Book VI Prologue
The Silent RoseExpedition crept through the sticky bog with eyes as large as plates, nets and gloved hands scooping through the muck for all the artifacts they could find as enormous dragon idols and broken walls towered overhead in the murky light.
These were the most extensive ruins they had seen yet; the location was less than ideal for travel, as the bog was all too happy to suck in anyone and anything that dared to linger for too long.
There was no telling what manner of precious artifacts had been lost to the void deep below-- or how many travelers and would-be treasure hunters.
"This place is massive," Gabe breathed, pulling himself gratefully out onto solid ground as he gazed around the ruins.
Great lengths of hanging moss and squeezing vines clung everywhere they could grow, weeds creeping out from between the stone-paved ground, still sturdy enough after countless years to keep from sinking entirely into the swamp.
The path led deeper into the bog, opening up into a street surrounded by crumbling and rotten buildings and statues on all sides, worn clawmarks decorating the old stones.
"I think we have ourselves a capitol city," Felld mused, scratching his chin. "It appears to go on forever, doesn't it? Hah, spit on the Court-- we've won today."
Na'than laughed. "So we have. Alright, everyone-- scour for artifacts, tablets, and any other interesting tidbits you find. I think we're going to strike gold here."
The expedition set up their tents and equipment, scattering throughout the site to begin their work.
Na'than shuffled away to check on the lapsworgn, while Felld set a camera on a tripod to take photos of the area, his tail all but wagging with his great delight.
Gabriel grinned at the sight but said nothing, turning to examine the scuffmarks across the old stone ground more carefully.
Out in the wilds, Gabe was in his element; he could be no happier than to catalogue and study curious new beasts from sunrise until the last light faded from the sky.
But the ruins were an unfamiliar subject to him, despite their mystery and beauty. For a more recent civilization, he might have at least studied their homes and long-forgotten belongings to gain a sense of how they lived, what they ate, and other easy details.
But no one was certain how long ago these mysterious "Elysians" lived. There were no mentions of them in the old stories and legends; there weredragons, for certain, but only the shyBoralions, omnipresentErosions, stalwartFlarions and ever-furiousrampantswere mentioned with any great frequency.
No clues of any way of life remained in these old city streets but tiny, shattered trinkets, clawmarks, and dust-- and in honesty, any hunting dinosaur or rampant could've easily made the great slashes that riddled the walking paths.
The sound of hurried footsteps interrupted Gabe's thoughts; a woman archaeologist waved excitedly.
"Hey, hey! This temple back here is sealed tight. Someone come and help me open it!"
At once, there was a flurry of commotion as people stopped their work to see. Thus far, no one had found a single unbroken building, although many were still beautiful in ruin.
To find a sealed chamber of any sort was a sign of fantastic luck.
Curious, Gabe got to his feet and followed along with the crowd, gently scratching at the ears of a lapsworg which wriggled its head in under his palm.
The building was well-hidden in the grasping branches and shadows of the bog trees, with a carved stone staircase leading down to an ornately-carved gateway, decorated with thousands of delicate runes-- and sealed tight with a block of solid, unadorned stone.
Two draconic sentinels stood guard-- one lurching precariously backwards as its base sunk into a pool of thick mud that had bubbled slowly up from beneath the stones, as well as oozing out from just beneath the stone door that held the temple shut.
"Damn, I love this place," Na'th whispered, enchanted.
There was an awed silence as people rushed to gather their tools, surveying the door and the gaps in the walls for a way to break in, preferrably with as little damage as possible.
Felld snapped photo after photo, his eyes damp. "This is the find of the century, for certain. Anom will dance through the halls!"
Carefully, several archaeologists slid their sturdy iron bars beneath the door and began to pry at it; with a labored groan, the stone shifted ever so slightly.
The sudden change in the atmosphere was as subtle as a slap to the face.
Gabe's muscles tensed, his stomach cramped, a chill shooting down his spine like cold lightning. He tasted bile peppered with swamp rot and something thick and bitter gathering in the back of his throat; his skin pricked and tingled, his teeth gritting as his back arched with apprehension.
He saw, for an instant, something great and loathsome and dripping and foul, rotting and slick and terribly, impossibly wrong.
When he came to his senses, he realized he had his back pressed against the door, arms outstretched, eyes wide.
Everyone stared at him; he wondered dimly when he had moved and what had moved him.
He wondered why his heart was thundering, until he felt it brush against the other side of the stone wall, against his back as though nothing was between them at all.
"What is wrong with you?"
"Get out of the way!"
"Did the mirajin get his head?"
Gabe," Felld growled. "What is the meaning--"
"Get away from it," Gabriel moaned, his voice raw and thick with his pain; he felt sweat drip down his forehead. "You cannot open this door. I forbid it!"
Na'than swore under his breath. "Search around the perimeter for artifacts, and take rubbings of the runes on this building.
Forget about the door for now."
Gabriel closed his eyes and pulled himself quickly away from the cold stone, his body aching and trembling.
He could feel everyone glaring at him, eyes full of fury and hatred.
He didn't care.
Let them fucking hate him; he didn't care.
They couldn't open it.
He couldn't let them, not ever.
Next Chapter: Book VI Chapter I
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