Chapter 1: The Temple
Through the shifting sands of the desert stood a structure atop a cliff where the sun beat down upon. This building of marble stone had stood for over a thousand years, its purpose long since forgotten. All that is known is that it was once a temple of the mysterious Avethian people, once considered the wisest of races now gone. It’s for this reason that the site was a massive curiosity and also a place of ill omen. It was said that does who entered into the temple never returned, all were rumored to have perished in the shadows of the temple chambers. For over a century none have dared to enter,
“And that, my friend, is why I suggest that you please reconsider.” Said Donkor, merchant of the city of Koiroko.
Sitting with Donkor in his home was a curiously dressed man. He wore a blue and yellow trimmed jacket worn closed, long blue legged pants, black leather boots and gloves, a black hooded cloak, and over his face a wooden mask of very simple design, only having two openings for the eyes. This young man had come to visit Donkor to inquire about the Avethian temple and how to enter.
“I'm not worried about any superstition or the cheap tricks used to keep explorers away.” Said the masked man. “I think that I’m uniquely qualified to conquer the temple, just point me to it and I’ll come back with treasure for you.”
“Hah!” Donkor snorted. “Please child, do you think I’m in want of treasure?” Donkor raised his arms and waved them around the room to the rug on the floor, the dinner table the two sat across from, the chairs they sat upon, and the well furnished rooms beyond. “It’s true that my living may be humble, but I have a home, I have three meals a day, I have a wife, a son, two daughters, and I can give them a happy life.”
“A fair point, but that's not changing my mind, I still want to see that temple.” Said the masked man.
Donkor sighed. “You fail to understand, you too have a home and family. Your mother and brother would be very disheartened to learn that one of their own died chasing after shallow trinkets. Can’t you simply be satisfied with the life you have now young one?”
The masked man shook his head. “I’ve already talked about this with them, they understand how important this is to me. Please show me the way to the temple.”
“Even they want you to go?” Donkor put his hand to his face and groaned into it. “Do they not care for their own family?” He rose form his chair, defeated, if he didn’t take him then the boy would find some other way of reaching the temple. “Very well, I’ll show you there, but I claim no responsibility as to what happens to you afterwards. That’s for your family to sort out.”
“Excellent!” The man smiled from underneath his mask. “Let’s leave immediately, I already have a camel and pack ready.”
“I see you waste no time young Rowen.” Said Donkor.
“Just doing what dad taught me.”
Within only twenty minutes Donkor and the young, masked man, Rowen, ventured into the desert. The harsh sun beat down on them and yet Rowen still refused to remove any part of his heavy apparel. He claimed to Donkor that it protected him from the desert, but the merchant saw that he’d packed for times the normal amount of water and would periodically drink it. When Rowen drank the water, he would turn backwards on his camel so Donkor couldn’t peek at him removing his mask. A curious child as always that Rowen.
Eventually the two travelers came upon a steep cliff, yellow as the desert sands and taller than even the grand palace of Koiroko. Many who had visited this temple met their end prematurely by failing their climb. Their bones had been devoured by the shifting of the sand. At the top of the cliff the temple stood, as promised. The sun cast its shadow down upon Rowen and Donkor. Rowen got off his camel and hitched the horse on a nearby tree.
“This is as far as I go my friend.” Said Donkor, turning his camel back towards the city. “I do hope that you change your mind and return.”
“Thanks, Mr. Donkor.” Said Rowen. “But learning the secrets of the Avethian race is just too good a treat to turn back.”
“For your family’s sake I hope it isn’t.” As Donkor’s camel began its march back to Koiroko the merchant noticed that Rowen had neglected to bring any climbing gear. Another fool destined to die climbing the cliff, he thought.
As Donkor left Rowen sized up the cliff, it was colossal for a rock formation in the middle of nowhere, it stood maybe about three thousand feet tall. It was also oddly shaped; it was an almost perfect cylinder jutting from the ground. Rowen wondered if it was possible that the Avethians made the mountain themselves, but that seemed ridiculous. For most people a climb like this might take over three hours, for someone with Rowan’s abilities though he would do it in about one.
Rowan looked back to check if he was in the clear. Donkor was gone now. Feeling safe Rowan slid off his cloak and mask, revealing a head and face of brown and white spotted feathers, large dark grey eyes, and a hooked yellow beak in place of a mouth and nose. Rowan removed his gloves and boots laying bare his pale-yellow scaled hands and feet with sharp talons at the edge of his digits, those made good tools for climbing. Finally, he removed his jacket and the shirt underneath, showing a body covered in the same brown and white spotted feathers that blanketed his face, the heat had been killing him. Rowan wore the features of an Avethian, the lost owl-like race, with one exception. On his back there were two vertical scars, right where his wing ought to be.
Rowen poured some water on himself to cool off before finishing the canteen. Now feeling refreshed he slipped his backpack on and approached the mountain, it should be an easy climb for him. Approaching the mountain, he raised up his arms and dug his talons into the stone, he pulled himself up and repeated, using the talons on his hands and feet to keep a decent foothold in the mountain. The climb in the desert heat was trying, especially with Rowen’s feathers but as he continued, he grew used to the pain and heat. He would make periodic stops on outcroppings of stone to drink and rest but it didn’t last long. With the sun now heading down to the horizon Rowen had finally reached the top of the mountain.
