--Author's Note--

This is just a little flavour piece that inspired the setting and character for my 2009 NaNoWriMo.

Richamarl danced over the cobbles, arms thrown wide for balance, tongue poking out of his mouth in concentration. Not because he was in a particularly cheery mood, but because he was well aware of which road he was walking down, the dangers of putting a foot wrong.

Bashford Street was situated neatly in a corner of the Newflowers District, but unlike the rest of the district, which has been the province of intellectuals and artists in the city for as long as anyone could remember, Bashford was home to the disciples of the less physical metasciences. Philosophers and artists, poets and musicians who were happy to debate the nihilism of Vasper or the horti-poetry of Kneggit over alcohol-laden tea with thaumaturges and alchemists were less inclined to waking up with their bed trying to gnaw on them or eyes blinking on the back of their hands. So, with few hard feelings, but firm guidance, the metascientists had gathered to ply their trades in Bashford Street and the sheer volume of ontological research going on gave the street a gauntlet-like feel.

The boil and hiss of failed alchemies that had been carelessly discarded mixing and reacting. Stick a foot in that and it was likely you would pull out something completely different, something covered in mouths or something that walked on the soil of a place not quite there. There was the flash and whump of thaumaturgical experiments discharging, cracks of rainbow lightening that left areas of brittle reality. Richamarl had to throw away his cap after it was singed by a stray incantation and started to unmake itself.

But more than just the traditional alchemists and magicians had moved out, no, a discerning buyer with plenty of coin could find almost anything they wanted on Bashford Street. Biothaumologists, golemists and theomancers bumped shoulders and shared laboratories with cryptozoologists, necromancers and the still-distrusted singineers.

Bashford Street was one of the most well lit areas of the city, for it had become something of a symbol of pride amongst the scientists there to donate a lamppost demonstrating their particular craft. It also meant the lamplighter responsible for the street was something of a gnostic mastermind. In the Society of Lamplighters, the Bashford Charge is usually the Leading Light, for he or she has undoubtedly mastered all the manifold secrets of lighting lampposts. They only take one apprentice and only ever a child of exceptionally quick wit.

As well as the usual gaslamps that lit most of the rest of the city, Richamarl thus passed the living, insectoid lamps that chittered quietly, their luminous thoraxes giving off a soft yellow light; the achromatic lampposts powered by thaumatic engines, which seemed to drain the colour from their surrounds. He ducked his head at the cageposts with their trapped deities, the miserable gods letting out only a half-hearted blue glow; and he gave the devilglares a wide berth.

But he was not here for any of them, and Richamarl knew exactly what he was looking for, a single unlit lamppost. It looked like any other of the gaslamps that lit the city, except that this one had remained dark for almost nine hundred years. Amongst the Society of Lamplighters it was something of their sword in the stone, the one who could light it successfully would have much to teach them. The last one of them to have tried, a Bashford Charge, had disappeared in an event few liked to talk about.

Richamarl stepped up to the door of the cthonotist, took a deep breath, and pushed through the door.

Dr. Slavigahsi was not what Richamarl was expecting. He expressed as much to his host as the man was pouring him some tea. The fat little man had tittered behind a handkerchief and pushed back a lock of his unruly curly hair.

'Oh I understand you well enough M. Richamarl, I understand only too well!' The red-cheeked cthonotist had the odd habit of enunciating every sentence as if were a shocking revelation. 'Almost everyone who comes to my door, they expect someone supremely tall, gloomy and gaunt! Like they secretly desire a mystic to parse out the complexities of the Outside!' Slavigahsi spoke the word "mystic" like it burned his tongue to say it, but his cherubic features soon brightened to match the welcoming and warm décor of his drawing room. He leaned in conspiratorily, 'I wager you half expected an Ichthyican to answer the door, what!'

Richamarl grinned weakly as the man fell back into his armchair, giggling and kicking his legs. He allowed the scientist time to recover by sipping the sharply sweet tea.

'I had heard talk that the Ichthyicans had an affinity with the Outside,' Richamarl said, looking into his cup.

