"Imagine a time when this city was full of people," Vieran murmured, lazily hitching a ride on Sholl's broad back. (He had had a serious disagreement with his horse about who deserved carrots more.)
"It's still pretty impressive," said Blaise, shielding his eyes from the morning sun to look eastward down the valley, down the length of the city. At a rough guess, he would have said it was getting on for ten miles at least, but probably much, much more.
"So what do we do now?" Varashi enquired, after a few more moments' silence to observe the awesome splendour of the decaying town.
"We wait for Harald to catch up," Blaise told her. "He shouldn't be more than half a day behind us, and he has a much better idea of what to look for than we do."
"By which you mean we have no idea why we're here," Vieran put in. "For the record, I'm still having trouble understanding why we followed the directions of a magic table."
"Don't you feel it, Vee?" Liiara asked him.
"We're a part of something here, you idiot," she said, cuffing him none too gently as he slid off Sholl's mighty back. "Whatever's going on here is important, and Feruilen has chosen us to be her emissaries." Vieran looked around, warrior's eyes taking in everything that was to be seen.
"Unless I'm having a very dense day, Feruilen is nowhere to be seen, sister," he replied. "Forgive me if I don't have your faith in the unknown."
"Feruilen is only unknown to those who live in wilful ignorance," she declared, turning away from her oft-irritating companion. Vieran rolled his eyes but said nothing more. Blaise and Varashi exchanged weary glances. They had been dealing with this all the way here, and it was starting to grate. Blaise had remarked to Varashi a few nights before that he had not expected to become a father so soon, and Varashi would have replied in kind but for having to take a moment out to prevent some relatively mild bickering breaking out into a full-fledged fight.
"I thought immortals were supposed to have more patience," Blaise murmured to his Drow companion.
"Most of us do, but close friends and family can aggravate one another in a manner that defies logic," Varashi answered, making Blaise laugh.
"The gods know my sister and I have demonstrated that often enough," he agreed. "I think we need something to do, don't you?" he carried on, addressing the group. "Harald said to me something about a temple dedicated to some ancient god called Besz, so I suppose we could try looking for that." Vieran raised a hand. "Yes?"
"I've never heard of Besz," said Vieran. "I have no idea what we would be looking for."
"Besz is one of the oldest gods," Varashi told them all. "Scholars believe he was first worshipped in the years immediately after The Fall in eastern Nyasa, and later through Mirmida and Khurnay. Apparently his followers died out about two thousand years ago, but what survivors there were seem to have been based mostly here in Bylazora."
"So what would his temple look like, O fount of all knowledge?" enquired Vieran, with only mild sarcasm, which Varashi ignored.
"Besz was said to be the king of beasts, and to take the form of animals. So look for something temple-y with lots of animal carvings." Vieran shrugged.
"We should split up," he suggested. "Cover more ground." And keep some distance between certain members of the group, Blaise added to himself.
"Excellent idea. Varashi, Don and Vieran can take one direction, Sholl, Liiara and I the other. Varashi and I will bespeak each other if anything comes up." Vieran and Liiara set off in opposite directions before anyone had a chance to say another word. Their respective groups hurried after them.
* * * * * * * * *"So what exactly does this map of yours say?" Naian wondered. Falarin drew it out from the holder he had crafted and unfurled the aged hide, peering closely at the markings.
"It says we should head for something marked with a big cross," Falarin announced.
"It says that, does it?" Morion asked him.
"Yep," Falarin replied. "Look, right here, you can tell by the big cross."
"And by the way all the additions seem to be centred on that bit," Morion observed.
"Good work, eagle eye," said Falarin, patting Morion on the back and getting a mid-strength headbutt for the trouble.
"Any idea what the big cross is in real life?" Naian asked. Falarin almost looked taken aback.
"Not a bloody clue, darling," he cheerfully declared. "Wouldn't be much of an adventure if I knew where we were going." Naian smiled. She had grown rather fond of the deathknelf and the manner of gleeful abandon with which he approached everything. His excitement was infectious, and had the other three almost as eager as him, not that that was much of an achievement as far as Vam'brac was concerned. The little Vyre was a constant source of entertainment to the others, bounding about the place and asking questions to tax the understanding of any six-year-old. And, like many six-year-olds Naian had met, he was in the habit of trying to eat more or less everything he came across. The evening before, just after they arrived in Bylazora, Vam'brac had staggered into their little camp under the weight of a saddlebag filled with things he had never seen before that he was determined to examine, including several still-untarnished gold ornaments, which turned out to be from a run-down old chapel and which Falarin determined to be worth a small fortune should they have the inclination to carry them back to Valenti or Mistaine or the Maughold. They had eagerly awaited the rest of the contents of the saddlebag, only to find that it contained several pieces of petrified wood, a fossil of some kind, half a clay brick, three pieces of qwartz, a length of bindweed, a concussed and increasingly furious starling and sixteen unusually shaped rocks.
Naian's hand brushed the satchel in which she had taken to carrying Ralsere's skull, the magical item that had nearly seen them killed in the acquisition. She was loathe to carry it so close, but Falarin had determined that was the only way to ensure its effectiveness after the attack by wraiths outside Amborne, brought to a close only when Naian's foot came into contact with the bag containing the skull, causing it to send bright white bolts of magic into the creatures, obliterating them almost entirely. Needless to say, they had not returned to sleep that night.
"You know, I think we're actually on the right road," said Falarin with some surprise. "If I've got this right, we should just need to follow this big wide open street down that way for a while, and we'll get to whatever the big cross is."
"Let's get a move on, then," Morion exclaimed. "How far is it?"
"Not more than about twenty miles," said Falarin after a moment's thought. Morion's face fell.
"Just how big is this city?"