Amates 29, 1277. Searching the Obsidian Armory library and learning a few new things…
It turned out Ki was right. The Talabreans had been busy with their studies. Honestly, I wasn’t that surprised. They’re under constant threat by slimy things oozing up from the darkness, looking to kill them every month. The Talabreans’ work kept themselves safe.
Once we entered the library, Ki, Mikasi, and myself split up between the tall shelves of books and side rooms. We figured that would let us cover more ground that way. Which in this library? There was a lot of ground.
The Obsidian Armory has always fascinated me ever since I first set eyes on the place. It reminded me of the Windtracer Records Hall in Ishnanor. Only, in this library, instead of being a collection of works on the Ancient Order, the Great Collapse, and so on, it’s focused on magic, creatures, and the Deepland itself. Also, the design of the place was interesting on its own.
It’s a two story library built out of the local blue-gray briskstone and supported by a frame of dark wood. Though calling those timbers ‘wood’ is generous. Talabreans use actual wood from trees, but most of their lumber is red-brown planks cut from the building-high Bitter Fog Dire-Tubaria mushrooms they grow.
Leather or vellum covered books of all shapes, colors and sizes, weighed down the shelves on each floor. Where there weren’t books, there were small jars that held preserved remains of creatures the Talabreans and their Slate Watch Order had fought over the generations. Those remains were either parts of, or entirely whole, mutated monstrosities floating in cobalt blue liquid. Despite the ghoulish decor, there was a comfortable scent of old paper in the air.
An alchemy lab was on the first floor. This seemed to be busy with members of the Slate Watch working out a formula for one elixir or another. A light greenish-gray fog trailed out of the open door to hang like a thin, rotten cloud in the air. It smelled of lilacs with a hint of cooked chicken and burned leather. That wasn’t exactly a delightful odor.
There had been enough twisted magical transformation in my life to last me a while. So I avoided both cloud and lab on my way through the Armory.
I searched the shelves until I had a small collection of books. Five in all that covered everything from flying threats in the Great Chasm to a heavy discussion of wild magic based necromancy. The last one I had to sign for in order to even touch the thing.
The book was kept under lock and key in a vault the Talabreans called the ‘Undercroft’ which was underneath the Obsidian Armory itself. Two guards from the Slate Watch, and a locked black metal door, kept people from accidentally wandering inside. Only the most dangerous, or ancient, books were stored down there.
They were particularly careful about this book of wild magic necromancy. Apparently, last year, a necromancer used it to cause some mischief. The Slate Watch wasn’t about to let that happen again.
That was why one of the Order’s hunters, called a ‘sentinel’, was assigned to escort me through the library. It was one Sentinel Ruathan Bravolo. He looked every bit the part of a Slate Watch sentinel, from brigandine armor, alchemist belt pouches, and well-used weapons to the wine-red hunter’s coat with the sword and eye emblem of the Slate Watch.
No matter where I wandered between the shelves, the Talabrean dark elf was a few steps away. He was always right where he could keep an eye on me, or really me, and that necromantic book. It took a little time to get used to having an escort; especially one dressed for a fight.
I can’t say I enjoyed the experience.
At one point, I stopped in my tracks and turned on the sentinel. The Talabrean man, who was at least a head taller than me and looked like he could out-muscle a mule, tensed like a bowstring.
“I get it,” I said. “About the book, being careful, and all of it. But if you’re going to stalk behind me, it would help if you carried a few of these, then helped me find a worktable.” I thrust two of the larger books at him.
To his credit, he didn’t complain. Instead, the man simply inclined his head with a polite, but amused, smile. He tucked the books under one arm and gestured ahead of us.
“This way, Windtracer,” he said. “I know just the place.”
We settled on a long, Tubaria-wood table on the second floor that came complete with a large jar as a decoration. The two nindel, or meter by Ancient Order measurement, tall glass jar held one of the many preserved creatures here. This one was a small, three-eyed chicken that displayed a disturbing amount of fleshy, reddish-purple tentacles flared out around its head. It floated blissfully in a sapphire-blue slush.
Despite the decor, it had plenty of space, so I settled in to read and ignore the chicken-thing. My escort set the two books I asked him to carry on the table next to me. The book on necromancy was one of them.
“I’ll return that to the Undercroft once you’re done, Windtracer. Just let me know if you need anything. I’ll be nearby.”
With that, he stepped to the right of the table to stand watch. Literally. Sentinel Ruathan stood with his feet shoulder-width apart, hands clasped behind him. The Talabrean stood as still as a statue. Except for his eyes. They scanned the room for anything that moved.
I arched an eyebrow at the tall, armored sentinel, then nodded a little, unsure of what to say. Suggesting that he didn’t have to stand at attention didn’t feel like it would go anywhere.
“Thank you, Sen Ruathan,” I replied with a thin smile. “I’ll let you know.”
I blew out a sigh and grabbed the first book from the top of the stack. It was the Guide to the Great Chasm, one of the Armory’s older books they kept on hand. This book, last I remember, was less of a ‘guide’ and more a collection of journals from prospectors. It was also thicker than I remembered.
