The Eastern Vale
Ittain wasn't the same since the loss of the pearl. The normally mumbling, ancient man was now suspiciously quiet for quite some time. To such an extent that Lee began to worry for his sanity. A worry that vanished when Ittain did eventually speak. He sounded more serious now. And tired. As if he had enough of being the mumbling fool. "According to the map, we should be nearing our destination." Lee mentioned and Ittain nodded in aknowledgement.
The three marched through the mountainside forest. The massive trees stood like temple columns on the slanted floor. They walked over a dirt path, probably made by others who went to this Shrine. "What do you think we will find?" Asked the Seeker. "I'm not sure. Some talk about an obelisk and a lake. But I guess we'll truly know when we get there." Lee answered as he moved over a fallen tree. "An abyss." Added Ittain. "An abyss illuminated by fractured luminescence." The Seeker and Lee looked at each ohter, confused. But they carried on, each pondering on the words. Until they stumbled upon a village in the middle of nowhere.
It was quite small even as villages went with a grand total of three structures, the forest barely parting whatsoever to even permit its existence, explaining how abruptly the seekers had come upon it without warning. Two of the buildings were simple stone dwellings, likely for families, but the third was immediately recognizable of an inn - and a fairly well-kept one, by the looks of it. The walls of the lower floor were all made of mortared-stone rather than cobble like the other two dwellings were, and it bore a second floor made from paneled
wood sections. The roof was made from what looked like slate shingles rather than thatch, and a number of long, colorful dyed awnings were raised along the sides of the building, covering long drapes and surprisingly rich decorative tapestries along the exterior. One was merely a copy of Matathran's battle-standard flag, an orange starbust with a golden wreath and a peculiar crimson barbed symbol in the middle. Another was what must have been a rendition of Andromache, albeit still as a young girl, evading the outreached spear-strike of a menacing figure in black plate-armor - a sly expression on her face as she snatched at a gleaming ribbon of silk tied to the weapon's haft. Another still was a woven rendition of an indistinct building on an island in the middle of a moonlit lake, a tall monolith of stone visible to the side and a group of individuals with cloaks and lanterns inspecting it in the glow of the full moon.
No fire was coming from the inn's chimney, but there were multiple lights blazing through the windows - lattice-worked glass, some of it even stained - and there was a locked shack adjoining the main building with two carriages parked outside.
The inn was outrageously fine for such a small and isolated setting - and the place looked like it was probably crowded, despite the absence of anybody out and about near the exterior. A hanging signpost by the front door, rimmed in an iron fixture, proclaimed it to be Sky Palace Inn, a small painting of the crescent moon accentuating the text.
Lee and the Seeker looked at eachother, suprised and confused by the sight before them. Especially the in was not what they expected. Well maintained and almost beautifully constructed, how did people do it? Ittain, on the other hand, looked a lot less interested. He was already hurrying down the path towards the inn. His clothes were stained and filthy. The bandages around his eyes as well. He smelled like he hadn't taken a bath for years. Before Lee or the Seeker could catch up, he had already opened the door to the inn.
The interior common-room was well lit by an iron-cast fixture supporting candles hanging from the ceiling. There was a large hearth against the rear wall, which was presently unlit. The tables were all made of fine lacquered wood, with multicolored wood-segments forming Serene iconography decorationg their tops. Most of the chair were upholstered with dyed leather, and rather than wooden cutlery the plates and utensils all appeared to be made from tin. To the left of the room was a large, double-ended grand staircase complete with a rug - albeit, a dirty and mud-caked one - running up its length, and set directly under the staircase was presumably the bar, atop the back of which ran an iron lattice grill, separating those seated there from the keeper and his stock. The room had been, as indicated, crowded - there were three groups of note. No less than four individuals, most of them elders with frayed white hair and wearing thick aprons akin to those of a blacksmith, were cluttered around one table, pouring over mounds of parchments, scrolls, and tomes they had stacked high upon it. A second smaller group of three individuals, more finely dressed in cloaks and robes, sat near to the hearth. One of them was wearing multiple rings and an amulet - which resonated with the third seeker's silver seashell, both of the items unexpectedly glowing a light blue in coloration, giving the seated owner a start as he looked to the three newcomers. Then, finally, seated by himself off in the corner was a single lone individual with their hood up, slowly eating a plate of cooked ribs while taking in the scenery.
"Welcome to the Sky Palace Inn." Rumbled a low and booming voice from behind the iron grille - the keeper there, arms crossed as he scrutinized the three, was a giant of a man with arms thicker around than Lee's entire body, and a bald head. "You profligates git here now, I'll be having a look at your papers before you even think
of causing trouble around here." The group of four pouring over their own manuscripts completely ignored the seekers as they entered - but the trio and the lone figure had stopped what they were doing and were paying very close attention. The man with the amulet quickly tucked it beneath his shirt to hide its glow with a look of mild annoyance - and intrigue.
