Excerpt from the “Book of Secrets,” Chapter 15 (first draft)

by Wes Penre, December 25, 2020

This is a short new excerpt, still from my first, unedited draft. Five travelers are approaching what is remaining of an ancient town, which has been abandoned for thousands of years and is now in ruins.

A few miles from Kirbakin’s tree house, the hills transformed into lowland, and the forest ended. The gnome had steered them back to the path winding north, out of the forest. The land, now surrounding them, consisted of sparse trees—mostly hickory and elm—rising like proud guardians over green and brown plains with short grass and occasional sections of wildflowers in yellow, white, and blue. Although the scenery was bringing back early childhood memories of meadows sprinkled with the fragrance of wild rose and hyacinth and everlasting summers, it likewise gave them a strange feeling that seemed out of place: the wind was chillier than before Dreamwood, as if the seasons shifted quickly here. It was still summer, but it felt more like crispy autumn. The sun was blazing but appeared lower in the sky than what was normal for the time of year—and the light was dimmer. A wind blowing from northwest pierced them with intermittent arrows of chilliness, which forced them to wrap the garments tighter around their bodies.

The gnome stopped for a moment and turned around. Behind him was the forest and the hills that had become so familiar to him over the last centuries.

“Here ends my domain,” he said, “and with it many of my innate powers. Now, indeed, I need to consider the counterforces in the world around me. It’s been so long…”

The others could feel it, too—the lightness of heart they had experienced while still in Kirbakin’s home, now replaced with a dark heaviness. Only this time, the weight seemed more intense than ever before.

“This is Yongahur’s land,” Kirbakin said. “And the farther north we travel, the colder it will be—particularly where his and Azezakel’s domains meet.”

In the late afternoon, they could see buildings ascending in the distance. It appeared to be a town, taking shape like an oasis would in a desert—or perhaps like a mirage. When they came closer, they noticed it was not a populated town—it was a town in ruins.

“Skeleton of a long-lost empire,” Kirbakin said. “In the Age of Twilight, this was a flourishing place, once stretching all the way north to the Eccasion River. This town belonged to good-hearted, peaceful people, who were drawn into wars their hearts did not desire to fight. Their civilization was destroyed, and the few survivors fled. I don’t know whether there are any descendants left in the world. It was so long ago.”

Once they reached the ghost town, they realized why it had withstood the wheels of time. These ancient people had been skilled stone masons, and what had not been destroyed in battles was still standing—proudly raised buildings and towers, bricked with such finesse that it was sometimes difficult to see where one building block ended and the next began. The streets were of cobblestone, mostly overgrown but still intact. As they were walking through, the eeriness of no one there was impacting them—the town was completely desolate, except for a few cawing crows, watching the travelers from rooftops and windowsills, while the wind was whistling as it passed through the alleyways. There were no signs of tools, ciphers, or evidence anywhere of former human inhabitance—time had consumed it all.

“The town of Elchamar!” Kirbakin said. “The world still remembers your name, whilst your people are since long forgotten!”

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