Disaster and Rune

Rune, ruin... Hilarious, huh?

[Rakkel, Keska]

The day had been a busy one. First, citing normal research motives, Rikard went to the Temple. It was an imposing building, set into a quiet corner of the city occupied by minorly successful merchants and craftsmen. Their homes were modest and their lives uneventful. In their midst sat the large, ancient stones of the Temple, an enduring symbol of peace and stability.

The Temple sat at the intersection of two major city streets. The first was Promenade, the road that followed the city walls and made a giant circle around the city. The second was Temple Street, one of the city's two giant diagonals, obviously named after the temple itself. The other diagonal was Tower Street, so named for the large towers at its ends. Temple and Tower crossed in the center of the city, also the crossing points for Market and Main, the north-south and east-west roads. All in all, the whole city was constructed on a depressingly simple layout scheme, crossed with hundreds of tiny winding streets that made navigation for foreigners nearly impossible outside the main roads.

Rikard, of course, stuck to the main roads. He proceeded down Main until he was in the market and then simply followed Temple Street to his destination. He paid little attention to the minor roads around him. If he had been paying attention, he would have noted that the naming schemes for roads different in various parts of the city. In the northwest, the wealthiest area, the streets were labeled "avenue." In the southwest area, poorer by far, the streets were labeled "road." The northeast, a modest section much like the one he was presently in only a bit seedier and louder, boasted "way." In the southeast, his present location, the word was "lane." Eymoor Lane, Crescent Lane, Barrow Lane, Holy Trinity Lane -- he passed them without so much as a second thought.

It was impossible to miss the temple. It was easily twice as high as the surrounding houses and made of giant blocks of stone far too large for even a giant to move. No one knew exactly how the temple had been constructed. It was presumed a great magic had been used. Though the general consensus placed the credit for the construction on elves, rumors abounded that it had in fact been created by another race who lived long before the elves.

Any other day, Rikard would have enjoyed an argument on the temple's true origins, but today he was on a mission.

As he passed under the giant columns lining the entrance to the temple, Rikard hid his contempt well. Contempt at both what he considered to be an outdated religion and what the temple had become: little more than a tourist attraction and a prison for knowledge.

Rikard believed heavily in knowledge, and that it was meant to be shared. Shared with Rikard, that is. As the only truly legitimate successor to the Prowley lineage, he had a birthright to know and inherit the legacies of the Morgausites who had come before him. Legacies the temple unjustly held.

With this confidence in hand, Rikard stepped over the temple's threshold and into its hallowed halls, ignoring the tourists around him. It was a thin crowd. They cooed in amusement at relics purported as divine in origin and remnants of ages past. Rikard swept straight past them to where he knew the temple's high priest operated. "High priest" was in fact mostly a ceremonial title for the resident druid, as no religious ceremonies of any seriousness were still conducted within temple walls on a regular basis. The Mistan minority of Rakkel chose to worship elsewhere on a daily basis, disdainful of the tourists and visitors, only venturing to the temple for the highest and holiest of holidays.

Turning away from the main hall, with its high, vaulted roof, Rikard easily navigated through the maze of winding passages that led to the high priest's offices. On top of recently poring over the architectural plans for the temple, Rikard had been there before. Last time he had been in the accompaniment of Torvwyn, and on official business for the duke. That trip had been expressly for research purposes. They spent an entire day poring over what temple texts were made available to them and gleaning what they could. It was precious little. Most of the good stuff was kept locked up and hidden away.

Which was why Rikard was at the temple today.

Pelorath, as the high priest was known, was busy poring over a letter when Rikard found him. He didn't look up when Rikard knocked, merely gave a nonchalant, "come in," and placed the letter in a desk drawer. Any other visitor might have read Pelorath's actions as somehow wise, as if he knew you were coming before you reached the door, but to Rikard they spoke only of the complacency of a druid far removed from his forests.