"Very well then." Ittain said, as he started conjuring up a handful of papers. "Do carry on. This country has wasted enough of my time already." The old man was clearly annoyed. Lee quickly joined him. "What my poor, dementing grandfather here means is that he cannot wait to look at Werrill's shrine." The Seeker joined Lee too, whispering in his ear that the seashell amulet sensed something. He looked over his shoulder for a second, rather troubled. The old men, bent over their paper hadn't moved at all. But Lee could see an unease in the richly dressed group. "So... could you tell us about your inn?" Lee asked.
"Rooms are three silver a night. We restock drink every other week. Damage anything and you pay for it, or I pull your head off." The keeper said in a thoroughly rote and unamused tone as he took Ittain's proferred papers and flipped through the comically small pieces of parchment in his sausage-sized fingers. Satisfied, he turned them back to Ittain.
"We get far too many freaks." He added, eyeing Lee balefully.
Ittain, annoyed, took his paper back and wandered up to one of the empty benches. A quick nod from Lee made the other Seeker join him. "Ah...freaks you say?" Lee said quizically. "I didn't know the Shrine was so important for.. them."
Ittain on the other hand, was keeping an eye on the well dressed guests. Two of them scowled at him, but the third - the man with the rings - affected an air of cool and deliberately turned his attention back to his food and drink, pointedly ignoring Ittain even as his compatriots glared at the seeker.
"Are you staying or not?" The keeper asked Lee ruefully, completely ignoring his question.
Lee gave out a heavy sigh and dropped three silvers on the counter. "One night." The giant of a man took the foreign coins without complaint, and wordlessly slid Lee an iron key on a ring, which bore a small waxy paper tag with a numeral for four inscribed on it.
"You will have to forgive our surly keeper his temperament my good seekers!" A high and whiny voice shrilled in Lee's ear from directly next to him seemingly without warning - the most garishly dressed men he had seen thus far, dressed in a unsettling, bright yellow shirt with coattails, very dark trousers, and a conical fur hat, he also wore sky-blue cords of streaming paper around his shoulders, and he only bore one sleeve over his right arm alone - his left had a curious set of two emblematic burn-marks on the outside of its wrist, which he made no effort to cover.
Lee had to take a minute before he could respond. Who was this person!? Why was he dressed the way he was!? But what really put Lee of was the fact that he called them Seekers. So far, he never called himself or anyone else from the group that. "It's alright." Lee tried to deflect. "We're just here for a pilgrimage. Grandfather always wanted to see a few shrines before he died. If you would excuse me." Lee took the key and the tag and tried to go towards Ittain and the other Seeker. The old man hadn't stopped staring yet.
"Oh, well you won't be getting to the Werrill's Shrine at all unless you might like to listen to...me!
My name is Bzz'renlüt my friendly coxcomb, and your surfeiting company would do well to listen to my words, for only I
, Bzz'renlüt, can tell you how to decipher the mythic riddle-text of the lakeshore monolith, and only I
, Bzz'renlüt, can tell you how to cross the abyssal waters safely! It is a wonderous tale to be told, one of adventure, one of great gaiety and wonder, surely a fine thing for such a senescent fellow like your grandfather to experience, something to bring a smile to his rugous face and the cockles of his liver?"
The supremely annoying man had managed to somehow waltz in a circle around Lee three times in a row while speaking before the seeker had even taken a second step, before stopping and standing in front of him with an expectant look.
Lee groaned internally. But this was a lead and he would take whatever he could get. He turned back at the counter and laid down a silver piece: "Inn keeper, a jar of wine please." Lee knew he would need it. Turning back to the gentleman with a name Lee wasn't even going to try to remember, he said: "Very well, let us take our seats so you can tell the story."
"Ohoho, yes yes, a fine choice indeed my friendly coxcomb! You will never forget the day you made the wisest of choices, to behold and weather the words of the great and grand Bzz'renlüt!" The man declared shrilly. "Be a gofer and get me some drink as well, eh? A talented and whimsical man such as myself can get thirsty
!" He laughed, then pranced over to Ittain and the third seeker, orbiting them like some kind of hysterical, tacky comet as they took their seats.
Lee took the jar from the keeper, as well as the four cups. Even though he desperatly hoped the strangely dressed man wouldn't get too greedy with it. Setting down the cups on the table, he could already see the scowl upon Ittain's face before he even had to look up. Lee let each person pour the cup for themselves. He himself filled it up entirely. Ittain kept his half full and the third seeker did too. "Speak, man. I don't have all the time in the world anymore." Ittain sneered.
