Transcript – The Forgotten
[The Pensive Tower theme plays]
Scroll & Dagger presents
The Pensive Tower
Episode Nine: The Forgotten
[A click, and the strange whirring of the venoscribe begins]
This is the memory of Betny Kanarook. Taurox, aged twenty-nine, identified as female. Memory regards an archaeological discovery in the Dogr region of the Wind Islands, and was donated on the twenty-first of Stillsky, in the year 726. Inscribed by Paxton Ferox on the fourth of Baretree, 729.
So much history is unknown to us. Think about it, the written records only go back a few hundred years before Unification. That’s barely a thousand years of properly documented history. That’s nothing! The church can prattle on about oral traditions all it likes, doesn’t change the fact that so much has been lost and forgotten.
It’s incredible to think how much more we might know, how much more advanced we might be, if we had some record of the Time Before. Sure, we have legends from back then and, if you look at the similarities it is sometimes possible to piece together certain events but it’s not the same as have real primary sources from those times. But I don’t need to tell you people that, do I? I mean that’s what this place is for, right? To make sure nothing is forgotten if anything like the Collapse happens again.
Sorry, I’m wasting your time.
I’m a historian, in case you hadn’t already guessed, though my real passion is archaeology. The written histories are all well and good but it’s in the ruins and artefacts left behind that we can really see the lives that our ancestors lived.
I knew I wanted to get into history ever since I was a little girl. I was born and raised in Romia, a small city in Sangland, but when I was about five, my mother got too old for her Tor’s liking and was dismissed. She then had two choices: either try and join a new harem, with a child in tow, or leave and make a new life elsewhere.
She chose the latter and brought me to Senteria. While we were waiting at customs, one of the guards gave me this dog-eared old book to read. It was full of old stories and legends and, just like that, I was hooked. When I got the opportunity to go and study Ancient History and Archaeology at Windcourt University, I jumped at the chance.
Cut to ten years later and I was out with a First undergraduate degree and a Master’s Degree and was preparing to study for my doctorate.
But first I needed to get more practical field work under my belt. I had plenty of research experience but nothing to show that I could apply what I knew in a practical way. So, I began looking for digs that I could get involved with.
I know I spoke a bit about how little we know of our own history, but truth be told we are living in something of a golden age of archaeological discovery. Every year, more things are coming to light and the Federal Government seems especially eager to fund archaeological digs.
The upshot of this is that there were a fair few digs ongoing around the Federation that needed research assistants who didn’t mind getting their hands dirty.
My attention was drawn to one that was going on in the Wind Islands Archipelago. There’d been some kind of shift in the tidal currents, or something like that, a few years ago which had left this area of land that had been a mile off the coast of the Dogr islands suddenly high and dry. Some local fisherman had gone out there and discovered some old ruins, obviously weathered by years under water, but still definitely there.
The dig had been organised and funded by the Westrock University but when I sent my request to join the dig it was granted pretty quickly. I guess they needed all the help they could get but even so I was surprised at just how keen they seemed to be to have me on the dig.
I became a lot less surprised when, after enduring nearly a month-long journey by cart and boat to get out there to the Dogr Islands, I saw exactly the kind of place it was. I’d been told to expect more extreme weather than I was used to but I was certainly not expecting the deluge that hit me in the face when I stepped off the boat.
The Dogr Islands are right at the far westward side of the archipelago and are exposed to strong wind and rain from off the sea, especially in the autumn months.
Obviously, this presented a problem. The site was, at least on the surface, a few worn down stone pillars set in a formation that might indicate some kind of great hall or maybe a temple. But that was just what we could see, who knew what there might be under the ground around the site. And there was no guarantee that the tide wouldn’t shift again and bury it all under water. But excavating in heavy rain and strong wind is… tricky to say the least and if the trenches started filling up with water, that could damage the as yet unearthed artefacts. So, we needed to work fast to preserve as much of what was there as we could.
I was hard at work pretty much an hour after arrival and kept at it for the next few days. Any time we were not working in a trench, it was covered with one of the numerous tarpaulins that the initial team had brought with them.
