where I share my experiences with the art of writing, publishing, and book marketing

where I share my experiences with the art of writing, publishing, and book marketing

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I love the sea.  The vast expanse of it always makes me feel like the universe belongs to me rather than I belong to the universe.  I like that I am small against it but the might of it fills me and makes me feel colossal.  So it was an injustice of nature that my equilibrium only operated properly on land.  The vast undulating expanse made me feel like the universe had just parked in my belly and needed a way out.  I was small all right— a tiny speck of retching life on a constantly bobbing boat that was itself a speck upon the water.  And that speck was a day’s sail from our destination and we were only two hours out from Sandhitch.
A further injustice was that Andreas who only tolerated nature felt no ill effects at all.  He stood on the deck with the wind in his hair and his hands clasped behind his back taking it all in.  I would have thought he looked majestic against such a backdrop, if his very presence hadn’t been opposing the dip of the boat upon the water against the rise and fall of the never-ending sea.  I had no time to tell him that he should stand else where for sake of my weakness before my weakness overtook me and I was again hanging over the starboard rail.
I was sure that Andreas was analyzing the potential energy he could draw from the sea and use as a spell of magic.  I was equally sure that his analysis had nothing to do with making me feel better.  If I had been able to speak I would have told him what a callous cad I thought he was.
I don’t know how long we stayed that way, but the beast I called a partner finally came over to see about me.  “Is there anything I can do?” He asked in a quiet tone.
“Uhn,” I replied, which meant: “About time you heartless bastard!”
“A blanket maybe?”
I shook my head positively and groaned, which meant:  “That’s the least you can do after swaying in front of me all day.”
He went below to the small cabin we shared with Egidio and returned quickly with not one but two blankets.  He wrapped one around me and put the other on the deck so that he could sit upon it.
“Maybe you’ll be better off sleeping on deck tonight where at least you’ll have fresh air.  I’ll sleep right here in case you need me.”
My partner is such a sweet man.
By daybreak I was feeling better.  I was shaky and tired, but my stomach was settling down and my equilibrium was straightening out.  I did not sleep well for obvious reasons, and Andreas did no better for looking after me.  Egidio informed us that we were making good time on what he called calm seas.  We would make Winter Top by mid day.  Andreas and Egidio ate on the deck and we watched for land.  Knowing where to look, Egidio called out first.  All we saw was a white swirl of cloud, but as we came in closer we could see the mountain peaks that ringed the island.  When we moved closer still, an ancient cinder cone became visible at the center of the island.  It towered above the rest and the cloud that veiled the island emanated from it.
Egidio steered the ship toward the southern end of the island and found a place to anchor.  We let the loading ramp out into the water, unloaded the horses, and waded together to the shore.  The animals went across the sand to the grasses that grew there and ate heartily.  Andreas gave them fresh water from a small cask while I looked for a way into the mountains.  I followed a trail for a couple of miles and when it still looked good for as far as I could see, I returned to Andreas.  We lead the horses up the trail to the point at which I had left it.  The trail there opened up over a landscape of scrub and rock.  We mounted and rode slowly side-by-side.  The way wound through the juts of rock and over the steep sloping shoulders of the mountains.  Winter Top towered above it all and the clouds were in a swirl above her.  The snow swept off the clouds in veils of soft white and the air grew icy.  We stopped long enough to wrap ourselves in fur-lined gear and then we moved on.
We wound up through the mountains and stopped to take in the scenery that surrounded Winter Top.  We sat astride Grey Aria and Dark Corydon looking across a wide valley between the ring of mountains on which we rested and the crater called Winter Top.  The stark grey lines of cold stone, black shadows, and white sky was overwhelming beautiful against the soft violet backdrop of the surrounding mountains.  I’d never seen mountains so magnificent.  The clouds below us in the valley swirled gradually up the sides of Winter Top and then spun in a flourish before being sucked down into the crater.  In the center of the crater a tower of cloud shot up with the force of a cyclone to crash into the ceiling of the atmosphere and spread out into the cloud cover.  The clouds were in turn sucked back down into the whirl of winds in the valley.  The scene repeated perpetually.