"Ohohoh, you need not make time for me if you do not fear of the giant world-devouring eel
at the bottom of Adula lake! Try to go to Werrill's Shrine, and it will gobble you right up in one big massive slurp
, just like this!" The whiny man picked up his cup and drained the whole thing - and as promised, he did it in one, long, obnoxiously loud and exagerrated, childish slurp. "The mythic riddle-text on the lakeshore monolith reveals the bait you need to use to traverse Adula safely, but none remain in this world to read it...except for me
! Bzz'renlüt! Bzz'renlüt, last of the line of of the human house what lay with the royalty of Serifs, our rich oral history passing down the knowledge to read the ancient scripture, down to and ending with me, Bzz'renlüt, the wainwright!" He proclaimed, beaming eagerly at the three seekers.
To say that Lee was sceptical, was an understatement. "So what's in the shrine?"
"Oh-hohoho, wonders that will never cease to amaze you my friendly coxcomb, yes indeed, I Bzz'renlüt have no need of it, for I already live in an upstanding forest manor you see, but you
and your fleeting uncle will surely be pleased and most blessed to make use of the fantabulous and phantasmagorical majesty of the contents there! By the Serene One, think of it! You could do anything, you could be whoever and whatever you want! Bzz'renlüt of course, would be no other than himself, the grand and tremendous Bzz'renlüt, and so it is obvious it should be you who lay hand upon it!" The obnoxious man lay his hands in an obnoxious and overly-familiar way across Lee's shoulder as he spoke, his other arm outstretched and gesturing as if to some unseen but fascinating tapestry.
"And we happen to be the first who are just friendly enough to ask?" Stated Lee, his voice still icy cold. "You've never helped anyone before? No one in this inn has ever asked you for your help?"
"Oh, but they have! They have! They have all asked the great and mighty Bzz'renlüt for their assured, sound, and steadfast assistance! But they are all misers and indolent fools!" The irritating lush draped himself over the seekers' table dramatically. "They would all rather try to pursue their own foolish, vainglorious, pernicious, feeble-minded
schemes to get across the waters without becoming eel-scat! All because they do not understand that to gain riches and power beyond imagining
that some small, lesser risks must be taken - but they stupidly think the risks are greater than those of their own ignorant and doomed
endeavors! Can you believe that! Truly? That they would shy away from such petty worries?!?"
"Very well then!" it was Ittain who spoke. He rose up from his chair but kept his hands on the table. If he were a younger man, it might have looked like he was squaring up. He turned to the Seeker and said: "Go to the room, wait there for us." The man knew better than to ask questions and did as Ittain said. Then the old, 'blind' man turned to the odd fellow. "How about you show us everything we need to know. Let's go then. If you are any bit as good as you say you are, there no need to tarry and wait. Lead on then." Lee kept his mouth shut.
"Oh yes, you are most-wise indeed, to choose the guidance and counsel of the wise and sagacious Bzz'renlüt!" The extremely odd and poorly dressed man proclaimed. "I shall show you the way without fail! But in order to do that-" A weasle-like impression of slyness crossed his face. "I will need a small, worthless token in exchange - I am a collector of foreign assignation documents you see, for I do love the way they list out of these wonderful foreign possessions and describe these fascinating distant people from far-away lands! Permit me the privilege of having yours, and Bzz'renlüt will give you everything
I have to offer about Werrill's Shrine!"
"Ah." Lee finally realized what was happening. "But we still have our associate outside. He carries most of our possessions. As well as obviously all the paperwork. Maybe the great and knowledgable Bzzrenlet-"
"Bzz'renlüt." The obnoxious man corrected Lee.
"Would be more interested in the paperwork of many golden baubbles we gathered from our travels?" Ittain remained silent. Though he knew very much what Lee was doing.
"Hm, hm, hm, hm," The whiny little man said, posing in a countenance of exaggerated contemplation. "No!" He declared, before stamping his feet melodramatically. "Like I said, the mighty and prestigious Bzz'renlüt already resides in a fanciful forest boudoir, and I have no interest in reading about ever more burdensome gold and riches - which I already have in superfluity upon superfluity! No! The most generous and charitable Bzz'renlüt would not have you pay for the privilege of their peerless recounting! Your simple, ragged and worn assignation papers will suffice."
"I have had enough." Ittain raised his hand. But Lee was right in time to grab it. "No. No, not here." He said with a stern voice. Ittain, rather pissed off, sat down again. But Lee's gaze got a lot more serious now. "Listen up, fraud. I've lost my patience and my 'grandfather' here has a very short temper. Now, either you tell us all you know and we leave you be. Or he curses you."
"Bah! Ingrates! Indolent, profligate, primitive, dim-witted, unruly, barbaric, sordid savages!" The extremely unintelligent man blew a raspberry at Lee and ittain. "You rebuff the peerless Bzz'renlüt? You get nothing
! Eel-scat shall be made of you fools when the world-devouring serpent slurps you up! Wait and see!" In a huff, he turned on his heels and marched up the stairs. Absolutely none of the other patrons of the inn appeared to have paid much attention to the prolonged exchange, beyond the two members of the trio still watching with faint scowls and the lone hooded figure still peering at them over their food - and had not reacted to the unusual or frantic efforts of the insulting garish man.
