just not proper.”
“I keep trying to tell him that, but he won’t listen,” Achara said in jest.
“Stubborn, isn’t he? And this man looks like he’s seen a ghost,” Thirak said, looking a Jorn. “Camon’s not taking good care of you, is he?”
“He treats me like a prisoner,” Jorn remarked.
“Indeed. We’ll have to fatten you up on my watch,” Thirak said. “I’ve had your rooms made up. You two can stay on the main level, and the lass can stay in the suite upstairs.”
“Thank you,” Camon said.
“Dinner is at sunset. Don’t be late,” Thirak said. And with that, she picked up the hem of her dress and walked away proudly.
Jorn whistled when she was out of sight then said, “Apparently, you must have ruffled her feathers at some point in the past.”
“Thirak and I are old friends,” Camon said. “She always gives me a hard time. But for now, I think we need to go find the university and find the professor.”
They each offloaded their gear into their respective rooms, left the inn, put their shoes back on, then went back out onto the avenue. They walked their horses down an alleyway between Thirak’s inn and the next house to the back of the inn and boarded the horses in the stable there. They returned to the avenue, where Camon led them north for several blocks then turned east. From there, they walked for about a mile along the avenue. They came to the gates of the university. The university was set well off the avenue with gardens and manicured lawns surrounded by a large wrought iron fence. Camon led his two colleagues into the university. The campus was a series of white buildings, some of them multiple stories spread out among large, sprawling oaks interconnected by walking paths.
Camon followed the paths to one of the buildings and went in with his companions. The atrium of the building was quiet, with hallways going to the left and right to the wings of the building. Camon looked at a plaque inscribed with names on it and said, “This is her building. Let’s hope we can find her.”
“That doesn’t sound reassuring,” Jorn commented.
“Academics hold office hours, but they are sporadic between teaching, research, or even travel for lecturing,” Camon explained. “The odds of her being here are against us, but if not, we can at least get an idea of her whereabouts.”
They walked down one of the hallways that were ornate as anything in the city with smooth marble floors and sculpted walls and ceilings. Camon read the plaques on the outside of each room. He found the one he was looking for, and then knocked on the door. A moment later, a young man not much older than Achara with red hair and freckles answered the door, “May I help you?”
“I’m looking for Professor Prawadi. Is she available?” Camon asked.
“She is currently indisposed, but she will be available in a few minutes. May I asked who is calling?” the young man said.
“The name is Camon,” Camon said. “I doubt she will remember me, but I need her help deciphering some ancient languages.”
“I’ll let her know you are here. Please come in and wait,” the young man invited.
Camon, Achara, and Jorn entered the room and seated themselves on a bench in the room while the young man went back through another door. Camon sat quietly, observing the room. Its walls were lined with books and artifacts of all kinds, many of them Camon could not identify. There was a desk with a chair behind them that Camon presumed was the young man’s chair who served as the receptionist. Before too long, the young man came out with an older woman with long braided gray hair who wore flowing dark blue robes about her. Camon stood as she entered the room.
“Greetings,” she said. “I’m Professor Prawadi, and you’ve already met my assistant Ghing.”
“Greetings,” Camon said with a nod. “I’m Camon. These are my companions Achara and Jorn. We met many years ago at a conclave when I was studying, but I doubt you remember me.”
“My assistant tells me that you need some help deciphering ancient text. That’s not a request that comes knocking every day. I am guessing that you remembered me from the conclave and thus why you came calling.”
“Exactly,” Camon said.
“What is it that you need me to look at for you?” she asked.
Camon reached in his bag and removed his notebook and opened it. He then removed the map Maeshen had reproduced for him, and he opened it up and handed it to her. She examined it closely, running her fingers over the runes on the map. “Where did you get this,” she asked.
“I got it out west beyond the borders of the Empire. It was from an old gazetteer. The owner wouldn’t let me take the page, so I had it reproduced on this leaf here.
“The replication is superb. I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” she said.
“Can you read it?” Camon asked.
“Admittedly, I cannot,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t at least understand it. Please, come with me.”
Camon and his companions and Ghing followed her out of the reception area back through the door she came through into a larger room. The room contained much of the same sorts of artifacts and books as the reception did. Prawadi went to a large table in the middle of the room covered with books and parchments, and she cleared a space near the edge. She pulled up a stool and began to examine the runes more closely. She then got up, went to one of the shelves, removed a few books, brought them back to the table, and opened them next to the map. She culled through the books, slowly glancing back at the map every few seconds.
“Ah,” she said. “Exactly as I thought. The writing on this map is old…very old. It’s not even an alphabet; rather, it’s a syllabary based on elven script to represent an ancient human dialect.” She then got out a pen and piece of parchment paper and examined one of the names marked on the map, and she transliterated it from runes. “You can clearly see the elven characters in runes if you look closely, she said, but without the vowels.”
Camon looked closely at the map, “I never noticed the elven script, honestly.”
“Do you read it?” she asked.
“It was required learning,” Camon said.
“Sounds like you studied as a priest then?” she inferred.
“Yes, but obviously, I’m not one,” Camon said.
