“I’m not leaving you behind again, pal.” You sling Harold’s uninjured arm over your shoulder. “We’re in this together. Besides… who else is gonna watch over me while I sit down and take a leisurely read?”
Harold doesn’t argue, he just nods and stands up with you. Together, the two of you limp through the woods and towards the city.
Hours pass. The moon slides across the sky and, given what Harold told you about your time constraints, this makes you increasingly more and more nervous. A few times Harold stops cold, as if he saw something in the brush. Each time he raises his hand to his lips and asks for silence. After a few minutes, though, he relaxes and motions you forward.
You travel in silence, each step increasing your tension level. By the time you reach the gates to the enormous city, it has built to such a crescendo that the city’s alien architecture actually feels welcoming… inviting almost. You breathe a sigh of relief.
You usher Harold through the gates, casting around with your eyes and looking for a likely hiding place. The city itself seems almost entirely deserted. After walking a good way into the city, in fact, the overwhelming silence brings your nervousness back to new heights. It is far quieter here than it was on the lake shore or in the city, and you can’t shake the feeling that either the city is empty or that it’s denizens are all dead.
After a short time you come to a small plaza with a dry stone fountain in the center. The fountain is carved out of the same gray stone as the rest of the city, but unlike the rest of the city — it’s architecture is fairly plain. The rest of the buildings all take off at odd angles, with strange ceiling heights that make you feel uncomfortable just looking at it. In comparison, this fountain could have been something you’d see in any park back home. The difference is almost jarring.
For a moment, out of the corner of your eye you think you see someone standing in a window of one of the houses on the far side of the plaza. Your first impression is of a small girl in a red dress. You quickly turn your head to verify, and instead see a red curtain flapping in the wind.
Harold gestures you towards one of the buildings on the near edge of the plaza. The door is open and there is a yellow sign above it with words in a language you don’t understand. You hurry across the plaza and into the building. Once inside Harold removes your arm from his shoulders and takes out a small packet of yellow powder from inside his clothes. Upending the packet, he draws a small straight line across the thresholds of all three doorways leading into this room, as well as on all the windowsills. After doing so, he breathes a sign of release and slumps down with his back to one of the walls.
“We’re safe for the moment, I think.” Harold says in a weary tone. “Benziah or his Pretty Ones shouldn’t be able to enter this room. I’m going to rest for a while… it’s probably best if you started reading, though. We don’t have much time.” And with that, he closes his eyes. After a few moments you see his chest begin to rise and fall in measured, sleepy, breathing.
Resting the book on the floor, you skim through it. The book is in English, and appears to be handwritten in a small scrawl that will likely prove hard to decipher. The book seems to be divided into three chapters, each chapter is preceded by a single page with a hand-drawn picture. There is no text on those pages, but each page has a symbol drawn underneath the picture.
The first chapter has a picture of a king, sitting on a throne with one hand grasping a jewel-adorned goblet. An empty throne sits to the king’s right side. The symbol underneath is of Ouroboros, the serpent biting it’s own tail. [Wisdom: The symbol is a symbol of balance or the status quo, also represents earthliness.]
The second chapter has a picture of a skeleton, whose lower half has been turned to dust and is blowing away. The symbol underneath is an eight pointed star. [Wisdom: The eight pointed star represents absolute chaos]
The third chapter has a picture of a man hanging at the gallows. The symbol underneath is of an equilateral triangle (pointing towards the top of the page) with a small circle in the center. [Wisdom: The symbol is a symbol of order — though a kind of enforced order]
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If you’re getting into this late, here’s an explanation of the concept behind Ward32.