"Please tell me you can curse him." Lee almost begged Ittain. But the old man dropped back on the bench. "I'm afraid not. The moon is not aligned with Crag of Ybren. Nor is the seventh star of Huyin'Drath dying." Lee slumped his body. Of course, beyond the 'no', he barely understood what Ittain was saying. What even was the seventh star of Huyin'Drath? Never the less, after finishing the wine, he and his mentor got up to go towards the Shrine. To see what there really was.
The short walk down the footpath through the forest was placid and serene - while the two had been in the inn, the sun had been slowly setting, and had just fallen beneath the horizon. So when they turned past the last grove of trees, Lee and ittain were treated to the sight of a large mountainside lake cast in the glow of twilight. The water was perfectly still and tranquil, reflecting the fading sky like a perfect mirror. Set in the middle of the lake was a small island, faint blurry traces of greenery about it, as well as a distant and indistinct stone structure of some kind. The lake, by and large, was surrounded by more forest - but, a short ways along the shore and led to by the footpath, there was a clearing by the water where a single, rough-hewn monolithic slab of rock stuck out from the mud. One of its surfaces was polished to a perfect and pristine flatness that was unblemished by the ages, and its face bore upon it three lines of some unfamiliar alien text neither Lee nor Ittain had seen before.
Before they could even think about going closer however, they were stopped by the call of someone's voice.
"That's far enough profligates." Behind them, the three richly-dressed men in robes had seemingly crept up along the path behind them in complete silence - said silence shortly explained when Lee noticed the faint and eerily silent flurries of dust around their boots, with had left no prints behind them.
Their leader - the man with the number of rings upon his finger - was staring warily at the two. "I don't particularly care one way or another if that threat to curse that gibbering fool was a bluff or no, but listen here. We have more riding on retrieving the contents of the shrine than you can even imagine, and whatever hedge-magic or artifact you have on you, it is no match for my own. Stay out of our way and do not interfere, and there is no need for us to get violent."
Lee didn't feel particulary intimidated. Knowing that Ittain was in a foul mood was strangely comforting now. "You fools want to cross the water? Be my guest." the old man stated, moving away from the shore. "Well carry on now. Do what you must and all that good stuff." Lee knew what the old man was doing. Making others do the work for once. If they succeeded, then Ittain and Lee just had to threaten them to get what they wanted. Or stop them from getting it in the first place. If the failed, well at least they would be out of the way.
"A wise choice." The man said wrly as the trio swept past the two seekers and set onto the shoreline. They began to converse between themselves, making no effort to hide their words.
"So we just fly over the water? That's it?" One of them asked the man with the rings.
"That's it." He confirmed. "I did it once before, albeit at a much greater height as I was only passing by and did not know of the shrine then. I flew right over the island without stopping. So we will fly straight up to that height, head over the island, and then descend."
"And how come nobody has done that before?" The third demanded.
"Who could have? The last mage of any note in all of Matathran was Pentadrast, and even he couldn't fly." The man with the rings scoffed. "I've looked through every tome and scroll on this place, same as you - mages have visited before, but none of them ever attempted to fly to the island. We will be the first, I am reasonably certain."
The trio then prepared for their aerial journey, clustering together, the ringed mans' companions pressing close to him as he waved over their bodies with his hands, murmurring all the while. Then, less than half a minute later, with twilight still hanging in the air, the trio ascended.
"You think this is going to work?" Asked Lee. Ittain just scoffed. "This thing has been here for over a thousand years. Do you think that these men, who probably just stole or bought an enchanted item, are the first to think of flying? I would insult the Primordial personally if that's how you get across." Ittain stated.
The trio finished their ascent, and began to drift through the air high above the lake - they had ascended quite a way, and they were barely perceptible as dots in the rapidly darkening sky at this point.
They crossed over the lake without issue, and hovered far above the shrine - and then they began to slowly descend.
"Looks like they're getting over quite well though." Lee said. Ittain had a scowl on his face. But he said nothing.
Then, just as it looked like the three were about to land on the island in the lake itself - the trajectory of their descent swerved
. All three of them visibly struggled in the air as if some force was yanking on ropes connected to their ankles - one by one, all three of them splashed down into the lake, sinking below the waters.
They did not come up again. The burbling burst of air bubbles from below faded soon thereafter.
Ittain couldn't help but grin. Lee just got up and walked up to the monolith. "Quite an unfortunate end, one would say." Ittain kept his eyes on the vanishing bubbles in the far distance. "Do you think there is a serpent?" This time it was Lee's turn to grin. "What do you think is better? Die drowning or be eaten by some lake monster?"