Slavigashi nodded vigourously, 'Yes yes, indeed so my dear fellow. They have produced some very highly-regarded cthonotists I may dare say! Comes from their historical closeness to the depths. That much pressure does remarkable, yes remarkable things to the ontological fabric!' He leaned in again and lowered his voice, 'But in my experience my dear friend, the poor chaps get too tangled up with the myths of the whole thing. You won't catch me drawn into all that cultic tosh!'

Richamarl recoiled from the sudden increase in volume from the round man.

'Now,' Slavigahsi proclaimed, settling once more into his chair, 'what can this peddler of humble truths help you with?'

Richamarl was silent for a moment, the only noise from him the needling scratch of his teaspoon circling around the nearly empty china cup.

'Dr. Slavigahsi. What do you know about the Pharoas Empire?'

The tiny cthonotist squealed and clapped his chubby hands together with glee, 'Oh M. Richamarl! What a pleasure it is to discourse with an educated man! You would not believe the riff raff who are my usual clientele!' He rubbed his hands together before scraping his chair closer to his guest's.

'I will admit to a little curiousity in my university days,' he gave a mischievous wink, 'But weren't we all! As far as I can remember dear fellow, the Pharoas Empire, found on the islands of the same name, flowered before Early Antiquity, and were practically nonexistent by the time the great civilizations of that period came into their own. Hardily anything remains to tell us about what they were like except the Glass City Monolith I believe, which if I recall correctly, is little more than one of their Ur-King's boasts about the prowess of his thrall-knights!'

Richamarl was nodding encouragingly at Slavigahsi, 'Indeed Doctor, hardily any, or should I say, hardily any useful artifacts remain. But,' he grinned, teeth showing, 'I have recently uncovered a glasstone tablet that, if we have translated it correctly, reveals some very exciting secrets.'

Slavigahsi's wonderfully expressive face was pulled into an exaggerated grimace of consternated confusion, 'You have uncovered- ?' His frown transformed into a wide, open-mouthed grin, eyebrows disappearing into the curls of his hair line, 'Surely not? Surely you are not- ? Not M. CELIS Richamarl?!' Slavigahsi slapped his thigh and leaned back with a roar of high-pitched laughter.

Celis grinned and scratched behind an ear.

'Why I simply knew I recognized you from somewhere!I have copies of all your heliotypes! Tell me M. Richamarl, on the print of you and your companions in the Great Nep, is that really a Marsh Kraken?'

The famed archeologist adventurer smiled and began to unbutton his shirt, loosening his tie and pulling his collar open enough to reveal his muscled and tanned chest.

'My goodness!' Slavigahsi fluttered his kerchief and tremulously reached out with his fingers to brush against the multitude of puckered circles that crossed like a bandolier the chest of Richamarl.

'The zoologists at the university tell me it's not a true kraken, more like a fungus than a mollusk, but it got a hold of me before any of us even knew it was there. Those suckers are like a collection of tiny mouths Dr. Slavigahsi. Fortunately for me, M. Sev Van Tai was quick-witted enough to cut me loose with his machete before it really caused some harm.' Richamarl carefully buttoned up his shirt, 'That was when we rediscovered the First Tomb City if you remember Doctor.'

The doctor was too excited to sit down, and was tightly gripping the back of his armchair, though even standing he would barely come up to Richamarl's chest. 'Yes yes, what! Gracious, what stories you must have! To think when I woke up this morning that I thought it would be another dreary day!'

'As you know Doctor, I, Celis Richmarl, am an archeologist. I have been on expeditions all over the world funded and outfitted by the museum and university here in the city and at times, when I was operating on hunches and speculation, from my own personal fortune. I have seen the lightmare herds, conversed with forgotten gods and experienced wonders enough to fill a hundred sensationals. But always, no matter what new mystery I unravel, my passion, some might call it my obsession, has been the enigma of the Pharaos Empire.