We made our way down the mountain ring until we were just above the valley winds.  We stayed the night there, and in the morning we made a sling for the scroll.  I wore it across my left shoulder so that it hung tight against my waist just behind the sword at my right side.  We left the four horses to graze in the valley.
We tied back our hair so that we could see, and tied down everything we carried, to keep it from blowing away or hindering our movement.  The winds beat at us from the first moment that we broke through the swirling clouds to continue our descent into the valley and they were relentless.  Even tied down everything was pulled by the wind.  We allowed ourselves to be propelled by it, but as we came closer to the singular mass of Winter Top the winds grew stronger and we were at risk of being blown over.  We tied together and exchanged our warm mittens for leather gloves and pickaxes to hold onto the rock as we prepared to make our ascent of Winter Top.  We were battered by the wind so when at last we crawled to the edge of the crater rim and peered over we were badly bruised and beaten.
The iron rich walls of the crater were worn smooth from ages of erosive winds.  The way down would be slick and treacherous; pickaxes would do little to slow a fall on so hard and smooth a surface. Fierce tempest winds tossed the clouds around the walls in a frenzied race to the central column that would toss them back into the atmosphere.  I smiled at how like children at play the clouds seemed— relentlessly returning to be tossed into the sky again and again.  The rush of wind was the cloud’s laughter.
We were in awe of the place, and yet it filled us with fear.  Any unprepared descent into the winds and the crater would be met with certain death.  If we were fortunate enough to make it to the bottom intact we would be shot up into the sky.  Our deaths would be the plaything of the elements, either we would be tossed about for eternity in the tempest, or flung free of their force to crash upon the rocks of the valley.  We could think of no good plan, so naturally we went with a bad one.
We untied ourselves from each other, but left our gear tied down.  We tied the corner of my cloak to my right wrist and Andreas’s left ankle. We would slide on our backsides along the craters surface, allowing the wind to carry us toward the central whirlwind.  We sat with Andreas in front of me and I wrapped my legs around him.  That way he was free to concentrate on his spell and the scroll was protected, while I attempted to use my cloak as a sail.  Andreas would use his new spell.  He promised to name it if it worked.  The idea was to borrow force from the winds to create enough counterforce against them so that we could move through the whirlwind and discover the hiding place for the scroll, grab it and get out.  On our return Andreas’s spell would be used again to soften the propulsion of the whirlwind, navigate to the edge of the winds, and jump clear of them, hopefully at an un-deadly height.
We shoved off moving awkwardly at first. We had to lean against the wind to avoid being turned over until I got the hang of our make shift sail.  I found that I had to use my left arm as a gaff to secure the sail and capture the wind.  Andreas’s leg worked just fine as a boom.  The wind would suck our voices away so conversation was impossible.  I could see that Andreas was carefully muttering his spell as we made our second lap around and deeper into the crater.  We were picking up speed and my arms burned from the pressure the wind was putting on them.  As we came closer to the column of wind I had to use all my weight against Andreas to keep us from going airborne.
Andreas’s spell did not have the effect we had expected, but it was a success nonetheless.  Instead of giving us a pocket in the wind we rebounded between it and the wall of the crater, which was much closer at the bottom.  I didn’t know how long Andreas could keep the spell going, but I did know it was all that was keeping us from certain death.  I lost control of the sail and wrapped one arm around Andreas while using the other as a rudder to keep us from slamming into the rocks.  Sheer strength and will kept us upright.
I saw an opening in the crater wall, and steered for it, but missed.  Andreas was struggling under the elemental energy being channeled through his body, but he was still working.  I watched for the opening as we were tossed about the crater and steered for it twice more as it came up, and missed twice more, but the fourth time we blew in and slammed into the back wall of what amounted to no more than a tall grotto.  An old lava conduit partially revealed. There was no wind in the grotto, but it still spun ferociously just outside.
We untangled ourselves from each other and our makeshift sail.  Andreas caught his breath while I inspected our surroundings.  The only feature of the little cave was a huge slab of stone centered in the floor of the room.  The mass of it should have been impossible for me to move, but I could not resist a try at it.  When I did it slid back easily to reveal a set of stone stairs leading down to a circular room.  In the center of that room was another stone slab, but upon this slab was a scroll wrapped in a finely wrought mesh net which was in turn wrapped in chains secured to the stone by an iron loop on each side.