Ittain did not answer that. Instead he too got up and joined Lee. Both men gazed upon the monolith. "This is probably the key to get across." Lee said. It was an obvious deduction but he said it none the less. "Can you read it?" Ittain shook his head. "I'm afraid not. It has been much too long since a deer ran past here." Lee just gave up trying to understand Ittain's expIanations. Never the less, he took a scroll and started copying the glyphs of the monolith. He just managed to finish inscribing them when the last glow of twilight faded, leaving him and ittain in the relative darkness of the early night, the rising full moon and the stars the only illumination now.
It was then that Lee and ittain heard a single pair of footsteps slowly approaching from the trail, and the distant glow of a lamp in the woods.
Lee and Ittain just needed one look at each other to know what to do. Both rushed into the bushes nearby. Lee wanted to make an illusion spell, but he realized that would only betray their presence. Both men kept quiet instead. With their eyes fixed on the Monolith.
Moments later, the lone cloaked and hooded individual from the inn left the trail and stepped into the small clearing with the monolith. They strode right past the slab of stone without even glancing at it, and leaned down by the water's edge, casting a hand over the water vaguely.
"Perfectly still..." A feminine voice said - and indeed, the water of the lake was perfectly smooth and tranquil still, a perfect mirror of the sky above. Sitting on their hind-legs, the figure took their lamp and snuffed it out, casting the clearing in darkness. They did not move then, simply sat and stared at the moonlit lake.
Lee and Ittain kept still while the stranger walked up the lake. Lee still kept a hand on his dagger in case she was dangerous. Ittain, on the other hand, was strangely interested in the hooded figure. Without a signal he stood up from the bush and walked back towards the monolith. "Excuse me, lady. You seem to have a surprisingly better understanding of this...enigma than most others."
The cloaked figure, startled by Ittain, yelped in surprise and flung out their arms for balance as they teetered on their feet, barely managing to correct themself and avoid plunging headlong into the lake. "Don't creep up on a woman like that!" She hissed, standing and brushing down her robes hastily. "Serene One's sake, I could have fallen in!"
"Forgive an old man." Ittain was strangely charming now. He casted a quick glance behind him, to see if Lee was joining him. He did not. "This country has had many suprises for an old man as myself. We were generally advised to remain off the path for most of the time." Carefully Ittain approached the woman. Though in the darkness, she was quite difficult to see. Ittain clicked his fingers. From the snap, a small light floated up. Illuminating its immediate area. The woman had bronze skin, with long raven hair, a length of which was tied into a braid, and striking golden-colored eyes. Her eartips were ever so faintly pointed - another one of the species of elf indigenous to the region.
"A mage?" She quinted at Ittain skeptically. "You aren't with those three lushes, are you? I saw them leave just a bit after you."
"Ugh, they were such an insult to magic itself. Where I come from, such fools would be educated. Taught how to use such a beautiful thing that is magic. Instead they toy with artifacts. No, I am not a part of them. In their arrogance, they believed they could get across." Ittain pointed out into the distance. "To their credit they made it quite far until the lake swallowed them whole. But enough about fools and magic." Lee watched from a distance, wincing the whole time Ittain spoke about how Vallenguin would have handled the flying fools. Ittain, on the other hand, seemed completely unconcerned with it. "Now if you would be so kind, would you tell an old man about the Shrine and the lake?"
She shrugged. "Couldn't care less about the shrine- uh..." She cast a glance across the lake. "Well ok, I care a little. But I'm not really here for that, no point in fantasizing over what I can't reach. I'm just here for the moment of apogee. I don't know anything about the place's history, really. All I can tell you is that the water of this lake does not have any tides most of the time. Like a sheet of glass." She gestured at the water, which was a perfect mirror of the nighttime sky, seemingly undisturbed from the three would-be-mages plunge into it not moments before.
"Ah yes. The moon." Ittain was not the least fuzzed about the answer. "Beautiful and pale." He kept on musing. "I've always wondered what the world looked like from up there." Lee wanted to strangle the old man now. Venerable as he was, sometimes he really needed to focus. "I wonder though. What if we broke such a perfect mirror?" Ittain had sent a stone flying before he even uttered the words. As it splashed into the water, it dropped immediately out of sight - the surface where it had hit seemed to flex for a moment, but strangely, no ripples were made by the disturbance.
"...Quite strange, no?" The woman indicated. "But if you take some of the water out in a vessel, it acts just like normal, so it's not some other fluid with different properties. I uh, I'm not a mage myself, but I've read a few articles about this place. Water is completely magic-free as well. No enchantments, at least, none that could be detected at this distance."
"No magic, you say?" Ittain remembered the pearl. It had no magic as well yet it was the most beautiful thing he will ever see in his life. "How much do you know of the Primordial of the Shrine?" It was an off hand question.