Pelorath was old but not extremely so. Though his eyes had been crinkly with wrinkles for many years, his hair had been slow to gray and still retained much of its original dark brown color. His beard, neatly trimmed, was striped dark brown and gray in almost equal parts, and his dark brown eyes peered seriously at Rikard from underneath a bushy brow. He placed a name with the face almost immediately. "Rikard Durslent, was it?"

"Nice to be remembered," said Rikard as he seated himself across from Pelorath without invitation.

"Ah, but you are hard to forget. As I recall, last you were here, you were working with Torvwyn, Aervwen's brother." Aervwen, as a fairly prominent Mistan, was known to Pelorath. "To what, pray tell, do we owe the honor of this return visit?"

Resisting the urge to jest about the druid's memory and putting on his best and friendliest smile, Rikard said smoothly, "I was simply hoping to get another look at some of the texts in your library."

"On official business, then?"

"No, not official. Unofficial." Just in case there were an inquiry of some sort. "I lost a page of notes and need to take them anew. I didn't think that would necessitate a full official investigation like last time. I just need to recheck one of the books I already checked. Unless that's a problem?" He tried to look pathetic, not realizing his pale, gaunt features gave him an almost constant air of pathos. Attempting what came naturally was pointless.

Pelorath fixed Rikard with a serious look. A moment later his features lightened, face shifting so easily into a smile. Staring at Pelorath's face reminded Rikard not to smile so much. He'd hate to develop wrinkles at too young an age. So concerned was Rikard with Pelorath's aged lines that he nearly forgot to listen to what Pelorath was saying: "Certainly. I will find you an escort." Pelorath rose and Rikard followed his example, trailing the old druid into the hallway.

For what was purported to be an active temple and museum, the complex was awfully understaffed. It took several minutes to locate a priest, and in that time Pelorath surely could have escorted Rikard to the library himself. Inwardly, Rikard seethed at the perceived insult. To think that he, Rikard Prowley, should be so insignificant the high priest felt the need to go out of his way to find an underling... But Rikard Durslent merely smiled at this second priest, who was a few years older than himself, a few inches taller, and with darker hair.

"Quentin, would you mind showing this young man to the library? He needs to check one of the texts."

"Certainly, sir," said Quentin, bowing his head respectfully, though Rikard thought he noticed a thread of malice in Quentin's voice.

Pelorath seemed not to notice the same thread. "I will leave you in young Quentin's capable hands, Mr. Durslent," the druid said.

"Thanks," replied Rikard, and Pelorath returned to whatever important affairs a meaningless figurehead like himself spent his days on.

The young priest, Quentin, gestured at the doorway. "This way, Mr. Durslent."

"Please, call me Rikard," smirked Rikard, pondering whether or not this priest was his type. He noted the stiff way Quentin held himself, the carefully calculated angles of his gestures, the snooty tilt of the head, and decided Quentin was probably too straitlaced, and a virgin to boot.

Quentin led Rikard through the familiar maze of tunnels that made up the Temple's depths. To anyone else, the maze would have been nearly unbreachable, but Rikard had noticed some rune markings on his first visit to the temple. They were, in fact, a clever navigation system, based on basic rune roots and variations. The kek hallway, for example, intersected vek, kanh, kru, and tyem, which were all runes linguistically connected to kek. In this way, one had only to memorize a series of letters, or a clever mnemonic. The ancient priests, whoever they were, had done just that.

A worn stone wall near the entrance to the temple held a series of simple instructions for visitors versed in the runic scripts. "Main Chamber: aal. East Ceremony Chamber: alnem varas (or, translated, 'good deeds'). High Priest Chambers: algimalse jamerrek jetsan ethmiln (translated: 'fortune is not coincidence but divine')." The first rune in each word was the corridor to take to reach the intended destination, thus to find the high priest's office, you took aal to jal to jeng to eth.

