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The cloaked figure walked down the arena hill and up the summit to the Old Fortress.  He walked between the east and southeast points of its star shape that lead to what once was the Snake Gate or Shú-mún in the ancient tongue.  The walls closed in before him on both sides; their once smooth four-story high walls dotted with narrow slits for windows no longer held the threat of detection that they did in their former years now that they were half crumbled with decay.  They once held back armies and later, after the Arcathian civilization had perished, they held back looters with just the menace of their empty gaze, but the days of looting had long since passed.  The looters had picked the Old Fortress clean of any treasure no matter how broken or quaint and in the place of treasure grew something more elusive in recent years, a force that kept even the heartiest adventurer out.  Not even looters would venture into this place now, because legend, a force stronger than crumbled walls or forsaken battlements, held off the inquisitive treasure seeker.  These legends concerned a clan of mage-warriors called Firesmyths that once guided this planet’s politics with a gentle but firm hand.  It was said that the Firesmyths were born six millennia ago on another world and that they witnessed the birth of civilization on Epi.  And since Epi was now a world where any technology greater than the bow and arrow or catapult was forbidden, stories told of the Firesmyths and their living machines held children in awe. 

Neither the specter of these walls nor legends stopped the cloaked man.  As he reached the Snake Gate, he put his hand into his cloak and withdrew a cylinder.  With a word of command the cylinder emitted a brilliant beam of white light.  He resumed his walk passing through the gate and stepping over the remnants of the large titanium doors -- the use and even name of titanium had long been forgotten.  He crossed the wide-open courtyard and entered the great hall of the Old Fortress, navigating his way effortlessly through the passages as if he knew them intimately.  He stopped occasionally, stooping to look at the debris discarded by looters.  He made his way down several flights of stairs into what appeared to be an old subterranean barracks section, housing for hundreds of soldiers that made up the Capital Guard.  The barracks were dug deeply into the solid mountain rock providing protection against attack.  He counted room by room as he passed soldier's quarters on both sides of a long hallway.  Though they all looked the same, he counted them not by number, but by the names of soldiers long dead. 

At the end of the hall an arched double door entrance led to quarters larger than the rest.  A casual observer could see that this room was probably for a commander of some sort.  The room, now empty of anything of value, would be completely dark if it weren't for the light cylinder he held.  Entering this room, he looked around for a long time, recounting its contents with his finger from left to right: a decorative stone door frame around the entrance, a broken sofa in the corner, a beautifully carved stone relief so large it covered three walls, a rear exit into a narrow hall, a broken cistern long since dry, the chipped supports for a marble bookshelf (the marble slabs of the shelf must have been carried off), and scattered debris across the floor.

Then shining this light on the decorative stone door frame the cloaked man found a statuette of a Jarmil, a large marsupial swamp creature found in the Southern regions of Epi, a creature of such ugliness, no one would steal it even in desperation, a creature only a mother could love: large, bulbous eyes, loose hanging jowls with a protruding, fat lower lip ... and completely hairless.  Proof that God has a sense of humor.  He applied the flat portion of his signet ring to the Jarmil's protruding eye.  A light shone in a circular sweeping pattern through the gaps between ring and stone.  The facade of the stone door frame popped open, releasing centuries of dust into the air.  The dust settled to reveal a ring, a scroll, a scabbard, and a belt.  He withdrew the scroll and ring and placed them in a pocket inside the fold of his cloak.  Then he removed the scabbard and belt, and strapped them around his waist.  He closed the secret compartment door with an audible “click.”

 

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Copyright 2000 by Darrell A. Newton, All Rights Reserved.
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Last updated: March 06, 2001.