Andreas crawled to the opening and peered down while I carefully checked the opening and then the stairs for mechanical traps.  I proceeded down the stairs as I checked and arrived at the floor of the hidden room intact.  It was only a few feet to the slab and the scroll but I was leery of my situation and I checked every inch of floor leading to the slab.  Again I arrived safely.  Certain that the slab, chains, and scroll could and would be trapped I continued, tediously checking every inch of each of them in turn.  I found nothing. I was faced with the fact that there were no locks securing the chains.  Each loop had been passed through several random links of the mesh net as it had been wrapped around the scroll and then the loops were passed into the stone by what must have been magical means, because there were no signs of damage to the stone or the loops.  I tugged the loops by hand and pried them with a dagger, and then my spare sword, but nothing budged.  I tried to untangle the scroll from the chains, but it was too thick for me to pry apart and no space was large enough to pass the scroll through.  The chain and the slab of stone did not give.  They were one solid piece with the stone floor.
I was out of ideas and went to rest on the stairs and to converse with Andreas.  As you know by now, he had a way with the elements and I thought he might be able to manipulate the stone or the metal.  Of course I wasn’t asking anything he wasn’t already considering.  He rose and moved around me and down the stairs.  I watched quietly as he walked once around the small chamber and then once around the slab.  He knelt and reached out to grasp one of the loops.  He pulled but nothing happened and my mind raced in search of other options, until I saw motion at the base of the loop.  Andreas’s muscles strained and the veins at his temples bulged, but one end of the loop eased out of the stone.  Andreas let the links of chain slip off the twisted piece of metal, and then he pulled the net wrapped scroll out from the chains.  He uncovered the scroll and delivered it to me, but a smile crossed his lips and he turned back.  He replaced the metal net on the stone, slipped the chains back over the net, and once again his muscles strained and metal turned in his hand.  He manipulated it with his mind until it was once again a loop, and then he held it to the stone and pushed. Until it was set as it was when we entered.  He was flushed and sweating, but his eyes were bright and his smile was exuberant.
“I had to,” he said.  “I realized how vexing it would be for Polk if he does follow us.”  He bent to take the scroll from me again and joined me on the stairs.
The title of this composition was The One King.  We knew it must be authentic.  The design works of the borders were done by the same hand that had produced the Scroll we already possessed.  We spent a few hours perusing the second scroll, and comparing it to the one we had, noting differences in the score.  We looked long and hard to find two that after wards seemed so obvious.  We found one in an octave transition.  Three stanzas down the first scroll fought a great battle between cellos and mandolins, while the other was a more harmonious blend.  It was a dark piece; the cellos deep toned flourishes juxtaposed with the bright lilting fingerings of the mandolin.  I was reminded of minions of darkness and great warriors who sought to drive them back to the abyss. 
In the first scroll; The Valkyries Lament composition, the music was epic and suspenseful and in the end triumphant.  I remembered the old songs of the Montar legend.  I could almost see King Montar pushing the fallen demons back behind the gate and locking the gate that had once sealed them in.  In The One King the first two stanzas were identical but the third was swarming with rolling percussion crescendos.  Again the old stories were recalled from my memory.  I could see the trio of evil’s minions, running Montar through, and locking him in chains.  Then they left him to the scavengers.  The legend varies about what happened next, and the music made no impression on me about it.
Father Gan thought that if we obtained this scroll, we would be able to decipher the notes that were the second key.  If Polk knew the first key he could lower the seal that kept three levels of the underworld from spilling out onto the surface with mortal men.
We were sure there would be other clues, but we wanted to get back to the ship.  Andreas was feeling rested and capable of another spell.  He had decided to name it Wind Devil.  It was an all right name, but it didn’t give justice to the power it unleashed. We adjusted the sling to accommodate both scrolls, this time I hung them at my left side, and we went across the room to the entrance and the wind.  Andreas began his spell and I climbed onto his back.  He took a step forward and we shot backwards to land in a heap on the floor.
