Yikes! Late post. Funnily enough, this one was ready early; I was just away from my computer and unable to post it. At any rate, we’re back in the world of Chana and Ko-Ta! Enjoy!
Do you see it, Chana? Do you see?” There was excitement in Ander’s voice, something she didn’t usually hear there. He was excited by his discovery, he was excited to show it to his leader, and he was excited by what it might mean for the two tribes.
“Yes. I see.” Where Ander felt unbridled excitement, Chana felt suspicion. It had been a few winters since she had ventured far to the south, and Wa-Vi’s sad, slow death still weighed heavy on her mind. The way his hair had fallen off of his body. The way small wounds seemed to bleed and bleed. His gradual weakening until his eventual collapse. She did not believe in curses herself, but her beliefs put her in the minority. Whispers spread that he had grown sick when he had dared to steal from the Old Ones and they had taken his life for it. He did not have a family, and when he died, his people opted to burn his house with all his belongings as a pyre for him rather than venture inside to take his body to the Fields of the Dead.
What she saw was a building larger than any she had seen around the Great Lake, or even during her trip to the Wastelands. It stood half as tall as the great trees that surrounded it and as wide as two of the the Old Ones’ homes. Perhaps not two of the largest, but certainly two of the smaller ones. Most of the surface was covered in moss and green vines, and what wasn’t was an off-white color that had long since become mottled with dirt and decay. She thought back to the great black thorns that had surrounded the Old Ones’ tomb; those had seemed menacing, as if they had erupted forth from the earth itself to stand as both a warning and a barrier to any who might venture near. It had seemed not just ancient, but timeless, like a monolith that had existed before the Old Ones and would exist after her and her children and her children’s children had joined their ancestors.
In comparison, this building seemed like it had been built to stand the test of time only to be found wanting. It was not crumbling, like so many other buildings she had seen, but its presence this deep in the woods, the way it seemed intended to stand in contrast to the natural environment around it, suggested that it had been built as a challenge. She imagined the Old One who had ordered it built smiling to himself, thinking that the woods would make a beautiful backdrop for whatever life he saw fit to live. And now here they were centuries later, the Old One long dead and his house claimed by the natural world he had saw fit to assert his authority over. Even the road that had led to this place in days long past was gone. At least, Ander had stumbled across it through sheer chance while hunting, or so he claimed. It was as if everything that had ever suggested this building existed save itself was long gone. No one would ever find it, save through dumb luck.
Perhaps that was what its creator intended.
“Have you ventured inside?” Chana asked. Ander’s smile wavered, and he shook his head.
“No, my lady. I am sorry, but I thought it prudent to wait for you to see it yourself, for you to seek the counsel of Tiris before sending anyone inside.” His smile finally became a frown, and he looked away from her. “In truth, I did not want to find myself cursed.”
“There is no such thing as a curse, Ander. But I can appreciate your prudence. It is always better to explore the unknown with a partner than to do so alone.” She turned to him and grinned, and despite himself, he grinned back. “And now that I am here, we owe it to ourselves to take a closer look, no?”
Chana approached the building with the same ease and confidence she approached all of the abandoned works of the Old Ones. They had done a sweep through the woods around the structure, and neither her nor Ander had found any evidence of a human presence anywhere. There were not even traces of hunters who had passed through the area. “Tell me, Ander,” Chana said. “What would lead you to venture to a place so remote?”
Ander shrugged. “It’s not that remote. No more than a few day’s journey, if one were to cut straight through the woods. And we trade with the people to the west from time to time by following the roads the Old Ones left behind.” He turned to Chana and smiled. “I just decided to take a shortcut.”
“This is hardly a shortcut.”
“Then I decided to take a more scenic route! In any case, we are here and we are the only people in all of the two tribes who know of this place. Not Matau, not Jo-Sing. Not even Tiris!” He paused, and his voice dropped in volume. “Not even Ko-Ta.” He coughed, cleared his throat. “Isn’t this exciting, getting out and exploring? You spend too much time tending to our peoples and their minor quarrels. The world will not end if you take some time for yourself as you used to.”
“I mean no disrespect, my lady. I’m just a simple hunter given to flights of fancy.”
Chana laughed, a single high note that seemed to echo in the empty glade they walked through. She looked over her shoulder at her companion and smiled. “Hush, Ander.”
* * *
They walked around the building, considering it’s tall sides carefully. There were no windows on accessible from the ground, and the walls were too smooth to permit climbing without tools. There were two large metal doors inn the back that would not budge no matter how Chana and Ander pulled at them and a single door the same size as any of the homes back at the Great Lake had. As Chana pondered the building, its monolithic architecture, its relative isolation, she became more and more certain that it was intended to be a fortress of some kind or another. She ran her hands over the cool stone. She considered the vines that grew on it and wondered if they were not meant to be camouflage of a sort.
“What do you think?” Ander asked.
Chana was silent as she stood before the front door. It was simple and unadorned, with none of the symbolic carvings that had covered the door to the tomb. Whatever this building hid, it betrayed no secrets, made no promises.
“I think,” she said slowly, a smile gradually creeping across her face, “that we should see whats inside.”