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Brief Note of Explanation An Ancient Ruin in an Ancient Jungle

In the world of Creation

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An Ancient Ruin in an Ancient Jungle

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"Conn, if you'd just come back up here I wouldn't have to kill you. We could have drinks, talk about old times..."  
 
Conn pushed himself back into the rough stone wall and looked up. "Terribly sorry! The knife wound in my thigh seems to suggest otherwise!" He looked around at the burning pieces of his carriage, laying scattered about the domed room he'd spent most of the morning in. A few minutes earlier he'd been back out on the trail when his current predicament started. "You could always come down here. Just a quick jump. Probably only break your ankle."
 
About twenty armslengths above him, kneeling at a ragged opening where the stones had fallen away and jungle vines had worked their way through, was Korll di Jurricort. The Investigator Principle of The Chain. Large, red skin with black hair, all leather and weapons. And, as Conn found out a few moments before, capable of pushing a burning carriage up an embankment and through a large hole in the ground.
 
"I'll think about your offer, Conn. But while I'm doing that, you should think about what would happen if I did. By the by, I don't think I would break my ankle." 
 
"No, you probably wouldn't," Conn muttered. He side stepped a bit, reaching down to put pressure on his thigh. The pain was building as his shock wore off and he realized the situation he was in.  All morning he'd been studying the markings and carvings on the walls. Now he wished he'd spent more time looking for concealed exits. If this were actually the observatory complex he'd thought it was, buried into the hillside and covered in jungle growth, there would have to be ways out. He also wished he'd kept running for the hills instead of scaling the wall back down into a dead end.  
 
"So, let's try this again," said Korll. "I ask you why you've left the Northpoint observatory under suspicious circumstances and you don't try to run back to your carriage and escape."  
 
Conn was in a bad situation. The Investigator was not alone; he had a quartet of armored guardsmen waiting on the trail. He was much bigger and stronger, armed with two daggers and a brace of three throwing knives across his chest. Also, The Chain didn't have an organizational history of confrontations that didn't end up with someone dead. Conn, on the other hand, had no weapons, no friends, no way to get out of the room, and would be surrounded by miles and miles of hills and jungle if he did.
 
And he was bleeding with no time to tie a bandage.
 
He kept himself pressed against the wall and just out of Korll's view. Smoke was now filling up in the chamber. It was about ten paces square with a stone table in the center and the burning remains of Conn's carriage scattered between him and it. Conn coughed and kept moving slowly. With much more light in the room he noticed that the stonework in the corner looked slightly different than the rest.
 
A blur and a thud came down beside him. Conn lurched into the corner and saw that Korll was kneeling about five paces from him. The big Rennon stood up, brushing the dirt off his hands. He looked around and squinted for a moment as if letting his eyes adjust to the low light. He set his gaze on Conn and took a languid step forward. "Always move to limit your opponent's options." He held out his hands in a pleading gesture. "Last chance. Come with me now and you'll at least survive this."
 
Conn felt a tickle of fresh air at his cheek. He reached into his trouser pocket. "Sorry to disappoint, but I'm not quite at my last chance yet." His hand whipped out and slapped something against the stone wall. A dazzling flash of light and a loud pop filled the room. Conn leapt sideways through a suddenly created hole in the wall.
 
Korll jumped and tried to grab at him. Conn tumbled into the passage behind the wall and rolled. The darkness enveloped him and he thought he might have a real chance of escape. Like all Malkins he could see quite well in low light. He now just had to move and look for opportunities.
 
The passageway led straight away and deeper into the hillside. It was built with dressed stone block that didn't match the color and texture of the room with the carvings. A short run led to a turn and a much larger room opened before him. He'd come out onto a raised walkway that seemed to lead all around the sides. Four massive pillars of rounded stone held up a ceiling that disappeared in the dark above him. The lower floor was uneven with dark dirt and crud all over it. Various bits of broken debris were laying about the edges and up on the walkways. In the center lay a skeleton in a broken jumble.
 
Conn couldn't quite see across to the other side but it looked like he'd just traded one dead end for another. He glanced back down the passageway. Korrl was having a tougher time getting through the hole in the wall, muttering swear words and questioning the legitimacy of Conn's birth.
 
There wasn't much time.
 
 _____
 
Korll saw that he couldn't catch the little Malkin before he disappeared into the dark. He shook his head, pulling back out of the hole and walking over to the burning carriage. He paused for a moment and looked all around at the walls.
 
