Eggs of Time
Part one: Song of the Ruins
The Aten had begun its descent, rays slanting over the worn surfaces of the bitu and warmed the stones of the tarbasu. Small green shoots reached skyward where once they would not have been permitted while the owner of the house still lived. Messhral sighed as she surveyed the abandoned city, her hands gently removing as many of the invasive shoots as she could, for later study and to preserve the tarbasu.
The warm stones also felt good against her tail, the sole visible reminder of what her kind had once been. She considered herself Naga, though few others did. Her own mother had termed her an abomination, an accursed mutant brought about through the horrible event known as The Great Changing. Though not of themselves monsters, the Naga had been transformed as had the many species of monsters.
Almost all of them had been given a more human-like appearance and a highly increased level of lust, yet that had not been as bad as what had followed. There were few males and no new ones had been born after the event. Worse still, she reflected as she watched her tanned hands coax a small cactus from the mosaic of blue stones of the tarbasu, some of the newborn had but two arms instead of the six Naga were supposed to have.
While the more philosophically-minded Naga welcomed the peaceful relationships with Mamonme as monsters had started to call themselves and the decreased attention by the Dynasty’s rulers, not even they cared for those bereft of two pairs of arms. She hissed softly even as her hands evened out the mosaïc. Messhral still felt fury over how she had been treated as a child, being barred from the rituals that would have marked her ascent to adulthood in the traditional Naga way.
Cast out while no more than five years of age, she had lived as a street urchin, stealing what she needed to survive while dodging the ajàh-téh, the guards of her hometown. That had changed when a merchant from the Demon Kingdom had caught her rifling through his wares. She’d been amazed at the fact that such a thin man had been able to lift her without effort. Even though she was not yet in her teens then her weight should have been too much for him to bear. What had followed was that the incubus and his wife, being one of a new Mamonme species known as an Ureonggaksi, had spoken to her about theft and her being abandoned. The end result was that they adopted her and then had her apprenticed to a scholar of the past. Dermut Scolari was an old man, ancient even by the standards of the Naga, who had spent most of his life tracking down ancient ruins from bygone ages.
Her adoptive parents had met him during one of his expeditions, and each other. Saerti might have only been a few years older than Messhral, but the snaily woman had travelled all over Praxis before meeting Piotr. One thing led to another and both had been happy in their marriage ever since, though Saerti had declined sharing what the expressions on their faces had been when an old man charged into their camp, having mistaken the sounds they were making for cries of pain.
Messhral chuckled to herself at that, she could well imagine it. Dermut had treated her like a favourite niece and had taught her to treat any ancient and lost wonders with due respect. He’d gently rebuffed her when her hormones drove her to seek a more intimate form of loving him. The rejection had stung, more than she had imagined, but she had gotten over it. He’d told her that young women should seek a partner who was as young and flexible in mind and body as they were.
Not an old fogey who was debating whether or not he should catalogue himself as an artifact. She’d used that little joke for a small prank, tying a specimen card to one of his toes and stuffing his foot into a duffel bag used to transport artifacts while he slept. They had laughed together and reforged the familial bond stronger than ever before. That had been six years ago and Dermut had since passed away, going to bed one night and not awakening since.
Piotr and Saerti had helped her bury him at the entrance to the first ruins the old man had explored. Messhral had since continued his work alone, occasionally hiring or accompanying an able mercenary to keep her and her discoveries safe. She could defend herself of course, her strength was greater than a human’s and her twin daggers were enchanted just enough to sting even a Vampire or Dragon.
It had been half a year since she’d last seen her adopted parents who had gone to visit Saerti’s homeland of Zipangu. Messhral knew she should have gone with them, as there would be a large family gathering later in the year in Zipangu, or rather the small island Saerti and Piotr had managed to buy from one of the local lords. But this had come up unexpectedly, Messhral had known that Kita Akrufia had been important to life on Praxis long before the first Naga culture sprang up.
Yet even though Dermut had speculated that there may have been something hidden underneath the sunbaked stones and sands of the continent, he’d thought it gone, destroyed by the struggle that created what was now known as the Great Divide. Messhral knew differently now though. A chance discovery in a tomb belonging to an Ar-kay-ologist from the Age of Marvels, a book written in archaic runes, hinted at a lost city here in the highlands of Utarruk that lay at the eastern end of the continent. She thought she had done the translation pretty well, but some words like the ar-kay-ologist thingy where beyond her as they lacked a modern counterpart. Perhaps though, that one was like her a ruins chaser? Oh well. A glint caught her eye as the mirror she’d propped up against the wall caught the rays of the sun finally.