I waited for Andreas to get up off of me, but as he did he was flung across the room by a creature of wind coming in from the whirlwind outside.  I had heard horror stories about such things, but I never believed in them until that moment.  I scrambled back quickly from the towering creature, but not fast enough.  A massive hand of white cloud grabbed me around the neck and I was picked up to look the swirling white elemental straight in his stormy dark eye.  I struggled, but my flailing was useless against him.  His billowy softness cushioned my blows and I was too small to get my hands around him.  I struggled to stay conscious, as he squeezed my neck.  I could feel my heart beating in my eyes and my head ached with the pounding of it.  I heard Andreas shouting something from somewhere in the small room.  I remember thinking, ‘Save yourself world’.  As I fought for consciousness I was thrown against the cold stone floor and I could hear Andreas still shouting.  I felt a blast of searing heat and then it was raining inside the cave as I fell back into black unconsciousness.
The next thing that came to me out of the darkness was Andreas’s soft voice and gentle prodding.  I was alive!  It took me some long moments to gather my senses before I could sit up with Andreas’s help.  The room was soaked and dripping with water.  Andreas had improvised yet again and pulled heat from deep within the earth to blast against the creature and dissipate it into a shower of rain.  He seemed none the worse for it as he checked me for injuries.  My throat hurt like the worst illness I’d ever had and my eyes ached just being in my head.  Other than that Andreas pronounced me fit to continue.
We were ready this time should another creature attack as we stepped out of the grotto.  Could we prevent it?  Could we survive attack after attack?  How many were there?  We could not answer any of these things, of course, so we did not dwell long on them.  We chose instead to walk boldly forward.  I would carry Andreas on my back and the scrolls within the sling.  He would be free to cast whatever incantations or elemental manipulations he could come up with for whatever situation we faced.  He climbed on and I stepped out.  Another wind creature never materialized but our anticipation caused a crucial delay in our plan.  We were pulled toward the swirling tower of wind.  Andreas held on but I heard his words of incantation and his strained grunts as the elemental powers funneled through him.  There was nothing I could do but hold onto Andreas and dear life.  My feet went out from under me and we slid along on our rumps and then on our backs and then side by side.
The tip of the vortex was mere feet in front of us when I felt a tangible release of power from Andreas.  He channeled it into his hands and directed it straight ahead into the swirl of clouds.  This time he successfully created a seam and we passed into the vortex.  He immediately put his hands down at his sides and directed the force he was calling upon behind us.  I did not repeat his actions quickly enough.  We shot up through the center of the vortex eye.  Where Andreas rode the force he had created, I was bounced and tumbled across it. My heart raced.  I was completely at the mercy of circumstance.  This situation made all those previous to it fade in comparison.  When we shot out of the column Andreas snagged me out of the air, pulled me to him and wrapped himself around me.  I could still feel the power emanating from his hands.  He somersaulted us around in mid air to maneuver us toward the outer ring of clouds with the power he controlled.  I would have screamed in fear had I not been in such awe.  He was laughing with glee.  There would be no living with him now that he had learned to fly.
We hit the second draft from the surrounding ring at an angle that skipped us across the top and we were free of their influence.  We fell quickly, but Andreas still controlled our descent.  I actually began to enjoy the sensation of flight but we were nearing the top of the mountains that surround Winter Top and we needed to find somewhere to land, before Andreas tired.  I pointed out a suitable spot and he steered us toward it.  It was a landing to behold, we tried to position ourselves for a smooth transition to the ground, but we each had our own ideas and we became a twisted, mangled heap, even before we hit the side of the mountain.
We sorted ourselves out, brushed ourselves off, assessed our injuries, cracked our aching joints, and danced.  I danced because I was happy to be alive.  Andreas danced because he was drunk with the power he had discovered in himself on that day.  I was happy for him too, but I wondered if my friend would be able to keep his perspective.  If he began to lose it I would have to attempt to rein him in, remembering that he wielded a weapon I could not.  His ability to control the elements could kill me.  I looked at him.  He was frolicking—actually frolicking like a pony on an early spring day.  I knew that he would be high on this for quite awhile.  I knew that I would be too.  We flew!  I danced over to him and we frolicked together a few moments until we laughed at our own outrageousness.  We settled into a walk and made our way back to the horses.  When we arrived we collapsed and fell asleep.