The Guide was a heavy book with a worn, blue-green cover of reptile hide. The scaled leather reminded me of Ordo’s people. I winced. In the back of my mind, I hoped this wasn’t one of his relatives. After a quick look at the index, I flipped open the chapter about Long Deep and got to work.
Last time I was here, there were only a few pages of notes and a crude sketch of the land around the ruin. Now? Long Deep was almost a third of the book.
A portion of the new pages just retold the story of my previous expedition a year ago. How the Talabreans found us battered, bloodied, but alive with a bundle of Ancient Order documents.
Ten of us went down. Only myself and two others came back. Reading the Talabrean’s account dredged up some unpleasant memories. I shook my head to get my focus back on what I was looking for.
Long Deep isn’t the name of the ruin. That’s the ancient lava bed around the buildings. No one’s really sure what the Ancient Order called the place. The documents we recovered on the last trip down were just a list of accounts. Ten simple pages from an Ancient Order trade manifest, that were more about bushels of Immon apples than the name of a building.
But there was a ‘Bathrogg Station’ mentioned at the top of one page. It could have been the name of the ruin, but it also could have been the trade good’s next stop. No one knows. The Talabreans, and specifically the Slate Watch, are convinced that the proper name is ‘Bathrogg Station’. For me, it’s always been easier to call it ‘Long Deep’.
The Long Deep chapter had a lot of notes in the margin. Most were just about recent creatures that had recently moved in, or parts of the ruin that were unstable. Judging by the notes, the Slate Watch had sent two crews of sentinels to the area in the past year. But they never stepped inside. Instead, they were focused on expanding the map of the outside to see how large the ruin was.
I stopped toying with my pencil to take notes in my journal. A lot of notes.
A few minutes later, I had a duplicate of their recent map and more. The Slate Watch had figured the rough size and shape of the entire ruin. It was a lot bigger than any of us at the Windtracer Company suspected.
According to the Slate Watch, Long Deep, or Bathrogg Station, was mostly underground. If those scouts were right, the place extended down several floors below the ancient lava bed into an enormous stalactite that hung over an underground lake or sea. The most any Windtracer expedition, including mine, ever uncovered was a few fortified buildings nestled among the black, sharp rocks of the Chasm floor.
This opened up all sorts of possibilities. We would still need to arrive as close as we could to the ruin. But we didn’t have to walk in through the front door if some Deepland creature was camped out there. Instead, there could be a way inside from underground.
I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of hiking through the Deeplands; no one in their right mind is. But if it was easier than fighting our way inside, I was all for it. Besides, it also meant another way back out if the front door was blocked.
Satisfied, I set that aside, then grabbed the book on necromancy. The Xinder Codex. I noticed Sentinel Ruathan tense up again the instant I touched the book.
“Sen Ruathan, please relax. I’m not going to try to cast anything, sew body parts together, or cause any trouble. I’ve about as much magical talent as a table leg. This is just me trying to,” I hesitated while I picked out my words, “make sense of some things I came across not long back.”
The sentinel relaxed a bit. I saw his eyes slide over to meet mine before he nodded.
“Of course, Windtracer. In some ways, as I understand it, the work we do in the Slate Watch isn’t that far off from the Windtracer Company. Sometimes we face things that we can’t make sense of right away. I’ll be here if you need anything.”
That was an understatement if I’d ever heard one. When all I did was frown back at him with a perplexed look, Ruathan returned to standing guard. I shook my head, then went back to my studies.
The Xinder Codex looked much older than the other books on the table. I’d heard that they brought the first edition out of the dark elven empire around the time of the Great Collapse. It was one of the few books brought out with the Deepland survivors.
It was a leather-bound book with a few peculiar quirks. The smooth, blue-gray binding was littered with dark stains that looked like blood, soot, or a mix of both. Rough, dark red twine stitches cross-crossed the cover, as if someone repaired it in a hurry. It felt soft in my hands, like a fine fur, and was a little warm to the touch.
I fought down a twitch and wondered if I should have asked Ki to read this instead of me. That sent my mind to wandering for a moment.
Ki. I yelled at him back aboard the Sheldrake, but it wasn’t his fault. He was just concerned, like he always gets. Tyre and Evi weren’t acting any different. They were just being careful. I needed to apologize to all of them and get my head together.
“Focus, damn it,” I mumbled in a low voice. “Do the research, then apologize. He’s not going anywhere. He’s right downstairs.”
I let out a heavy sigh, then opened the Xinder Codex. The first few chapters were written in a code that the Talabreans hadn’t translated.
To me, it resembled some of the Ancient Order dialects I knew, but the letters looked distorted. On one page, when I tried to focus on the writing, the letters seemed to move and shift by themselves.
My first guess was a mage-lock. Ki told me about them. That was a bit of mage-craft casters used when they wanted to keep something they wrote private. Despite that, I dove into reading what I could, and copied a few bits into my journal along the way.
That mage-lock didn’t make it easy. It also didn’t help that the damn book started whispering to me.