The next morning, Ghing was the first one up and ready to go, but Camon insisted that he wait for the others. Jorn, Achara, and Katima were slower in getting ready. They ate from their provisions again before stamping out the fire and collecting their gear. Once everything was ready to go, they set out into the city.
Katima led them down the wharf north of where they had landed and camped. She showed them a causeway that connected to the wharf and ran west into the city. They entered the causeway, marveling over the structures upon the mounds. The mounds elevated structures above the wetlands below were canals long since overgrown with vegetation once were. Each building was unique in its design but consistent in its architectural queues with the other buildings. They all were towering, proud buildings with carved eaves at the peaks of their roofs and arched doorways. The doors had all since rotted away, but many of them still had large, rusted iron strap hinges attached to the doorways. The causeway was not unlike the wharf, covered in years of debris and plant growth, but it was still possible in some places to see the stone surface.
“This place is incredible,” Ghing squealed.
“Like a kid in a candy store,” Achara muttered.
Jorn stayed close on Ghing’s heals, making sure that he didn’t trip over anything. Ghing was hardly watching where he was going as he admired the structures. He was furiously writing in his journal everything he saw.
Almost half a mile from the wharf in, the causeway intersected another causeway at a large, circular junction that formed a raised plaza. At the center of the plaza was an obelisk that tapered off as it went upward to a fine point. Ghing went to the obelisk and examined it, pulling back moss.
“What are you looking for?” Jorn asked.
“Any kind of inscription or writing,” Ghing commented. “Like the obelisk in the Empire, they are waymarkers, but they also usually have names and things like that on them.” Ghing went back to pulling back the growth. He then stopped and asked for help. Jorn and Camon went over and helped rip away vegetation and moss, revealing several inscriptions on the obelisk.
“Can you read that?” Jorn asked.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m not the first to document this place. Many others have come before me, and I’m getting my bearings.”
“Are you looking for anything in particular, then?” Jorn asked again.
“If I could find a religious site or a memorial of some kind, that might help provide some proof of Camon’s legend. There is supposed to be some shrines in ruins here. This obelisk marks the center of the city according to the maps I’ve seen. And the shrines are on the southwest edge. We should attempt to make our way down there.”
“I’ll lead,” Katima said. “I know whatcha look’n for.”
Katima set out south down the intersecting causeway. Ghing was scanning the buildings around him, still making notes as they passed each one. They intersected another causeway, though not as wide, that ran east and west, and she turned down it. They walked about a quarter of a mile down the causeway until they came to a part of town with several small domed buildings instead of the more traditional sloped roofs.
“Here’s ya go,” she said. “I brought ya to ‘em, but you gotta go inside.” Katima tossed them a torch, “Ya might want this.”
“I’ll go with you,” Jorn said to Ghing. “Which one do you want to try first?”
Ghing pointed to one of them, and Jorn led the way. When they got to the entrance, Jorn used flint and steel to light the torch, which flared up quickly. They then entered through the main entrance into the building. Inside was like a cave more than a structure, dark, dank, and dirty. The walls were covered in mosses and slime.
“What do you expect to find in here?” Jorn said.
“Any painting or organic material would be lost, but carvings would probably be around. Help me clear these mosses.”
The two of them worked to clear away the mosses and revealed nothing but smooth stone.
“We’re going to need help,” Ghing said. He went out and got Camon and Achara, who went into the shrine. The team worked to clear the walls and found nothing. They repeated this for a second and third building and still found nothing of note.
“Are you sure they would have carvings in shrines?” Jorn asked.
“There’s nothing much to go on other than that,” Ghing said. “But we’ve got to keep trying.”
They cleared two more buildings, and then on the sixth one they cleared, they found some bass relief carvings and inscriptions to go with them. Ghing took a rubbing of the carvings on a piece of parchment with a piece of chalk from his bag. He also copied the inscriptions in his notebook.
“What do these mean,” Jorn asked.
“The inscriptions are references to some stories, and these carvings are supposed to be illustrations from them,” Ghing noted. “We have similar things in our art in the Empire.”
“Are any of them the story you’re looking for?” Jorn asked.
“Not that I can see, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t relevant.” Ghing pointed to a carving, “Take this one, for example. It’s referencing a hero story about a man who rescues some children from a dragon. We have the same legend in many of our anthologies. It doesn’t speak directly to the specific story we are looking for, but it corroborates it. Not because it implies its true, rather it implies that what we do have is preserved.”
“Legends,” Jorn scoffed. “Seeing is believing.”
“After what you’ve seen, I still find your incredulity pretty amazing,” Achara commented.
“Big monsters and magic roads don’t prove anything, girl,” Jorn retorted.
“What magic road?” Ghing asked.
“I’ll tell you about it later,” Achara said.
Ghing went back to cataloging the carvings, taking rubbings of them all, and copying down the inscriptions beneath them. They spent the remainder of the morning clearing more of the shrines finding even more carving under the growth in some of them. They found plenty of evidence of animal habitation in some of them, but they were relieved that none of them were occupied other than insects and a few rodents every now and then. Ghing ran out of parchment paper, so he started taking rubbings on the back of the ones he had already used.
“Cataloging these carvings alone will give me my dissertation,” Ghing exclaimed. “I don’t believe anyone has ever taken the time to do this. None of these recalls specifically what Camon is looking for, though.”