It was night when I woke but the moons were bright, I attributed that to my brighter attitude.  I judged from their phases that I had slept for the better part of two days.  Andreas snored softly and I did not disturb him.  Fighting the elements was exhausting for both of us, but especially Andreas.  I went to check on the horses and found them sleeping nearby.  It was a good thing.  We had a lot of time to make up after so long a rest.
I went hunting and shot a hare.  I had it prepared, wrapped in salt pork strips and on a spit before first light. The smell of it roused Andreas.  I told him about the moons and he recognized our increased sense of urgency as well.  We ate and broke camp.  We went to the horses and saw that they got oats and took them to drink at a nearby brook.  When they had their fill of both we saddled up and made our return trip as quickly as terrain and mount would allow.
Egidio was waiting as promised and we were under way shortly after boarding.  I was not happy to be on a ship again, but there was nothing to do for it and I resigned myself to another agonizing voyage.  I began to wish I hadn’t slept so much while on the island.
While I suffered, Andreas studied the two scrolls that we had in our possession.  He played each piece on his harp note-by-note, stanza-by-stanza comparing each piece that he played with the other in his mind.  He was unable to crack a code that would reveal the melody of any keys, but we were more than half way back to Sandhitch when he came to me with a theory.
Andreas was well educated and he had been looking over the pictographs along the borders of the scrolls.  He believed that they referred to another island amongst a cluster of islands.  It was called Thunder Head.  It was uncharted, but he believed that he and Egidio had collated the location from an illustration of a starlit night sky.  Egidio knew the stars of course, being a sailor and we believed we had a good heading to set off on.  If we were right it would be three to four days voyage on that heading.  The island was formed by ancient ice flows and was rife with horned spires of rock.  Andreas believed from the emotions of the music near that illustration that there was a devastating event; some sad ancient cataclysm that the rest of the world knew nothing about.  He said it was as if he saw an ancient people dying in a dream as he played the music upon his harp.  He believed it was some function of magic within the scroll.  We discussed the images that I had seen, but dismissed until then.
Music invokes magic as simple images that all people feel when enchanted by it.  It was possible that we had stumbled on a valuable tool to aid us in the deciphering of the scrolls.  The element that we expected to deal with next was Earth, but after our experience on Winter Top that was the least of my fears.
If we had three scrolls we could learn the location of the master from clues within the beautifully drawn borders of each scroll.  The musical keys to opening the gates were still hidden somehow within the individual scores.  The gate locations were encrypted in the Master Scroll along with the words of power that could lock or unlock the Evil One.
I offered a theory, “If Polk was able to predict where the first key is then there must be something else about the scroll that the good father and his sect have been unable to extrapolate.”
“Yes, I know that.  Polk still needs all three scrolls to unseal the binds at the gates, when he realizes that he will be back after us for the scrolls.  If he does seek the master, then the location of that must be given within each of the three scrolls, contrary to what Gan believes.  He cannot free the Dark One from the binds that King Montar placed on him so long ago unless he has the words to do so, and that is only revealed in the master scroll.  He cannot get to the Dark One; even if he knows the keys, unless he has the locations, and the locations are in the master.  So if the Master Scroll tells us where the gates are, even though the keys are revealed in the three scrolls, the three scrolls must tell us where the master is.  It would seem that we need all four scrolls, and in the end we will, but to beat Polk we may need only the three.”
I acknowledged the possibility, “Then if we have the scrolls he must come to us either way, either for clues to the gates, or to open the master scroll.  And while he searches for us we can unravel the key codes.  Kapit or Gan will certainly be willing to sponsor us.  Perhaps we can even stay in one place and let Polk come to us while under their protection.”
“We already know that we must follow the scrolls to the the gates, but perhaps the scrolls, even just one can take us to the master.  It seems as simple as that.”