'An empire that appears to have predated all others and yet there distinctive glasstone ruins can be found in nearly every corner of the known world. And still we know almost nothing about them. Yes, we have the Glass City Monolith from the Pharoas Isles which tells us the people were ruled over by an Ur-King, but little else than that, not even whether they were human or not, and definitely no sense of the catastrophe that lead to their collapse.

'As I said, the Pharoas are my obsession, and I consider that I have become somewhat the leading expert in identifying their signs, not only their unique glasstone, but also the style and architecture of their more conventional ruins. However, my interests take me through all periods of history and some long-standing research had come to fruition after a fortunate find in the Scalti archives. I finally felt that I had pinpointed the location of the hidden refuge of the Finolen padishahs – lost since the Sack of Qel.

'I quickly mounted an expedition, taking with me my lifelong companion and dear friend M. Sev Van Tai, who you might recognize from the heliotypes as a giant of a man, but he hides a first class brain under all that muscle, and has saved my life more than once. As recently as autumn of last year, Sev, I and our trusted porters and equipment took a chain of aerostats to Bazaar. From there it was some weeks ride on their hardy steppe ponies and pack urus to the foothills of Dar Salaam.

'I gloss over the journey. My apologies Doctor, I often forget how exotic the places I have visited can seem to those who have lived much of their lives here at home. A warning though, they are exotic and dangerous. Areostats are a wonderous form of transport, but always at risk to high winds and storms. The Dar steppes are home to the savage caprimen and the territorial mammoth urus that they depend on. Though the goat men are no threat to a settlement these days, the bleeders can still overpower a small troop like we were. I regret to say that we were forced to shoot a fair few before they got the hint, and even so, one of our porters was run through by a hornspear and died the following night.

'Nevertheless, we made it to the Dar Salaam range relatively intact and to our good fortune found Iteqkar, the Hidden House, within mere days. I could tell you of the historic discoveries we made there, the cache of contemporary accounts of the flight from Qel and the fall of the Finolen dynasty, the end of the Padishahs, but much more interesting to me, and my reasons for being here today are the discoveries made whilst we were exploring the lower regions of the keep.

'Sev had been wandering through the bottommost store rooms with our local guide, M. Nayu, a Bazaari capriman, when he noticed a change in the stone used for the foundations. He thought little of it, and who can blame him, but Sev has party to my obsession for a great many years and shared the find with me.

'What a thrill Doctor!

'It was immediately clear to me that Iteqkar had been built on Pharoatic ruins, the stonework was unmistakable. Mapping the Pharoatic foundations gave me reason to believe that there would be further levels below the Finolen constructions.

'Doctor, I was not wrong.

'After some further days of surveying we discovered a series of submerged chambers. It seems a pack of ratghouls had taken up residence in the interim and the ghastly creatures managed to kill another porter and our poor guide before Sev and I could run them off with some well placed rounds from our pistols.

'But what a treasure they were guarding! One complete glasstone tablet and another in fragments. In none of the other Pharoatic sites had anything like them ever been found. Despite the significance of the Iteqkar site I ordered our swift return home. Although I am perhaps the foremost linguist when it comes to the written Pharoatic language, I did not feel comfortable performing a translation of the importance without my primer and notes.

'However, with the loss of two porters and M. Nayu, as well as the addition of numerous priceless artifacts, our return journey to Bazaar was fraught. It was a headlong rush night and day and I fear that we may have run our brave steeds to an early grave, and I suspect I will hear the capriman hunting horns in my dreams till the end of my days.

'It all seemed worth it though, once I had the tablet translated. I even had my findings independently verified, though for discretions sake, I posed it as a hypothetical problem to Dr. Cladestral. She returned the same results as I had found.

'I suppose Doctor, you are wondering what any of this has to do with you?'

Richamarl reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a folded up rectangle of paper, which Slavigahsi watched intently with greedy, sparkling eyes.
The adventurer spoke carefully; his gaze on his worn calloused fingers as he unfurled the paper, laying it flat on the low mahogany table that separated the two men.
'This is the most accurate Ventish translation of the complete tablet that I have been able to produce. As you can see Doctor, it seems to be in the same poetic, mythologizing style as the Monolith, but we believe it can be interpreted as a record of an actual event in Pharoatic history.'