They were covered in carvings. Mostly lines of writing and numbers. The center of each wall had a large circle with hexagons across it. Obviously representations of Creation. Different lines were carved through the planet with star shapes at the ends and more carved numbers. All the words were written in what looked like Ancient Lasskyrol, the language of the sciences. Korll could recognize a few star names and saw the measurements and angles. It also looked like each wall was a different time of the year.
 
Interesting, but he didn't have time to ponder on them. The Investigator picked up a burning wagon wheel with a thick gloved hand and went back to the neat, circular hole in the wall. It was just over an armslength wide and sat at waist height. Not easy to climb through for someone his size.
 
Conn didn't have the reputation of a fighter and didn't seem to have any weapons on him but he was extremely resourceful and quick witted. Whatever was down that passageway would be used to Korll's detriment.
 
The Investigator leaned through the hole and rolled the burning wheel into the dark. He knelt and watched as it lit up a dusty hall. After a good twenty paces it rolled to its side and fell over. Korll could see the passage turn into another chamber but saw no other openings or turns. He started pulling himself through.
 
The hole was smooth, the surface of the exposed stone was a little glassy. It had been made from a vial of Arcanum Crystals that Conn had acquired from somewhere. That was new. The Malkin had no history of training or study with magics which meant he'd learned it recently and on the sly.
 
Two days before they had sat down for an official interview. The Chain regularly followed the work of all the advancing sciences. Conn was the sole researcher studying the stars for the Academy Science and Mechanics in the city of Northpoint. He had a newly created viewing device with concave glass at both ends that was said to shorten the distances between things with a trick of the light. Korll was very interested in what the Academy intended to do with it. Conn had been using it for over a hundredsday and it was time to find out what he was seeing.
 
Korll drew a dagger out and walked carefully down the passage. "Very nice trick, Conn," he called out in a voice that boomed along the rock walls. "Caught me unprepared with that one. Well done."
 
Conn's voice came back in reply. "I appreciate your appreciation!" It sounded like there was a large chamber around the turn and the Malkin was somewhere a ways away. "Although I really don't see what all the fuss is about. We had such a nice talk back at the Academy. I thought my update on what we're learning with our new watchglass was riveting."
 
"Yes, spectacular! But unfortunately a bit incomplete. You sciencing types always think you're so much smarter than a big dumb Red. I was able to follow you just fine. I know what the watchglass can reveal. Probably has something to do with those carvings on the wall back there." Korll reached the turn and glanced through. The light from the fire showed him the chamber beyond but he couldn't quite place where Conn was hiding. The echo off the stones didn't help either. "I also know you're on to something important. Something you don't think will sit well with the various established powers in Creation. Otherwise you wouldn't have left the Academy with all your research and rushed up here." He kicked the carriage wheel out into the room, the greased axle mount still burning brightly. "By the by, did I just burn all your research in that hobbly carriage of yours?"
 
"Um, yes..." came the reply. Korll could now see how big the chamber was. The four massive pillars reaching up into the dark. A stone floor covered in thick dark bat droppings. The wheel laying next to a sprawling skeleton. Conn had to be across the room and behind one of the far pillars.
 
Korll moved out onto the raised walkway and edged to his left towards the nearest pillar. He knew Conn could see him clearly and even holding all the weapons he felt at a disadvantage. "Interesting room but you're still here. Which means this is just another dead end. Are you going to conjure up another magic trick? And then we go to the next room, and on and on like the stories of old..." Korll reached the pillar and looked around it. Nothing but the walkway running to the other corner of the room.
 
No answer and no sound. Korll crept around the pillar to face the center of the room. "Shall we play hide and seek? Or should I just wait until you get desperate and make a run for the exit? You know, I'd take it as a personal slight if you let my guardsmen kill you instead of me." In reality, Korll knew that time was on the Malkin's side. Soon the fire would die out and the light would be gone. Korll couldn't take the chance of Conn somehow slipping away in the dark. He had to make a move.
 
The Investigator stepped down onto the lower floor keeping his eyes moving side to side, pillar to pillar to pillar. He moved to cross the room, keeping the exit on his right. A sound came from the other side of the firelight. Korll wheeled left, raising both daggers. Then he saw movement coming from behind him.
 
Conn had somehow worked his way around past the exit and to the very pillar Korll had just been standing next to. The Malkin was lunging straight towards him. Caught by surprise, Korll swung wildly with one dagger and raised his other for another strike.
 