“Let’s hope so.”  His conclusion to my  half-baked theory seemed sensible.  We were close to the third scroll, and from there we would go to unscramble the melodies of the keys, and perhaps even decipher the location of the master.  All of that gave Polk time to worry about the master scroll.  If we did not beat him to it he would still have to come to us for the gate keys, and then we would take the master from him.  Andreas made financial arrangements with Egidio to take us beyond our previous arrangement.  He paid him with gems from the chest provided by Kapit and it wasn’t long before we were turned about and under way to Thunder Head.
I endured two additional days of misery before my body adjusted to the sea.  There were still momentary lapses of balance, but they were no longer accompanied by nausea.  I actually enjoyed the third day aboard and spent it on deck searching the horizon for Thunder Head.  It was nearing dark when we spotted a cluster of islands off our portside.  Egidio did not want to go into unfamiliar waters at night, with the risk of unseen rocks or reefs below us.  We made preparation and let go the anchor.  We spent the night on deck and watched the suns set on the starboard horizon.  In the morning we watched the suns rise behind the islands.  We were unsure which one was Thunder Head so we watched carefully as the sun lit them up.  Egidio sailed around each of them at a distance that gave us a view of the entire island.  We watched and waited for some glint of glass or metal, but none came—that is until high suns when we saw a large glint so sleek and tall that we had great hopes it had been manmade.
Egidio maneuvered us around the island.  We watched the spot to get a bearing on it and we became certain that it was a man made obelisk.  It was the same rock as the island, but the shape of it was certainly constructed.  Egidio lent us his spyglass and the structure was brought in closer for our eyes to see.  We could see only a portion of the top, but that was enough.  Exquisite sculptures of god-like warriors crowned the pinnacle of the structure which appeared to be fluted along the entire length of it.
We made our way around again looking for a suitable landing area.  Egidio slipped in masterfully between the rocks and got us close enough that we could wade in amongst the smaller rocks, but there seemed no way up.  The island shot straight up out of the sea.  The stone was not without handholds, but they were minimal.  We considered employing Andreas’s new found flying ability, but Egidio warned us off of that.  He pointed out the raptors gliding on the winds, and we watched the sudden ascents and descents that they made.  The birds were safe because they had wings with which to catch themselves upon the changing winds.  If we shot straight up, and made it to the top we could not be certain that the wind would allow us to turn to land on the island with Andreas’s still somewhat unpredictable control of his spell.  We had climbed before without ropes, but this time Andreas had seen to it that we had plenty in our storage chest.  We took several lengths of thin silk rope two pick-hammers and thin spikes with eyehooks for anchoring the ropes to the cliff. We put all of our weapons and armor into a leather sack that would be hoisted behind us. We wanted no odd protrusions that would jam upon the wall and make our climb even more dangerous.
We fashioned harnesses from two lengths of thick jute rope and tied it all together with a hook at the middle so that when worn, the ropes encircled our legs, ran up our backs and around our shoulders to join again at the inverted hook at our midsections.  The whole contraption was uncomfortable, but it was less confining than other configurations we had tried.  We made a loop in the end of the rope, slid it over the hook and tightened it.  Along this loop we strung numerous spikes so they were ready as I let out the rope.  We folded this length of rope and I hung it over the hook so that I could let it out as I climbed, at the end Andreas attached the leather gear bag.  I put an additional coil of rope around my body and each shoulder.  We guessed the cliffs at two hundred feet.  We had three hundred feet of rope.  If we could ascend in a generally straight up climb we would be fine, but we knew that often that was not the case and a crooked path was more usual.  If we ran out of rope Andreas would have to climb up to meet me, removing the rope I had already set.
The boat rocked between two lines of rock.  I was not sure that was safe, but Egidio assured me we had tied off properly.  I climbed over the ship railing and let myself into the frigid waves.  Andreas followed and we made our way to the base of the cliff.