You could successfully find anything in the temple using that system, even though some of the sayings disintegrated into rubbish if you had to go through enough hallways. The route to the library was too complex to form an actual sentence with, so instead had two partial sequences of words and a few runic letters.

"Here you are," said Quentin. "What text were you looking for?"

"I can find it myself, thanks," said Rikard, scurrying into the rows upon rows of scrolls and books.

"I beg your pardon, but you're not--" protested Quentin, attempting to follow Rikard in. Rikard was too quick, disappearing behind a high shelf. "Mr. Durslent!"

"I said, call me Rikard," came Rikard's voice from somewhere to Quentin's left, "or even just 'Rik.'"

Quentin tried again. "Rikard--"

Humming slightly and enjoying the slight echo that would surely keep Quentin off his tracks for a few moments, Rikard went quickly to the far end of the library. Here was the entrance to the protected texts. It was guarded by a locked door and a "do not enter" sign. Presumably, it was also guarded by more, but from where he was standing, there was no way of knowing.

Except.

Rikard picked a card from his sleeve, hummed the activation word, and touched the card to the door.

The door, and Rikard, disappeared.

Knowing he had little time before Quentin completed a search of every nook and cranny in the undersized library, Rikard made quick work of the invisibility spell. He wasn't quite fully invisible, anyway. His robes from the knee down were solid enough and his thighs were positively ghostly. The same went for the door. He had revealed a large circular portion of it, but the bottom area was still very much visible to the naked eye.

Thanks to the ample lighting in the inadequate main library (lighting supplied by enchanted rune stones, no less), Rikard could see quite a bit beyond the door. The corridor beyond had more than a few tricks waiting, evident by faint runes on the floor just past the door, runes carved into the walls, and what looked like a magical runic barrier. Rikard could scarce contain his excitement. What a challenge awaited! He memorized the runes he could see and dropped the invisibility card. It terminated the moment it left the caster's hands and he stooped to pick it up, returning the card to his sleeve for later use.

"Mr. Durslent!" said Quentin as his head popped into view from around the shelves. Rikard looked up innocently enough, fingers drifting over a set of ancient scrolls.

"Ye-es?" said Rikard sweetly.

"Mr. Durslent, while you are in the temple, I would appreciate it if you would stay within my sight." Quentin was positively purplish with rage and embarrasment. He finished lamely, "You could get lost."

"Then it's a good thing I have you here, eh?" Rikard winked. That only caused the shade of Quentin's face to purple further. Rikard quickly attempted to soothe the irate junior priest. "Honestly, I can't seem to find the text on sixth and seventh century history by Josephus, I could have sworn it was on the outer wall..."

"That wall!" exclaimed Quentin, pointing at the opposite wall.

Rikard feigned total ignorance. "Alas! I seem to have gotten my directions mixed up again, I can never quite remember which one is dexteree and which one is right..."

"Dexteree IS right!" shouted the exasperated Quentin.

"Really? Then what's the other direction called?"

Biting his lip, Quentin ignored the question and spun away, leading Rikard to the correct section of the library.

"Why here it is, of course!" beamed Rikard. "Oh, thank you, Quentin, you've been ever so much help! And I won't tell anyone I escaped you back there if you don't!"

Good, straightlaced, honorable little Quentin didn't answer to the invitation, but it was clear he would be keeping this whole fiasco to himself. He wouldn't want to ruin his chances at candidacy for a promotion. After all, if he managed a promotion, he'd never have to deal with putrilaginous visitors such as Rikard ever again.

Personally, Rikard wished Quentin best of luck on any potential promotions. He could tell Quentin was the type to take bribes. The Mistan church needed more like that. It was a shame Rikard was never going to give Quentin the chance to test his middle management skills. Drawing out a piece of parchment and a quill from a container on his belt, the sorcerer quickly copied down a meaningless page from Josephus's book of history and returned the book to its shelf. Only one thing remained.

"I hate to ask, Quentin, but where's the nearest place to piss?"