"Nothing. I think Werrill was the name of some mortal sculptor from the era of legends or something, there's no religious scripture on this place." The women said distractedly, turning back to look at the lake and the sky, craning her head and framing her hands around the moon as if measuring it. "And the monolith doesn't mention any names either."
"You can read what's on the monolith?" Lee almost cheered from the bushes, causing her to jump in startlement for a second time. Lee, realizing he blew his cover, appeared from the bushes. "Ah, my prodigy." Ittain announced. "Forgive him. He's still so very young. But please, the monolith, what does it say?"
"Don't you two know you're not supposed to creep up and spy on women like that?" The elf demanded, glaring daggers at Lee. She took a moment to calm down, waving the young seeker off with disgust as she turned back to Ittain. "No, I can't read it. I just read the translation in a book once, it's archaic Serif, the language of the native Sun Elves back in the era of Heroes. It says..." She paused for a moment, and then recited it from memory. "Those who walk the path of shattered light may gaze upon a maiden fallen from the palace of the sky."
"Broken luminescence." Ittain mused, enjoying the faint memory. "Ah, it was right." He said, more to himself than to the woman sitting next to him. "I'm guessing very few have managed to beat the riddle." Ittain looked at the moon's reflection upon the water. A perfect disc on the black surface. It showed all its details. "Tell me, how many have tried to walk on the moon?"
"Well, some people have hypothesized some Primordials lived up there. Maybe there is something to that 'Sky Palace' nonsense. I don't remember any mortals who are said to have been to the moon." The woman commented as she raised her hands again and measured the celestial sphere once more. "Hm. Getting there...just a few more moments..."
"No, no, I mean the reflection, down there." Ittain pointed at the white image of the moon on the water. Lee, in the meantime, was just wandering around the lake.
"Are you talking about that weird theory that the lake is a portal to an upside-down copy of the world and that you could fall onto the moon if you aimed it right?" The woman looked at Ittain with something approaching curiosity and mild exasperation.
"Well that is just preposterous." Ittain scoffed. As if he just heard the stupidest thing in his life. "For such a thing to happen, the ninth painting of Baksgar has to be torn up first." He stated, as if there even was something as a Baksgar, leave alone nine paintings of it. "No, obviously I mean has anyone tried to walk on the light?"
The woman paused, looking at Ittain thoughtfully for a moment. "...Not thats I'm aware, but I don't think you would get very far. The reflection is angular, you could never keep it beneath your feet, and the moon never rises straight up into the sky." She answered slowly. "Maybe if the water was wavering, had some natural tides..." She turned back to look at the water.
"Yet there are no waves." Ittain mused. "Nor can we really make them. Well, it was a fine theory." The old man laid down back, gazing upwards towards the stars. "Tell me, is the moon closest yet?"
"It should be, any moment now-"
As they both turned to look at the reflection of the moon, drifting in the perfect reflection of the lake water - there was a ripple.
The motion was ever-so-faint. With any other lake, such minute perturbations might have been mistaken
for stillness, but here, each small tide, rise and fall, was like a scratch on a mirror. Almost immediately, as the miniscule tides filled the whole of the lake, the image of the moon became blurred and distorted, warping and contorting until it shattered in the undulating waters, its many gleaming fragments of light shifting and sliding across the surface of the lake, stretching onwards and outwards towards Werrill's Shrine.
"You have perhaps an hour until apogee ends." The elvish woman said distractedly, absorbed larger with the lake itself rather than the moon's broken reflection. Tentatively, she reached out with her hand, touching the water as if to test it - her hand passing right through. She bent over, reaching down as far as she could, sticking the entirety of her hand into the depths of the lake right at the edge of the shoreside until she was lying down, the garb of her cloak becoming soaked through.
"It would still appear to be bottomless. If you can actually walk on all of that, try not to fall off." She said, although from her tone it was apparent she did not much care one way or the other.
Ittain conjured up a faint smile. Yes, fate was with him this time. Carefully he stupped on the bridge of shattered moonlight. Lee, from further away, saw what was happening and rushed towards the old man. Thinking he would drop down into the bottomless pit. But as Ittain took his steps across the water, Lee realized something entirely different happened. Now he too rushed across the light, joining up with Ittain. "Incredible!" He exclaimed. Ittain just grinned. "No... Primordial."
The pathway across the lake accentuating each of their footfalls with light, pattering sloshes, Ittain and Lee both rushed across the passage of light hurriedly - not out of anxiety, but due to the simple thrill of accomplishing something so fantastic - nigh mythical
in nature. In the darkened night, the lake illuminated only by the moon and stars, the two seekers crossed the abyss and arrived at the island in the middle of the lake.