I climbed about twenty feet, letting rope trail out behind me.  I set a spike and made my way again.  When I set the second spike Andreas began his climb.  He always stayed at least two spikes behind.  If one gave way we hoped the upper spikes would hold and stop a fall.  We soon found that wasn’t enough.  We were on the second length of rope; Andreas was climbing six spikes behind me.  I was about to start the third rope when the spike that Andreas was at came free and he fell.  The weight took out the next three spikes until he stopped on the fourth with only two more spikes above him to hold him fast.  He swung, secured by the harness, and I breathed a sigh of relief.  Each spike pulled free came closer to yanking us both from the cliff to crash onto the rocks below.  My relief was felt too soon; the motion of his swinging and the tension of his weight coupled with that of the gear bag strained on two more spikes and he fell again. I quickly set two more spikes on either side of the one I’d already set and wrapped what rope I could between the three spikes as swiftly as I could in an attempt to stop Andreas’s momentum. I braced myself and pulled up on the rope below me in an attempt to take tension off of the spikes.  One more spike went before my efforts paid off and only my hastily placed anchor remained in place.
My efforts were too late to save Andreas.  He hit his head hard upon the rocks and I could see his body sag at the end of the rope.  I called out several times to try to waken him, but it was useless.  My heart sank.  He was too far up for Egidio to be any assistance, so I would have to climb down to him.  I needed to reach him quickly for my sake as well as his, but I was impeded by my lack of a mastered skill.  I often dangled my life and his at the end of my fingers, gripping some thin crack or ledge, in a defiant act against gravity and death.  The process seemed unending.  I could not be sure what constriction was tearing into Andreas’s body as he swayed to and fro with the weight of gear below him.  Egidio continued to call to him from below as I made my way at a snail's pace, but Andreas just swung there.
I had gone back down another fifty feet and three spikes when I looked down and saw Andreas open his eyes.  He struggled at the end of his tether and I could hear his cries of pain.  I had to scream at him to break through his terrified flailing.  He snapped out of his senseless fog of fear and pulled up the weight of the gear bag.  His position was awkward but he was able to right himself eventually and he tied the gear off to the first length of rope and removed the constriction from himself.  I still had a fifty-foot climb to get to him, but by the time I got to him he had performed some healing upon himself and pronounced that, aside from a throbbing lump on his head, he was fit to continue.
We left the gear bag attached to the first rope and Andreas hoisted it behind us as I continued ahead, finding another route up and began to set the spikes and ropes again.  I used two spikes at each tie off and laced the rope around them both.  This made our climb slower, but safer.  We made it finally, as the sun was about to set.  We pulled up our gear, and climbed down into the shelter of the rocks before outfitting ourselves.  We were tired, battered and torn, from our strenuous climb and we needed rest.
Andreas was in more need than I so I took what little gear I needed to act as sentry.  I checked the area to be sure Andreas would be safe and then I moved amongst the rocks to afford myself a better view of the mysterious construction and found a perch above our tiny camp and sat to watch.  I could see only the violets and pinks of the suns’ set, and wished that I could see them reflected on the sea.  The sky eventually dimmed from blue to purple to black.  The stars twinkled in and heavy moons moved slowly across the sky.  The light of them allowed me to see between the rocks.
An obelisk had caused the glint of light that we had seen from the ship.  Now I could barely make it out against the dark sky.  I saw no light from windows or doors, no torch or lantern guttered or moved.  It was too dark from that distance to see if anyone moved about without the benefit of a light source, but I watched for shadows to play upon the walls under such bright moons.  No shadow showed, and still no flicker of light at window or door caught my eye, and I watched for a long while.  I became drowsy and to avoid sleep I moved again about the rocks, first to check again on Andreas.  He was wrapped snuggly in his sleeping roll and snoring enough to scare any animals away.  I went in search of another perch with another view of the obelisk.
I found it and saw no more than I had from my other vantage point; that is until the light of morning began to make a way through the jagged angles of rock.  I was nearly straight across from the point where I had watched earlier during the night, and as the sun beamed through the rocks I was allowed a view of two flights of stairs emerging from behind a wide spire of rock.  The stairs emerged from the same point and they both led down in a sweeping arc as if they mirrored each other, so precise was their construction.  They ended on opposite sides of what had once been a pool, or a fountain, but now it held no water at all.  It was of the same fine construction as the obelisk and the stairs.  I expected to see water spray forth at any second, but none came.  I followed the length of the pool with my eyes, across a long courtyard to what appeared from this distance to be a wall of bronze.  There were no visible holds, hinges or handles, from my line of sight.  On either side of the wall was another set of wide stairs that led up to a stone niche from which a winged beast was carved.  I could see that they were masterful depictions of hippogriffs.