The young Owl-man sat himself underneath the shade of a decorative pillar. The pillar was the same yellow brown as the desert sand, with vertical grooves running all across the surface and sitting at the top of the pillar was a statue of an Avethian with feathery horns on its head, wings folded behind its back, one hand holding open a book, in the other hand a staff, and dressed in loose fitting robes. The staff and book must’ve symbolized that this owl was a scholar of some sort. Looking around at the other decorative pillars they all featured various owl-men holding objects of learning, abacuses, globes, quills, protractors. Perhaps this used to be a temple of learning.
Rowen stood up, he’d rested and ruminated long enough, he wouldn’t find anything by waiting around. He approached the front of the temple, walking down the paved path and up the stairs into the front entrance. The exterior of the temple seemed well preserved. Yes, there were signs of wear but, the walls still stood, and the roof remained unbroken.
The halls of the temple where as dark as they were dusty and empty, a hollow shell of a once great institution. The walls and floor were rife with cracks and crawling vermin. Rowen stared into these unlit hallways, his pupils dilating until they consumed his eyes. To Rowen the temple now appeared well lit, just one of the benefits of his Avethian heritage.
Upon immediate investigation it appeared that the temple had long been emptied out. Every room was bare of furniture, art, books, anything worthwhile. There didn’t seem to be anything that would leave a man trapped or dead in here either, didn't seem to be any bones either. Rowen puzzled over this when he felt a shift in the air beneath his foot. The floor beneath him had a small crack, one that formed a perfect square. Rowen drew his sword an pushed it between the crack. With the sword in the ground, he pulled it towards himself, the stone underneath drew up. Rowan grabbed the stone and pulled it off the ground, he found underneath was a stairway.
The stairway led down into pitch black shadows. Rowen lit torch, didn’t matter how good his eyesight was in the dark if there wasn’t a bit of light, he wouldn’t be able to see. He descended the tight corridors of the stairway, staying alert for any sign of danger, surely this was the part where most explorers ‘disappeared.’ Merely a minute after descending a slam echoed from above, no doubt the exit had somehow closed itself for the next explorer to find. Rowen looked back the way he came, then back down the stairs, either way it was a long winding path. He decided to continue forward, where the promise of discovery awaited.
Rowen walked down for many long minutes, perhaps more than an hour. After too long of the same blank walls and seemingly endless stairs. Finally, he saw the end of the staircase winding down to an archway, where a skeleton lay. Rowen approached slowly, his legs burning from the long climb up the mountain and walk down the stairs. He pressed himself against the wall as he approached, he didn’t trust that whatever was beyond the archway wouldn’t be fatal. As Rowen approached, he got a closer look at the skeleton, he noticed that it was facing towards the stairs, as if the person was trying to leave as they died.
Rowen peered through the archway, the room beyond was a hallway containing seven stone doors; three on the right and three on the left with one on the other end of the room. What truly struck him though was the giant owl statue hanging over the door on the other end of the room and the dozen or so skeletons that littered the hall. That statue must be the killer, likely the explorers didn’t see it in time with the light of their torches but Rowen, an Avethian, could.
Still, knowing that the statue was a trap meant little if Rowen didn’t know how it killed. He peered into the room again, was it triggered by a pressure plate perhaps? No part of the floor seemed to have any crevices that would indicate such a thing from what Rowen could see. The skeleton’s cause of death wasn’t readily apparent at a glance, it just seemed to have died on its way back. There was, interestingly, something under the skeleton’s ribcage.
Using his sheathed sword Rowen lifted the skeleton up, very slowly. He didn’t want to risk triggering anything in case the skeleton was a trap. After moving the skeleton aside Rowan had a clear view of the object. It was a stone tablet, the top was decorated with a pair of wings, the edges laced with a silver lining, and the body of the tablet was dozens of triangular shaped grooves all lined up in neat rows. Could this be the cause of the explorer’s death? Rowen pocked it with his sword. Nothing happened. He considered taking the tablet, but he didn’t know if it was safe. He looked back into the room, towards the owl statue. He needed to investigate further, but all the skeletons bode ill.
Rowen sighed; he wasn’t going to figure anything out by just waiting around. Rowen took a step forward into the archway, immediately as he did so the mouth on the bird statue clicked open. Nothing seemed to happen, only now the owl statue was making a faint blowing sound. Rowen stood there before an icy chill slid down his back, he knew now why this temple had been so fatal. Rowen made a run towards the stairway. Gas; poisonous, colorless, odorless gas. It was being pumped into the room by the statue and killing the explorers before they even had a chance to relize what was happening. Rowen glanced at the tablet again and decided, it’s something at least. He grabbed the tablet as he rushed back upstairs, holding his breath.
Rowen ran and ran upward, taking only small breaths. His head throbbed and legs burned as he ran. It took him much less time to reach the top of the steps. Rowen pushed at the trap door opening his way back into the main temple. He ran up the steps and outside the temple before falling on the ground coughing and wheezing.
Rowen spent the next few minutes putting himself back together, sitting himself up and looking to the sky. He’d have to come back later, find a filter or something for the gas. At the least he survived. He went into the temple and was the first person to survive. Rowen laid himself down on the ground, letting the last rays of the sun shine on him, and he laughed. That wasn’t all, he had the tablet. Rowen looked at it again, it didn’t seem like much, but it was definitely a genuine Avethian artifact. The wings carved on top were proof enough of that. He’d made it out okay and he there was still much more for him to accomplish. For him, the tablet was proof enough of that.
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