The island itself was quite modest in size, and largely flooded. The ground itself was soaked through with water, the grasses and plants soggy and partially submerged in many places. It became impossible to stick to the path of shattered moonlight, but thankfully the disturbed and sodden soil of the island proved just firm enough to allow for ease of movement. As seen from the lakeshore, right in the middle of the island - was a shrine. A large hexagonal stone gazebo, with simple stone pillars holding aloft the roof for the veranda upon the gazebo's terrace. The structure was perhaps three-stories tall in all, each floor a smaller tier stacked upon the other with arching, awning openings along the third tier itself. The first and second floors both stood host to large archway entrances, the second-floor opening permitting access to the railed walkway atop the veranda itself. The exterior design of the structure was otherwise almost paltry in detail - the columns and railings bore no detailing or patterning, the walls were smooth and featureless, and the tiling for the veranda was made from simple square marble tiles. The interior of the gazebo itself was cast in darkness, though the two Seekers could just make out the start of a staircase a ways past the entrance.
"I expected..." Lee's words trailed long as he observed his surroundings. "Something more?" Ittain offered. "No, no, something more...ethereal. Stone and soggy earth is not something you expect after walking on broken light." Ittain just nodded, understanding his apprentice's feeling of unease. "Let us not stand on questions we can answer later. We have less than an hour and I feel this place has more to offer than what we can learn in a year." And so, Master and Prodigy marched towards the entrance, up the staircase.
The gazebo interior matched the exterior in its simplicitly. Smooth, well-molded but unadorned and undecorated stone. The third floor itself proved to be entirely hollow, just empty space hanging above the second tier of the gazebo. It curved near the ceiling where the tiers would begin, and so the most complimentary thing one could say of the structure was that as a hollow unsupported shell, it was structurally sound. As they reached the top of the stairs, they found that the second floor was itself largely empty, the only interesting feature of note being the awning opening, doubling as a window, that allowed access to the veranda's roof. From that window, one could clearly see the path of shattered light, the Lakeside Monolith, and the elf woman scholar who was still examining the motions of the water there - albeit, from this distance, they were just as blurry and indistinct as the shrine itself appeared from the Lakeshore.
The structure and its lone interior chamber would both have been utterly unremarkable - had it not been for the single display in the middle of the room. It was the first thing Ittain and Lee saw upon reaching the top of the staircase. A raised stone pedestal, circular and wide, drapped across with a voluminous layer of aged silk carpets, blasnkets, and tapestries. Sitting near the center of the pedestal was an immaculately carved statute of a woman, reclined on her side, facing towards the window in serene observation - perhaps somewhat taller and larger than a Human specimen but otherwise identical, wearing carved robes and with a hooded head. Here, the details were ornate, miniscule, and immaculate - the stone garbs themselves bore curving patterning and designs indicative of Primordial status, which both of the Seekers could recognize nearly on-sight from years of having purused esoteric texts - the carved maiden depicted here was clearly supposed to be the foremost mortal servant of a Primordial. Or perhaps a slave.
Most striking however, was not the masterful craftsmanship that had gone into the carving of the statute itself - the shape of its face, its arms, its delicate fingers all seemed nearly lifelike! - It shined with a peculiar sheen not commonly seen, the moon and starlight dappling across its form creating countless lines of a milky, pearl-like luster across its form. The material seemed unearthly, eerie not only its majesty but in its pristine quality. Untouchable, nearly ephemeral in beauty.Moonstone.
Not the lustrous gem, surely, but actual stone from the Palace of the Sky itself, polished to a perfect shine.
Lee gazed upon the statue with pure adoration. The form, the stone, details. It was perfection given shape. Not even Vallenguin's greatest sculptors could achieve such a level of perfection. Filled with young impatience he rushed towards the pedestral. On his way, taking out a book and casting his observant spell. A bright, purple light came forth from his fingers and flew around the pedestral. Ink appeared in his book, a drawing of the statue that could never even approach its perfection.
Ittain, on the other hand, carefully approached the statue with reverence. Such a beauty it depicted. He would kill, no he would die, to know who she was. Carved in moonstone, such rare material, in such great quantity here. No doubt Werrill, the sculptor, had a Primordial benefactor. "Oh time. Oh veiled mystery. Would you not tell me its story?" Ittain silently whispered like a prayer.
"I do not know many stories." The statute said to him in turn. Its lips moved with the same soundless quality of flesh, without a hint of grinding stone.
Lee jumped back, falling to the ground in shock when the statue talked. Ittain, on the other hand, was delighted. "Oh Primordials. What a blessing!" he exclaimed, as he got closer. The purple light still hovered around, writing everything down in Lee's book. "Oh tell us. Who are you?"
"Mine maker did bequeth me with the name Iamai." The statute replied, tilting its head ever-so-slightly to gaze at Ittain. The folds of its stone cloth moved with the motion of its head, and yet again there was no sound, no churning of rock with its motions - perhaps the faintest rustle, as though of swaying fabric, just like real cloth might make. "Might I have your names? For what purpose do you come?" The statue's voice was that of a young maiden's. Soft, elegant and prim. The sound of cordial nobility and grace epitomized.