Hippogriffs were great and noble beasts of long ago who served only masters of honor.  So, the inhabitants of this place had held the hippogriff in some esteem, I reasoned that they must have had good encounters with the beasts and must then be honorable people.  The beasts were depicted with their heads bowed under a great wing laid across their faces.  I was unsure what that symbolized, submission possibly.  At the feet of the statues a stone porch spread between them and in the center of the porch the obelisk rose straight and true.  I still saw no one about.  I waited a bit longer, but when nothing changed, I made my way back to Andreas to wake him and to report what I had seen.
He had been taught that a hippogriff with head hidden under one wing meant war.  If it was at rest with both wings unfurled it meant peace.  So we theorized that these honorable people had been at war.  Perhaps their absence indicated defeat, though the place was not sacked.  We had no conclusions, just rough theories.  We consulted the scrolls. The compositions showed two subtle differences that we nearly missed, but nothing made sense. We closed the scrolls, none the wiser for having looked inside.  We ate cold tack and outfitted ourselves for battle, though it seemed none would come.  We were still unaware of Polk’s location and we had no doubt he would resurface at some time to attempt to stop us.
Our way lay amongst tall rocks with no trail.  We gave up on the rope and spikes and depended upon our own strength and agility to carry us to a spot above the double stairs I had seen by dawn’s light.  We had done this type of climbing many times before, although this was the most difficult so far.  We came over the stairs near midday and settled into a spot where we felt hidden and watched while we ate again of our hard tack and drank warm water.  We still saw no one about, nor any sign of door or window.  We made our way to the landing that came in just behind the great spire of stone. Together we descended to the bottom of the stairs.
The condition of the place was immaculate.  No stone had fallen anywhere within the compound, how this could be after ages of disuse and no one to maintain it we did not know, but we attributed it to magic.  There were no leaves to skitter through the courtyard or to fill the empty pool on this treeless isle.  No wind blew this deep in the valley of stones.  It was eerie and the feel of the place, put me on edge.  I drew my sword.  When I did an audible groan went through the very stone of the place.  Andreas held my wrist and I saw in his eyes a fear I’d never seen from him before.  I followed his eyes to my scabbard and I sheathed my blade.  Then he nodded and understanding I drew my sword again.  The place groaned again and we were taken by the sorrow of it.  I replaced the blade this time without prompting and moved alone into the courtyard.  “We mean no harm.”  I said aloud.  “We have need of your knowledge and assistance in a grave matter that faces the world.”  I waited some sign, some word.  When none came I repeated myself, shouting the words this time.
Andreas came to stand beside me. “Don’t anger them.”  He whispered.
“Anger who?  There is no one here to anger.”
“Oh, but there is.  This place holds great elemental power.  The rocks are only a small part of it.  They have force; even the building feels alive.  Should we enter— it might swallow us whole.  Do you not feel the greater aspect?  Do you not feel— the death?”
I stood in the silence assessing Andreas’s words.  I felt anticipation but not unlike I’d felt at the beginning of other adventures.  I was more intense of course, because there was so much more at stake.  There was something though, at the back of my brain, some primal urge that was begging me to run.  It was that thing that had made me draw sword.  Now that I’d found it again I laid my hand upon the hilt of my best blade, but I fought the urge to draw.  Was it death I felt, or just the fear of my own dying.  I could not discern.  Andreas though, he had a great ability with things elemental as I’ve said many times, and if he sensed an element of death I would respect that and let it guide my actions.
“I feel intensity.”  I responded at last.  “I do not think my greeting would offend them though.  It carries no malicious threat.  It is more a plea for help really.”
“It is that which frightens me.  What help will death bring us without a price, and what price?”
“You speak the word death as if it is a name.”
“I will not yet rule out that possibility.”

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