Conn dipped into a forward roll, going beneath Korll's blade. The Investigator turned with him and brought his other dagger downward in an overhand swing. Then he saw Conn's hand slap the floor as he rolled past. Korll suddenly felt the stone turn to liquid underneath him and he dropped by half an armslength.
 
Conn came up in a crouch and spun around. He smiled. "Always move to limit your opponent's options."
 
Korrl looked down and saw his feet embedded in the floor up to his calves. The rock solidified again and he was stuck. He wheeled his arms to keep his balance and turned to look at Conn's smiling face. He burst into a rage. "You rotten little greystain! What did you do?"
 
_____
 
Conn stood slowly and gracefully. "My my, Investigator. Such language." He started to back away. "I have one more vial of Arcanum. I can use it to get you out of there if you promise not to kill me."
 
Korll was fuming. "I promise not to kill you."
 
"Ooooohh, sorry. Not sincere enough." Conn held up one of Korll's throwing knives. "By the by, you're missing one of these."
 
The Investigator looked down at his chest. A slot in his brace of knives was empty. "I've underestimated you."
 
"I was counting on it." Conn sat down on the edge of the walkway. "I'm not really a stargazer by trade, you know. I'm a historian. Spent a lot of time in the field. Lots of tricky situations. Let's just say you're not the first person to try to kill me."
 
"Come a little closer and I can try again," said Korll, trying to keep his balance. He pawed at the tops of his boots and made little frustrated grunts.
 
Conn drew up a large sheet of fabric that had been laying on the walkway. "I need a bit of your time and then I'll be on my way."
 
"Spare me any more of your banter. You've seen something in the watchglass and you're hiding it."
 
"Yes, I have. And I am. Put bluntly, I think Creation is coming to an end. I just don't know how long we have."
 
"What are you talking about? That's nonsense. Creation is perfect."
 
Conn balled up the sheet and walked closer to the fire. "No, Creation is tilting off its axis. The carvings in the other room prove it. We've gone one degree off center in the last hundred years or so. Of course, I wouldn't have had to come up here if we had accurate historical records but that's another story." He threw the fabric onto the burning carriage wheel. It caught fire quickly. "Not only that, but some time ago someone else was here." Conn pointed up.
 
Korll lifted his head and saw about a hundred cylindrical metal cages hanging from some kind of wooden platform spanning between the pillars. Each one had a withered and crumbling skeleton in it. He looked back down at the blackened gunk all over the floor. "This isn't bat shit."
 
"No, it isn't." Conn moved to keep the firelight between him and the Investigator. "Whoever did that up there was probably trying to keep things quiet. Does that sound like any organization you can think of? This observatory was in use about a thousand years ago and then stopped and disappeared from the history books. I found an old document that suggested a group of stargazers had found it and put it to use again but I couldn't find anything else about it. Two things pushed me to come up here and see if it actually existed. Your visit was one. The other is that--" They both heard one of Korll's guardsmen calling out. They sounded like they were already in the passageway leading to the room.

Conn froze. Korrl shouted, "Get in here!"

Then the big Investigator wrenched one of his feet up out of his boot, quickly followed by the other one.  


_____
 


Korll had been working his feet free while also trying to keep his balance. There was just enough give inside his boots to make him think he could pull at least one foot free. But he wasn't sure enough and the Malkin was very quick so he bided his time until a proper distraction presented itself.

Conn bolted back towards one of the pillars. Korll staggered as he freed his bare feet, falling forward and steadying himself with his hands. From behind him the guardsmen all came into the room, short swords drawn. They wore the red cured leather armor studded with blackened metal pieces that marked them as Chain muscle. Korll got himself back to standing and leapt after Conn, who'd gotten behind one of the pillars.

The Investigator shouted while signaling with his hands. "Split left and right. One of you stay by the door!" He reached the pillar with both daggers out and jumped up onto the walkway. Conn was quickly climbing up a series of metal ladder rungs fixed to the far side of the pillar. "He's going up! Get more fire going!"

Korll thought about climbing up after him when he noticed the other pillar on this side of the room also had ladder rungs. "Get over here and keep him up there," he shouted. Then he ran to the other pillar, feet slapping on the cold stone. He slid his daggers into their sheaths, grabbed one of the rungs, and started climbing.