“It does in a way,” Camon said. “But evidence of accurate preservation is not evidence of historicity. We need to find evidence of the battle if we’re to show that to be true.”
“How do you think we do that?” Ghing enquired.
“Narrow the search field,” Camon answered. “The annotation I read says the battle was near this city, but not necessarily in it.”
“Ya got river and swamp,” Katima said. “Don’t know how ya can fight a battle on a swamp.”
“If the lake has taught us anything, it’s that geography can change. Especially with water,” Camon said.
“True,” she responded.
“How do you suppose we find a battle site under thousands of years of debris, shifting ground, and water?” Ghing asked.
“Look for the magic,” Camon replied.
“When the girl in the legend defeated the demon, she probably used magic so powerful and unrefined, it could distort the reality around it. If we can find any evidence of that, then we’ve probably found the battle site,” Camon explained.
“And I suppose you know how?”
“Not exactly, but it shouldn’t be unlike tracking a demon.”
“How do you track a demon?” Ghing asked.
“Watch,” Camon said as he put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a white stone. He placed it in his left hand, closed his eyes, and bowed his head. He started humming and making guttural utterances. Then he opened his right hand, palm to the ground. He waved it back and forth, then he turned ninety degrees and repeated the gesture, then again two more times until he was facing as he was when he started, he then turned to the west, then altered his stance more south, then back to the west. He then extended his arm to the southwest with his fingers quivering. He lifted his faces, with his eyes still closed. His teeth were gritted, and he was breathing heavily. His left hand was red, and his knuckles white around the stone. Then he snapped his right hand closed and opened his eyes and stood motionless as if he was stunned. “Something lies beyond the city to the west, that I am sure of. Something…evil.”
“Could it be the battle site?” Ghing asked.
“Possibly, but we’d have to get closer to it,” Camon said.
“Ain’t nothin’ but swamp that way,” Katima said.
“Is it navigable?” Camon asked.
“Barely. A bayou runs through it.”
“Then I’ll go. I am not asking any of you to come with me,” he murmured.
“Do you have to do this every time?” Achara asked.
“If there’s something to be learned, then I’m going,” Ghing proclaimed.
“Then I guess I’m going too,” Jorn said.
Katima looked at her four companions. “This weren’t part of the deal. But you,” she said, pointing to Camon. “You’re a wizard. You didn’t come here for the university. No. You came here for somethin’ else. All this talk about legends, monsters, and magic. Something is up. And it’s big. I can’t sit this out.”
“Thanks to all of you,” Camon said.
“We’re gonna have to get the raft from the lake…” Katima said.
“What are we waiting for then?” Jorn asked.
Katima led them back through the ruins to the wharf. They all worked to hoist the raft up from the water into the wharf, and they unlashed it into more manageable pieces. Jorn rigged up a travois with two of the poles they used for poling, and they loaded the logs from the raft onto it. He then rigged up a crossbar, and they lifted the load across their shoulders, all five of them, and they began to pull it down the wharf to the causeway. They followed the same basic route back through the ruins to the obelisk, then back down the causeways to the south and then again to the west past the shrines this time. They came to the back of the city, where the causeway ended into another one that ran north to south overlooking nothing but a swamp. Katima told them to turn south, and they did, hauling the logs another quarter of a mile south until she told them to stop. They unloaded the travois from their shoulders, and all took a breather.
Katima pointed to a creek that wound through the swamp, “There’s the bayou.”
“We should probably do two smaller rafts to get through that,” Camon suggested.
“Yep,” she replied. “But not today.”
“There’s still a few hours of daylight left. We can lash them, at least.”
“Don’t know how deep that is, though,” Katima said.
“Stick to the edges,” Camon said.
“Yep,” she replied. Katima then went and laid out long and narrow rafts. One was slightly larger than the second. “The big one’s for me, Jorn, and Ghing. The other’s for the wizard and Achara.” They then went to work, lashing them together. Once they were done, they pushed them over into the bayou with a splash, and they tied off a piece of rope and lowered Katima down to each. She tested them for stability and probed the bayou with the pole. “Doesn’t look too deep. We should be a’ight.” They then helped her back up. “We’ll stay here t’night,” she said.
They built a fire on the causeway, and everyone ate from the provisions again. Nobody said a word as they ate, too tired from the day’s work. But after dinner and some rest, they carried on well after the sun went down. Ghing explained many of the fantastic stories that he had cataloged from the carvings. They contained wizards, witches, magic, beasts, demons, elves, orcs, men, swords, and sorcery. Camon added where he could as they all listened intently and stared at the illustrations from the rubbings that Ghing had taken.
“This has got me thinking…” Jorn said.
“That’s a change,” Achara jabbed.
Jorn ignored her, “I wonder if they will ever make a carving about us? I mean, you know, coming out here doing all this stuff. Finding ancient ruins. The adventure.”
“You probably need to slay a dragon first,” Achara said.
“Camon did,” Jorn said.
“Tell me about that,” Ghing said. “There’s more to you than meets the eye. You may have studied as a priest, but that stone you had today was no priest’s stone. And Achara there, I already know what she is.”
“And what do you think it was?” Camon smirked.
He paused for a minute, “It can’t be…”
“Go ahead, say it.” Achara encouraged. “I told you so.”
“He’s a legend, but in the flesh…” Ghing deduced. “He’s a Paladin.”