It was time for her to go. The book had detailed an axe-pad-it-ion, some sort of research journey via a conveyance symbolized by a pictogram of a strange bird, to the ruins of Remusia. Following the instructions and, admittedly with a lot of luck and guesswork, she had found the city. Remusians had not discovered writing as she knew it, but instead used a kind of scratch-mark means of communication for everyday things.
She’d found a few tablets, once pristine and moist clay, now sunbaked like the rest of the city and she was hoping to work out some sort of translation on the go. Yet the ruins made her uneasy. Only a few plants decorated the ruins, yet no living automotive creature nested here. The city felt abandoned even by the Gods, if that were possible. Ziggurats rose at intervals throughout the city, temples of a sort where petitioners could converse with the Divines by shouting at the sky if the murals were any indication.
Her slithering body wanted to pick up the pace, she could feel her muscles tensing as the gloom of evening began to slowly creep over the ruins. Yet, given that Dermut had instilled a firm knowledge of what could happen if you were hasty in an unexplored ruin… A hand absently touched an old scar on her tail. It wasn’t just traps that could kill you, neglected buildings and sinkholes could do you in all too easily as well.
That was the reason why she wore an unusual tail adornment. Near the tip of her tail she wore a series of rings that terminated in a hook. Different somewhat from what Dermut had worn on his arms, but just as effective. She could climb back along her own tail if she fell into a hole and had done so before. People usually thought that noon was a good time to enter ruins, but Messhral knew better. Early evening was the best time.
The streets were warmed by the sun, yet not too hot to traverse, the fading light caused small indents and such to be better contrasted, even from a distance and most importantly: predators of the kind that could pose a threat to her would be either sleeping or just waking up. Not that she had encountered them here, bar seeing some large bird of prey way away in the distance.
From the book and her own research, the structure at the centre of the city would be important.
The bitu were that too, of course, each house had a mosaïc detailing the family motto and dreams that had been added to by each generation until the city was abandoned mysteriously many centuries before. If only she had been able to get that cute guy to come along she might have been able to do more, but alas… Phah on those C’try Mice and their insidious charm. The hook on her tail-rings ticked loudly against the stones and she reigned in her temper.
The structure had a unique look. Instead of being squared, like most of the buildings, it had an almost round design, though every so often an angle jutted outward from the walls, almost like a whirlpool. Or so she imagined.
Within lay but a single smaller structure, shaped like a dome. The ground in front of it was covered in blasted tiles and huge craters, a plaque on the inside of the wall showing a very graphic depiction of what would happen to any who dared tread here. Explosive runes! The skeletal remains of Naga, humans and various monsters lay thick on the ground, all touched by age, yet nothing else if the heaps of dust and fragments around them was any indication.
Messhral took an enchanted stone from a pouch at her belt and threw it across the area. instead of landing, it returned to her hand. She tied a pouch of infused dust to the stone and sent it flying again. As the stone flew and returned the pouch gently dusted the ground with its contents which had an unusual effect. Lines and symbols showed in red where the explosive magics lay. Despite the age of the ruins, some of the symbols looked no older than a year at most.
The dust also revealed a path through the traps that she barely managed to traverse. She had to bunch her coils oddly and use her hands for balancing to avoid touching symbols squirming with untapped power. It was well past moonrise when she finally made it across and into the smaller building. It seemed bare, but for an enormous egg-like shape on a raised dais against the far wall. She blew out a long sigh and studied the walls.
She could barely believe what she thought she saw there, so she incanted a simple spell that brought a sphere of light to her hands. The walls were composed of small squares, a mosaïc perfectly preserved. Some squares were coloured differently and together formed a script detailing something else than the individual tiles. She barely breathed as she moved around the chamber.
Were these histories? Political slogans? Maybe the hopes and dreams of the builders? Though careful for traps, Messhral had to fight herself not to rush things. At long last she came to the egg and gasped. It was not just a work of art, but one of magic. intricate runes traced over the surface, marred only by a small crack at the very top. Though ancient beyond reckoning, the glow emanating from them brought spells of protection and preservation to mind.
Careful examination confirmed this. Messhral started shuffling around the artifact, lost in thought until her tail accidentally brushed against it. Instead of a killing bolt striking her, Messhral suddenly found herself elsewhere and yet not. Pale shapes stood around her in the room that now had daylight streaming in from windows long since covered. Her tail went slack and broke the contact.
She was back in the night, yet her curiosity was stoked. A sensory sphere, a magical device that could store memories! They had not been seen since the Age of Marvels, or at least not on this scale or this long lasting. It would make her name as a ruins chaser even if the city hadn’t been there! Messhral squealed in joy and set up some small wards that would protect her while she dove into this treasure trove. Her notes and the tablets went into a bag of holding, then she placed her hands and head on the stone. Once more did she see pale shapes in the room that now flooded with light. As she tried to think of a question to ask them, sensations flooded into her and she knew no more for a very long time.