Rats of Airspur

Interlude 2: 'Exposition'

They walked in single file down the twisting corridors, lamp light gleaming on the rough-cut stone walls, trickling with seeping moss.

Tess paced ahead restlessly tracing the route Sim had described. She was a tenuous figure, only barely visible in the swinging light, but Hargraine stalked along behind her confidently, enjoying himself more than he would likely admit. Shackle stumped along behind them, his bulk moving with surprising economy, his massive maul swinging easily in his massive fist.

Keldrin Sim, their unlikely employer, held the lantern as he followed close behind Shackle, describing the circumstances of his felicitous discovery…

“When it came into the scriptorium, I didn’t think much on the Song of the Traveller – to be sure it was a fine old codex, and valuable to collectors just by its survival through the spellplague, but the text itself held little interest. The Song itself is an old ode which was unattributed to any particular poetic tradition of its time, but had commonly been seen as an allegory for the movements of the constellations. It is not seen as a particularly worthy document though, as any significance to the advance of astronomy was discredited long ago, as it fails to follow any recognisable sequence of precession – observed or predicted.
It was not until I was called upon to produce a copy of the Analects of Atian that something clicked – in his treatise on the time of the ancient kings of this land he tells of a mythical figure known as the Kythan Oracle, and refers to the Oracle as ‘Delios the Traveller’. As I read more of Atian’s account, I became more and more certain that this Delios was the Traveller of the Song – that the constellations describe something other than simply the lights of the sky, that they described something infinitely more earthly.”

He gestured around them, the carvings on the rough stone spoke his meaning. Shackle trudged on implacably, and Sim hurried to keep up with his enormous stride.

“Long ago, you see, this was a holy place. This was before the Abolethic menace and the orc incursions, before the arrival of the Genasi. This place was the temple-maze of the Kythan Oracle, who looked down from the cliffs to the proud city below – the city whose utter ruin in spellfire and cataclysm would pave the way for the founding of Airspur.
Blessed with mystic sight, the Oracle would read the future in the stars, seeing in that great dance of the heavens the cosmic forces that shaped our world. But, for all his great knowledge, Delios made a mistake – when he foresaw the downfall of his world, he spoke of it aloud. The King of his time was a noble ruler but feared for his crown and his people, and was angry at the threat he saw in the Oracle’s words. He ordered that the Oracle admit a mistake and withdraw his false prophecy, or he would find death not long after. Delios was haughty though, and refused to retract even a single syllable.
In the Analects, Atian describes how Delios ascended to his dais one last time and delivered a final prophecy to the people – a prophecy of doom piled upon doom and then, evading the King’s men, he disappeared below to be swallowed by his great maze never to behold the stars again. Soldiers were sent to find him there, but no path could be found through the endless tunnels. The search was given up soon enough anyway, as before even a single moon had waxed and waned the skies were darkening over the Sea of Fallen Stars, and the terrible fate that Delios foretold was upon them all.”

Sim shivered. The mottled walls threw strange, suggestive shadows around them. Shackle walked on and Sim resumed his story.

“The ages that followed were not kind to this land: the seas rose and fell and the very rock moved underfoot. Time passed and Delios the Sage was all but forgotten. The holy maze became at times a shelter, a store, a prison and, finally, a burial vault. Century upon century, our ancestors would creep into the tunnels and lay their dead to rest, the singing runes of Delios lighting their way.
I believe the undead came later, that some other malignant thing slipped in and claimed the halls for itself, and despoiled the graves for its own ends. These wretched horrors bear not the mark of proud Delios, who is said only to have admitted into his close company a hound of three mouths and three names: Am-Geth the Hidden, Uth-Oom the Fierce, and Na-Shub the Radiant. The Cult of Delios lingered on, I believe, beyond the fall of the kingdom – secretly passing through the maze and tending their master in his Sanctum. That the Song of the Traveller is unattributed is no surprise then, as they would have needed to…”

Sim broke off as Shackle rounded on him suddenly, huge bulk blocking nearly the whole corridor.

“Wait,” rumbled Shackle, “Are you for real?”

They stood silent for a moment, looking at one another in a moment of tense uncertainty in the tilting lantern light.

“You’re really serious?” the giant continued, “All this time you were talking to me?”

Sim’s mouth opened his mouth, but no reply came.

He closed his mouth again and coloured deeply, seeming to shrink down into himself. He mumbled “Nevermind” under his breath and squeezed past hurriedly.

Shackle stood silent and watched Sim scurry away up the corridor. Shaking his head in disbelief, he resumed his stolid march.

Behind him, in the dim light of the retreating lantern, all that could be seen of Nik was the sharp gleam of his unmistakable grin.

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