Rahttaay’s docks came into view, which gave everyone aboard the boat a sense of relief. The long, laborious journey of poling and rowing against the current over a month was beginning to take its toll on their physique and morale. It had been monotonous work, day after day, leaving no time to do much more than eat and sleep. Once they came near the docks, they maneuvered the craft into a slip almost as well as any professional did at this point. They moored the vessel, and Jorn let down the gangplank. They all grabbed their gear and disembarked, all of them smiling and glad to be back.
Camon found a shipbroker in the area and offered the boat for sale at a price that was too good to pass up, and the man bought the boat within ten minutes of them mooring and all of the remaining cargo and supplies the travelers had not used. Nobody seemed to mind, wanting to be off the vessel for good.
“Where to now?” Jorn asked.
“Why don’t we go over to the university?” Ghing suggested.
“I think we need to unload our gear and at least bathe before going on campus,” Achara said. “I don’t know about you, but I think we look like a bunch of vagabonds looking for trouble.”
“Good point,” Ghing said. “My home is not too far from the campus. It’s humble, but we could go there.”
“Thirak’s place would be better, I think,” Camon suggested.
“Who’s Thirak?” Ghing asked.
“An old friend. She owns an inn not too far from here and has staff that can help us. Besides, it’s where we’ll be staying while we’re here in Rahttaay.”
“Fair enough. Lead on,” Ghing said.
Camon set out, leading them away from the docks down the tree-lined avenues towards Thirak’s inn. It was a short walk, and when they got there, they all went up to the door, removed their shoes, and went in. Thirak was in the dining room off the foyer where they entered.
“Well, bless me! Look what just crawled out of the river!” she exclaimed.
Camon smiled, “Good to see you too.”
“You need a bath, as usual!” she exclaimed. She summoned her staff, and they helped the crew with their things and started preparing the washrooms for the travelers to bathe. “How was the trip?”
“About as one might expect going south into the swamps and living to tell about it. It’s not a place you’d care to go.”
“Do tell. You know I love an adventure.”
“Over wine later. We need to report back to the university this afternoon. The young man is a resident scholar there.”
“Always business first for you, isn’t it?”
“I wish it was merely business. It’s much more than that.”
“Secrets. Quests. And in the middle of it is you, Camon. Of course, it’s more than mere business.”
“Then you understand the urgency, then?”
“I always do,” she said. “And I always wait.” She turned and left them in the foyer and went to check on things in the washrooms. She returned and gestured the travelers to follow. Soon, they were all bathed and changed in what clean clothes they had. Nothing they had was neat, but it was at least presentable, according to Thirak. She helped Achara fix her hair and had her staff give the men a cut and shave.
“Now, you all at least look like civilized people now. Good luck at the university.”
“Thanks for the help.”
“Remember. Over wine,” she said.
Camon turned and led the group out of the inn and back on the street.
“She’s quite a character,” Ghing commented.
“You should have seen her last time,” Achara said.
They walked down the avenue. The sweeping trees that covered the avenue were in full foliage now, giving the entire way almost full shade. Only occasional patches of light came through the canopy as the sun shone through in all its brilliance at midday. They moved with purpose, not stopping or slowing to make the walk more leisurely. They reached the university and went straight to Prawadi’s office. Ghing entered without knocking and went straight through the reception area into her office and found her while the others waited. He returned moments later with Prawadi.
“Thank the Light! You all made it!” she exclaimed. “Ghing tells me there is too much to tell in just a summary.”
“Your assistant has got enough material to keep him busy for three or four dissertations. He’s going to have a hard time knowing where to begin,” Camon said.
“What did you find that wasn’t already found?”
“Etchings. Dozens of them. Then we found the site of the battle Camon was looking for. We have artifacts from it. It’s all true!” Ghing said.
“Incredible,” she exclaimed. “What exactly was it like there at the site?”
Ghing recounted the site from what he wrote down in his notebook and then described the battle with the undead and all the artifacts they had found. He then opened his bag and removed the four pieces and the rubbings he had taken from the shrines in the ruins.
“Elves, Orcs, Demons, Undead. Cursed land. This is all incredible stuff,” she noted. “I had no idea there was anything else there to study.”
“There’s a lot more there,” Ghing said. “We have only begun to scratch the surface.”
“You have what you need and more, Camon. What does this tell you?”
“It definitely affirmed my inklings about the legend. It also gave insights into several things concerning who is behind all this. We encountered some henchmen while we were there.”
“While you were gone, I was doing a little research of my own,” she said. “You mentioned before you left that we had met in the past at a conclave. I write down the names of people I meet at places like that, so I went and looked back at my journal from that time, and sure enough, your name was there. You were associated with the Monastery of Anurak. I know that place. Not because I’ve been there, but because of who runs it and who has run it in the past. I’ve talked to them at conclaves, and I gathered that they like to keep a low profile there for a reason, the same kinds of reason that the faculty here won’t openly defy Church or Imperial dogma.”
“What’s that got to do with me?” Camon asked.
“I was getting there. I’ve read of a place in my research that is only vaguely mentioned that lies far to the west, and in a conversation with one of the monks from the monastery, I heard one of them allude to such a place. I wrote it down in my journal because it was an interesting lead. But in follow-ups, I never got any affirmation or denial of its existence.”
“You’re referring to the library.”
“You know about that?” she cried.
“It’s where I got the map and found the annotated legend that led me to the ruins of Darkanar.”
“You’ve been there?” she exclaimed.