Without looking up from the page, Richamarl leaned out of his seat and sidestepped around the table until he was kneeling beside Slavigahsi's armchair, one hand pointing at a line of text, the other beckoning the small cthonotist closer.

'Here is where things become very interesting indeed, and why I have called upon you today Doctor.'

Slavigahsi was so excited he was sure that he was not breathing. It was as if all his childhood dreams were coming true. No being bullied off to university to study dusty old Sebetos, but being handed a machete and being called up to uncover ancient relics and fight off ululating primitives with fist and pistol. He very much wanted to pinch himself to ensure that this was all real, but he did not want to tarnish his aura of professionalism. He craned his stubby neck until he was almost resting his chin on Richamarl's shoulder.

'The first part of the tablet is the usual proclamations of the might and glory to the ruler, the Ur-King. We once again get the impression that we first discovered on the Monolith that the Pharoas people revered their ruler like a kind of divinity; once again trumpeting his eternal rule and endless dominion and other such tripe. It then moves on to tell of how the Ur-King gathered the most mighty and sagacious of his subjects to his court in order to conduct some grand undertaking.'
Richamarl turned to face Slavigahsi, his rich emerald eyes alive with passion, 'The monumental project that the Pharoas took on was to stockpile a hoard of immensely valuable objects – what the writer calls the Treasure of the Now and Ever After,' he jabbed a finger at an underlined portion of the text, 'But that was only the beginning. Once this precious trove was completed it was hidden somewhere else!' He gripped Slavigahsi's knee tightly, who almost leaped up in shock, 'The Vaults of the Ur-King! Do you see Doctor? Why I am here?'

There was a fierce look in the archeologist's eyes, a desire that for a moment took the words right out of the normally loquacious man's mouth. But for all his appearances, he was not a stupid man and despite his fluster, it did not take but a moment for him to understand Richamarl's insinuations.

'M. Richamarl, I cannot help but think that you believe the Pharoas Emperor to have translocated his vaults to the Outside!' Slavigahsi began fluttering his handkerchief against his cheek, fanning himself despite the evening chill bleeding into the room. 'Why your mind should settle on the most unlikely of conclusions is beyond me! Why should the Ur-King not have buried his treasures? Or shipped them a great distance away? All these would count as "somewhere else"!' He shook his head vigorously while waggling a finger, 'I'm sorry my dear friend, but I must be the voice of reason in this!'

Richamarl grinned and took one of Slavigahsi's pale chubby hands into his tanned paw, 'I apologise Doctor. For all that I pride myself on being a man of science, sometimes my sense of the theatrical gets a hold of me.' He picked up the translation and held it between them like they were a couple reading a periodical. 'You see my good Doctor, the chronicler goes on to say how the great, indomitable Ur-King gazed out upon a vista where the stars danced in the sky, singing in a strange tongue, where the horizon at times curved downwards, and others up and where mountains moved like lumbering giants. Tell me, Dr. Slavigahsi, does that not sound like the outside to you?'

The cthonotist pulled himself out of his armchair and began pacing around the cheerfully lit room, one hand clasped into a fist behind his back, the other stroking his smooth chin, in deep thought.

'The description is indeed fitting my good fellow, and the theory is workable.' Slavigahsi stopped to suck the tip of one of his little fingers, 'I had heard that one or two of the larger banks here kept singineers in employ! Yes what, the clients' coffers are sent to that hellish plane for the ultimate in security and availability. But we must remember that when it comes down to it, the various devilish dukes and barons of that place are reasonable; if one is willing to forgo ceratin moral scruples they can be dealt with!' The fat doctor turned and waggled a finger as high as he could reach, like a prophet issuing a dire commandment, 'The denizens of the Outside are beyond human reason, there is no understanding that can be reached with them – to store anything there is, as any cthonotist will tell you, an act of blithering folly!'