He looked over at Conn. The Malkin was a good deal ahead of him but was having trouble keeping up his pace with his injured leg. Korll ignored the pain in his feet and climbed hard.

Below, the guardsmen had found more sheets of fabric and pieces of old wood. They began piling it on the fire and the light was growing. Korll could see the platform above and the cages of skeletons. The bones were collapsed in their metal prisons, with no visible clothing or other bindings. Hands and feet poked out of the openings. Skulls sat atop the piles like trophies, smiling in the flickering firelight.

As Korll drew closer he could see the platform was actually a grid structure of thick wood beams help up by angled wood supports reaching down into the pillars. The cages hung from metal strapping and the beams were made from dark brown ironwood. They couldn't be a thousand years old but they could be well over a hundred. Everything the Investigator had seen so far suggested that these rooms had been built and rebuilt several times over the ages.

Korll climbed up even with the platform. In the center of it sat a round cage like structure of wood and metal twice his height. Above that was a hole in the ceiling with dead jungle vines hanging through it and smoke drawing up into it. Korll gained the platform about the same time Conn did. They both stared at each other across a distance of twenty paces with the platform stretching away from them like a gameboard.

Conn doubled over, breathing hard, hand clutching his wounded thigh. Korll started across to him, balancing on the outside beam. Conn pushed off with his good leg and lightly leapt to one side. He landed on a beam a little closer into the center. They both paused again, each doing the math and trying to calculate their next move. Korll's feet screamed with pain and he doubted he could match the Malkin's dexterity up here. But he couldn't let Conn know that.

He drew a throwing knife out of its sheath on his chest and flicked it through the air in the same move.

Conn dodged, leaping to another beam. The knife whirled past him into the air. He didn't catch his balance correctly and had to spin in a full circle, dropping to his hands and knees and trying to make it look intentional. He felt he could barely move from the pain in his chest and leg. He doubted he could continue to dance across a wooden lattice fifty paces above a burning stone floor before the Investigator could cross the distance with a burst of sheer strength. But he couldn't let Korll know that.

"Now don't fall. I'd feel all broken up inside if you did." The Investigator sidestepped closer to the center of the platform. "We were just getting somewhere." Korll pointed at the hole in the ceiling. "You're probably thinking you could make it there before I do and win your escape. We could just go for it and find out. Or you can tell me what that second thing was."

Conn was closer to the center but the big Rennon was faster and could throw a few more daggers while he tried to climb to freedom. Conn didn't like his odds. "With the carvings here I've put all the pieces together. There's a Chaos Agent on the loose. More powerful than any that Creation has seen before. He's somehow discovered a way to use Arcanum Crystals to force Creation to spin off its axis."

Korll took another step towards the center and Conn matched him. They were ten paces apart now. "Impossible. We have our own magickers. They'd feel it."

Conn could see that the structure in the center of the platform was an old-fashioned star chart. Wooden circular cage with metal spikes at different intervals that could mark the horizon and the rise and fall of stars. Its accuracy was nothing compared to what the watchglass could show him but very effective for its time. He glanced up at the domed stone ceiling above them. It must have been built as part of the plan to erase this place from history. With a flash of realization Conn galnced down at the skeletons in cages. They were probably the workforce. He returned his eyes to Korll. "Maybe," he answered. "Perhaps it's too subtle to feel. But then, maybe it's not so subtle after all. Which means perhaps your magickers are in on it."

Conn stepped across another space and put the star chart between him and Korrl. The Investigator tried to sidestep but Conn moved again, this time landing directly on one of the metal straps for the cages below. It was rusted and fragile and broke at the contact. They both looked down and watched through the platform.

The metal cage fell straight down. It landed on one of the guardsmen, killing him with a crash of metal and bone on metal and bone. There was a shout from the others and Korll yelled at them to stand their ground.

Conn stepped closer, both he and the Investigator watching each other's every move. "Sorry about that.  Hope you two weren't close.  You know, you could just dismiss your henchmen and talk to me for a while. Or is that not part of Chain protocol?"

"No, it's not. Protocol is to get the most information I can from you and then kill you." They both stepped closer.

Conn whistled with exasperation. "That's not much of an incentive for me to talk."

"Because we're almost at the end of this." Korll took another jump closer. "One last thing. You know who this Chaos Agent is, don't you?"

They were now at a point where they could circle each other all day. Unless of course one of them slipped. Conn coughed slightly at the increasing smoke. Like before, he didn't have much time. "Not in the least," said Conn as he reached the star chart.