“Yes, so has Achara and Jorn. We came from there to this place.”
“It’s in the Pustos Waste to the south and west of the West Watch,” Camon said.
“Who would in their right mind put a library there?” she exclaimed again.
“It’s there for a reason. The founder chose the most inhospitable place he could think of to put a library to protect and preserve knowledge. He knew that one day there would be those who would seek to destroy it. And it remains there until the world is ready to embrace knowledge again. But until then, only a few people even know of its existence. And it’s best that it stays that way.”
“So why do you tell me?”
“Because you are looking for it. Because you want to know things, not just prove what you already believe to be true.”
“That raises my second question then. If you’re not a priest, but you know of lore, ancient texts, and all these sorts of things and dabble in powers that only a few can understand, it gives me pause. This façade of yours – the vagabond wanderer – is not what you are. You’re a knight errant of some kind. But I don’t take you as the kind of person that is working for another. All this can only mean one thing…”
“He’s a Paladin,” Ghing blurted out.
“Well, just go ahead and say it then,” Prawadi said.
“It took me a while to figure it out. But yeah, he is one. All this stuff he’s gotten me into; it was through magic. And he’s also pretty good in a fight too.”
“Rumors of your order still being in existence have been circulating for years. I had no idea that I would ever get to meet one of you.”
“I’m waiting to meet another one of me, too,” Camon said.
“Are you the only one that is left?”
“Like you, I’ve only heard rumors.”
“Even so, to think that you are the stuff of legend. I need a minute to take all of this in.” She turned and sat in a chair.
“Lots of revelations can be a bit overwhelming. I was wondering, though, if you could have a look at one of the artifacts that Ghing has to see if you could date it.”
“Which one do you want me to look at?”
“The elven sword.”
Ghing reached for it and handed it to Prawadi. She examined the hilt of the blade and the writing on it. “It’s inscribed with the owner’s name. Judging by the writing style and art on the hilt, it definitely dates to before the Church’s formation. I don’t think I have anything that would identify the owner, but the elves might. The university plans on sending a scholar exchange sometime in the future, but that doesn’t help you, does it?”
“I don’t need to know right away. The general timeframe is good enough. If you could transcribe it into a more modern script so I could read it, I would appreciate that.”
Prawadi removed a small scrap of paper and a quill and jotted down the name and handed it to Camon.
“Thanks,” he said as he reached in his bag and put the scrap in his notebook.
“Where will you go from here?” the professor asked.
“I’m not real sure. I have an inkling of where I might go, but nothing solid. The ones behind this are using elven magic. Our assailants at the outpost near Darkanar were not elves, though.”
“Do you have an artifact they were using?” she asked.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do.”
“Then, you could use one of the scrying stations spread throughout the Empire to locate any others like it or even who made it.”
“I wouldn’t even know how to use one of those,” Camon said.
“It’s not that hard. But I can give you something to read that will walk you through the process. They work more like a machine than something that requires skills. But to use one, you have to know how to use some magic to activate it.”
“I can do that much.”
“Unfortunately, the closest one is in an old monastery outside of Muangnoi. It’s a popular stopover place for pilgrimages heading to Rhatsaan.”
“I haven’t been to Muangnoi in some time. And the East Road is not exactly the safest way to go. I thought some might prefer the Emperor’s Way to Rahtclang, then go east.”
“The Empire has put more patrols and outposts on the East Road to encourage its use. It’s a more direct route, too, so pilgrims have started to use it in more recent years.”
“We could try it then.”
“You could travel as pilgrims,” Ghing suggested.
“Pilgrims? You’ve got to be kidding!” Jorn objected.
“He’s got a good point,” Camon said. “Pilgrims travel in groups, and I doubt anyone who is trying to hunt us would suspect it.”
“Aren’t pilgrimages accompanied by Inquisitors?” Achara asked.
“Yes,” Camon said. “They assign new recruits as pilgrim escorts. I actually kind of like the idea.”
“Of being so close to Inquisitors? That sounds like suicide! At least for you it does,” Jorn objected again.
“They would be none the wiser. And what they don’t know won’t hurt us. They would serve as our guards while we travel east in disguises to the scrying station there. Once we’re there, we can use the belts that we took off the mages at the Darkanar outpost to scry our assailants’ location anywhere in the Empire.”
“I prefer a straight fight. The idea of sneaking around isn’t my style.”
“You don’t have to go. You’re free to part company with us at any time.”
“I was just getting used to being around you, Paladin. But like I always say–”
“Yes, we know. He needs the muscle. Spare us,” Achara interrupted. “And I’m in too, so don’t ask.”
“Either of you two want to tag along?” Camon said, offering it to Prawadi and Ghing.
“As much as I would like to, I think our place is here,” Prawadi answered. “We’ve got a lot of work in front of us to research these findings. And Ghing is chomping at the bit to get started.”
“Very well, then. Thank you for everything you’ve done for us.”
“Oh, your payment,” she said. She reached in her robes and removed a heavy purse and handed it to Camon. “You have done us a great service. I think what we have here might be the beginning of a change of opinion among scholars about some of the accepted dogmas. And that will impact those in charge. Who knows? Maybe this is the era when we begin to accept knowledge and reject what we’ve been told is true for so long.”
“Let’s all hope so. Thanks for your help with this. I’m sure we will meet again sometime.” Prawadi rose and gave a firm handshake to Camon, Achara, and Jorn. Ghing followed, profusely thanking them for everything. Camon, Achara, and Jorn then turned and left the professor’s office back to Thirak’s inn.