“The elven they teach priest wouldn’t allow you to recognize this. The script in the runes is nothing like a modern elven script. Even so, it’s enough to get at least the general idea of what this is saying.” She wrote down a few more transliterations on the parchment then sat up.
“These names are the ancient elven names for the early human settlements in this region,” she said. She then got up and fetched another book and opened it. It was also a gazetteer and opened it to a map with elven script on it. She compared the transliterations to the elven names in her book.
“Just as I thought,” she said. “What is your interest in this map?”
“That’s a long story,” Camon said. “But in short, I was reading some of the early legends, and one of them mentioned a battle site near a city on this map specifically referenced by the anthology. I found the gazetteer, but I could not find the city because I couldn’t read the labels.”
“Which city were you looking for?” she asked.
“The legend mentioned a place called Darkhnor,” Camon said.
“Darkhnor…let’s see” she scanned the map again and then located something on the map, “This place has the right consonants.” She then cross-referenced her book. “My map calls it Darkanar in the same location. The ruins of that city are well known. It’s in the southeast down in the delta of the Great River. Some time in the past, there was a massive flood that silted up the river and caused it to change course, and the city was no longer easily accessible by boat, so it was eventually abandoned. We’ve sent many expeditions there over the years.”
“Did they ever make any reference to a battle?” Camon asked.
“I don’t ever recall it ever making a reference to any battles there,” Prawadi noted. “What legend specifically are you referencing?”
“The anthologies referred to it as ‘The Rise,’ wherein a young girl defeats a fearsome demon against all the odds to win a battle between allied forces of elves and men against demons and orcs,” Camon said.
“I’m familiar with that one, but I’ve never seen any mention of a location for the battle,” Prawadi said. “Legends are usually pretty vague, or if they are specific, the areas they describe bear no resemblance to how they are described in legends.”
“I read dozens of versions of the legend,” Camon said. “Only one mentioned the battle’s location and the annotations for the legend it specifically referenced a gazetteer, which I also thought to be odd or legendary material.”
“Yes, indeed,” she said. “But unlike the dogmas of the Church, I am not of the opinion that legends are useless when it comes to historical data. My research has taught me that, and I’ve found artifacts aplenty that directly prove or at least corroborate many legends.”
“I thought you are a language specialist,” Camon said.
“Well yes, but even so, the only place you find ancient languages is in legendary material as such,” she said. “You kind of have to become an expert in many fields to begin to understand the nuances of it. My research is part history, sociology, anthropology, and archaeology, among many other things.”
“Your findings even here confirm what I already knew generally, at least about the general area of the battle site being somewhere in the southeast,” Camon said. “Direct or even corroborating evidence for it would show that the legend may be in part historical.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t think we have anything affirming or denying that,” Prawadi said. “There’s still one pressing question, though. This pursuit you are on seems rather odd…almost trivial, especially for a layman. You found a legend that referenced a map in a book out west. You had the map copied, and you’ve brought all the way back to me. Judging by your look and accent, I know you’re not local. The fact that you are here means you’ve spent a lot of time and resources pursuing this matter, and you’ve come out of your way to seek me out. So this begs the question, why?”
“As I told you, it’s a long story. And honestly, I’m not sure you would believe me if I told you,” he said.
“I delve in stories that most people don’t believe are true as a career,” she said. “I think you might find me more sympathetic than you presume.”
“If you say so,” Camon said. He then explained the entire tale of tracking the demon north, the story of Satda, and the trek west where Camon found the legend and the map, then about the trek back east to where they were now. He left out many details, but Achara and Jorn interjected when necessary, but it was enough to pique Prawadi’s interest. “So, there you have it,” he finished.
“That is a pretty fantastical tale,” she said. “But even so, here you stand with two witnesses to your story. But if what you’re saying is true about what is being turned loose on the world right now, then it would seem that the task ahead is pretty monumental. If you could find the proof you need to show this is true, then it could have a profound impact on our understandings of the past.”
“What are you suggesting?” Camon asked.
“Go to Darkanar and look for evidence of the battle,” she said. “It would mean a great deal to the university if you did, and I think I could even arrange for sponsorship to pay for the expenses. I also know an eager assistant looking for a project that would give him a dissertation.” Ghing’s ears perked up at the remarks.
“I think I already have the confirmation I need,” Camon said.
“There’s more to it than that, though,” Prawadi said. “Speaking in an unofficial capacity, there are several faculty here at the university who have noticed my research. The implications abound, especially when it comes to the arcane arts that the legends speak of. The more confirmation we have, the harder it becomes to ignore it.”
“You mean the threats?” Camon said.
“Yes, Threats. Demons, orcs, undead, sorcerers, creatures of untold power – these are all the things of legend. If these things are indeed real and as powerful as the legends make them out to be, then we are woefully unprepared should something like this arise. It makes your mission to root out whoever is behind the demon just the beginning.”
“I see your point,” Camon said.
“Good then,” she said. “I will arrange a sponsorship from the university for you and your colleagues to escort Ghing to Darkanar as an expedition. Dig up whatever you can and return here.”
“Indeed,” Camon said. “I will come back tomorrow then in a more official capacity to work out the arrangements then.”
“Yes,” Prawadi said. “And I hope for your sake, no, for all of our sake, that you get to the bottom of this.”