Korll jumped closer and clutched onto it directly opposite him. They were five paces from each other. "You're going to tell me who it is."

Conn placed a foot up on one of the supports. Korll matched him. They both glanced up at how far the climb was. Conn smiled and nodded down. "Your feet are bleeding pretty bad Investigator. I'm betting you can't climb very fast."

"You're still breathing hard and your trouser leg is redder than I am. I'm betting you can't either."

"Shall we find out?"

"Let's."

Conn launched himself upward in a flurry of arms and legs. He jumped and pushed and pulled as fast as he could. Korll bounded up the star chart, seemingly unworried about his bloody feet. His long reach gained distance quickly and soon they were both near the top. Conn's bravado quickly drained into fear and he forced himself to go faster. With two quick strides he leapt up off the top of the structure and grabbed a dangling vine.

Korll jumped up at the same time and just missed his ankle. The Investigator stumbled forward and caught himself at the top of the star chart while Conn climbed hand over hand towards the hole above. He looked down to see Korll brace himself and draw a throwing knife. Conn was only an armslength from the edge of the hole.

The Investigator flicked his hand out again and the knife spun through the smoky air. Conn saw it glint in the firelight from below. He twisted and arched his back.

The knife flew past him, clinked off the ceiling, and fell back through the platform to the open space below.

Conn remained hanging on the vine, swinging slightly and smiling down at the enraged Rennon. He returned to climbing up into the hole. After a few moments he felt the vine twist and stretch. He looked down to see Korll had jumped up and caught the vine. The Investigator was now climbing up after him.

At first glance Conn didn't think the Rennon's bulk could fit into the exit but he couldn't be sure. He pulled himself up and saw that the hole turned immediately sideways and was filled with dead vines. A glimmer of daylight showed that Conn would be able to wriggle his way to safety. As he swung his legs up into the tunnel he looked back down. Korll kept climbing.

"Very well, Investigator. I admire your tenacity and so you get a consolation prize. The best I can figure, the Chaos Agent is one of the Blues. Hiding within the Shattered and stockpiling Arcanum Crystals. That's where you'll want to search next."

"I'm still going to kill you, you little ghost!" Korll kept climbing.

"Sorry, Korll. That was one insult too many." Conn pulled out the throwing knife he'd stolen and slashed through the vine.

Korll made a grab for the edge of the exit. The vine snapped just then and he fell back, feet swinging out. With wheeling arms and kicking legs he fell down on the top of the star chart. Spikes went through one leg, one arm, and the side of his back. His scream died out quickly with a long thin shaft of metal piercing one of his lungs.

Conn turned away without another glance and started crawling down the short tunnel. Once outside he could see the curve of the stone roof covered with vines, leaves, and other jungle debris. He took a deep breath of fresh air and let himself pause for just a moment. Next he had the simple task of climbing down and stealing the Investigator's horse.

After that, he had a Chaos Agent to stop. Korll was right. Conn knew exactly who it was. And he had no idea how to end this without one or both of them dying.





-30-

 

Author's Note:

So this is my first story written in the world of Creation. It was fun to conceive of and to see it come around from idea to finished product. In all, this took me about a month or so to write. I started it as a general article and then moved the first section over to the Manuscript function. The annoying thing with that was that the formatting is different. Spacing, paragraphs, etc. I tried a few scenes as a Manuscript and then transferred it back to an article form when I saw the 'prose' article format. Now that I'm finished, I think I will go back to using Manuscript. I can see now that it will be easier to move back and forth between scenes and give me more features to organize thoughts and such. Once I figure out the publishing and linking features, I may copy the stories over to articles for ease of access. Still trying to figure out World Anvil.
 
As for the Storyverse, I didn't have much about Creation in a finished form when I started. I had only settled on a few of the colors of The Eight and I hadn't done any of the detailed maps in Inkarnate and brought them over. As I wrote the story I came up with the Rennon (who began as the Ennon but I changed that halfway through) and named the Malkin. I only settled on the rest of the colors about a week ago but as of this writing I don't have names or maps for them. (Edit: Yesterday the Golds became the Lasskyrol.) Creation is still very much evolving in my mind.
 
I hope you enjoy reading the story. My goal is always to entertain and I want each story to have at least one moment of action or description that makes a reader say 'oh cool' in their mind. If that happened, I declare victory.
 
See you next time. -JD
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