"Iamai..." Neither Lee nor Ittain had ever heard the name before. "I am Ittain of Vallenguin." Lee cast him a dangerous glare for betraying their home. But Ittain silenced him with one gaze. Lee then realized that few would ever find the statue. Even fewer would ask her about the others who came before. "And I am Lee of Vallenguin." He then added, with the same cordial tone. "We have come from far for knowledge about the great Primordials. It was rumored that this shrine held some connection to one of them. Even though it was named and pressumably made by your maker: Werrill. Tell us, who is he honoring with your creation?"
"I was made to be the Bride of the Primordial Sathanas. My Master did despair upon the dissolution of their kind. I was made to coax at least their patron back unto this realm. The last guest I had did speak of the Primordials, and did claim they were all no more. Is..." Iamai paused. Its face - its face actually trembled
visibly, its lips quivering faintly, its eyelids seeming to flutter anxiously. It made as though to take in a breath before finishing its inquiry, though the air did not move. "Did they speak truly? Are our masters no more?"
Lee looked away from the statue. A hand gripped his heart as she spoke the words. To believe in the Primordials as gods meant to feel their absence every day. He could not answer. But Ittain could. With a heavy voice he said: "It is true. Many have vanished, many died. Nobody has seen a Primordial for thousands of years now. It's a heavy truth, forgive me for telling you this." Ittain explained. "Though, our mission here, to this distant country has not been without fruit. There might be hope. Tell us, what did Werrill say about Sathanas?"
"...Ah." The statue raised a single delicate hand to its mouth, as if to hide its expression. The heavy stone again, moved in utter silence, as any normal being might have moved - the only sound coming from the shifting of the stone 'fabrics' that it wore. "My master...did prepare me for the rites and duties I would bear as wife to Sathanas...Though I do confess, I dared not to question where the boundary between ceremony and personal preference did lie. I was...quite exultant in my expectations, those many years ago. Hoping. Imagining how it would be. I did not..." Iamai paused. "I know nothing of them beyond that they were the patron of my maker, and a Primordial of Light."
Ittain pitied the statue. A creation so perfect, to be sealed away until the Primordials came back. Would it ever happen? Who could say. "If you would, me and my apprentice are here for knowledge. In this age, there are those who would question the divinity of the Primordials. They dare say they were not gods but slavers. History is mudded and tainted by these heretics. If you want to share anything of your expected rites and duties, it would mean the world to us."
"Ah..." Iamai tilted her head to the side, her face the expression of mild confusion. "That word you did use...slave...My knowing of this tongue is imperfect, from what I did glean of my last visitor's bestowal. Perhaps my understanding of its meaning is imperfect, but it would seem to my thinking that its meaning is synonymous with the status and position of my master's kind before the Primordials. Formally, as it happened to be. And I bear no knowledge of this word..." Her face contorted in effort, her eyelids narrowing as she stumbled over the unfamiliar sounds. "...D...duhv-ihn-it-ee?"
"Divinity." Lee stated with confidence. "God-like. What other word would one use to to describe the Primordials? Though I am not suprised few people describe them like that anymore. Especially in this respectless pigsty of a country." Lee's voice was filled with disgust.
Iamea blinked. Twice. "Ah..." She said. Was that anxiety fluttering within the perfect intonation of her voice? "I do believe I understand. Your...deference to our masters is, of course, beyond reproach." She smiled at Lee. The faint outlines of her teeth within her mouth, gleaming lustrously - Werrill had even carved for her the interior of a mouth, complete with a tongue and throat! Was the remainder of the statue as detailed? Did it bear organs, perhaps even a heart of some kind? "I would be most pleased to share with you the rites and duties I was made to know...but...I do fear the path of light to this place of mine shall fade in time, which approaches with some celerity. Perhaps it would be best if..." She looked between Ittain and Lee, her expression tender as she smiled almost expectantly at them, her face the very visage of loveliness. "...Perhaps you might take me with you? That I might better tell you all it is that I do know."
"I would... but..." Ittain tried to say. "But we can't. Now now." Lee stated. "We are not guests in this country. I'm afraid we cannot take you with us." But then Ittain spoke up again: "But we shall return. This I promise. With luck, we might even return the Primordial Sathanas. Forgive us now, I'm afraid we are already out of time." Lee nodded in approval. "Wait for us, if you would. And remember our titles: the Truth-Seekers of Vallenguin." With that, the two bid their leave. Down the staircase they went, solemnly. "Wait!" They heard a desparate cry from behind them. "Do not leave me here again! I am everso lonely! Please..." Once again they crossed the bridge of shattered light, but with none of the excitement they had when they went back.