It wasn’t constant rain and wind, thank the Three, in fact for quite a few days we had some pretty glorious sunshine. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to enjoy it because the Lead Archaeologist on site decided this would be a limited window of opportunity and pushed us to work twice as hard to make the most of the break in the weather.
It was the right decision but that didn’t stop the lot of us giving him some pretty angry looks when he wasn’t looking.
The lead was named Professor Yethro Kunum. He was a pencori, so he knew a thing or two about nautical weather. He spent a lot of his time watching the sky when he wasn’t pouring over the charts and documents that cluttered his desk. I’d only spoken to him once, which was when I’d first arrived. He’d given me my plot and the equipment I was to use and told me to get to it. Since then, he’d stayed in the mobile office, a big tent that had been erected near the dig site, or else moving through the trenches, looking over what we were doing.
The weather was changeable, to say the least, we’d have a few days of hot sun only to be hit by monsoon winds the next day.
This went on for a few weeks. Progress was good but I could tell Professor Kunum wasn’t seeing the results he wanted.
I was as determined as he was to see the dig succeed. This was exactly the sort of thing my application needed and I wanted to make sure I had something worth writing about to put in.
I thought I might have found that something when I stumbled upon what I took at first to be a small idol.
We’d had a few finds by that time, some pottery and bits of stone work but nothing really noteworthy. I thought I’d found something that would be the first indication of what this place really was.
I approached it carefully. It had rained the night before so the ground was claggy and thick so a brush wasn’t going to be much use; but I had a small trowel which I used to gently scrape away the excess mud.
As I unearthed the thing, it looked to me more and more like some kind of idol. It was no bigger than my fist and made of the same grey stone as the pillars that stood on the surface and, as far as I could tell, it was fixed to the floor which would explain why it had not been carried away by tide or the currents. It looked like a small person; their features hidden by a deep hood. Their arms were crossed over their torso, as if they were laid in a coffin. But, after I’d brushed the last of the mud away, I saw that, in its right hand, it was holding what looked like a key.
That key suddenly glowed white. I heard this shifting of stone and the ground around me began moving. Then a fissure began to form as the ground started falling down into this opening chasm. I thought for a moment that it was an earthquake or a sinkhole and I scrabbled away from the widening pit.
But then, as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. There was a loud noise, a sort of clunk, like something heavy falling into place and then everything was still.
I carefully crawled to the edge of the hole and looked down. To my surprise, I saw a stone set of stairs leading down into gloomy blackness. The hole had apparently been caused by the opening of some kind of automated trap door.
I know that sounds insane. The ruin was more than a thousand years old, there’s no way any kind of mechanism would still function after that length of time, to say nothing of the damage that the salt water would have caused. But… it did function. Perfectly. And there was a staircase.
I know I should have gone to Professor Kunum. I did look around but no one was nearby. I think they must have gone to lunch or something. I should have gone to find someone but… I know it was stupid… but I couldn’t resist. This was potentially the archaeological find of the decade, if not greater. Who knew what might be down there? I had to see it.
So, I grabbed a torch and some matches from my bag and carefully began descending the steps.
All that earth that had been lying on top of the door had obviously fallen onto the stairs so the surface was now soft and uneven so made sure I had firm footing on each step before I transferred my weight to the next one. It probably didn’t actually take that long but, to me, it felt like ages.
Every second I was worried someone was going to discover the hole and see me down there. Now that I was down there, I dreaded that most of all. If I was discovered, there was a chance I’d be kicked off the project or, worse in my opinion, I wouldn’t be credited with the discovery.
Finally, I reached the bottom. I suppose I was expecting to find a long, narrow corridor stretching out before me, disappearing into darkness, maybe splitting off into a few different choices to leave me lost and confused. But it wasn’t like that at all. There was a corridor that led into the gloom but I could see a faint light ahead. Even so, I used one of my matches to light the torch before I began.
The first thing I saw was that the corridor was made of well-cut stone. The second was that it was bone dry. I had half expected it to be still underwater or at the very least overgrown with sea plants. But it was as if it had spent no time underwater at all. That door, whatever it was, had kept the place perfectly sealed all the years it had been down there.
The air was cold and stale. Not surprising, I suppose. If the door was strong enough to keep out the water, it definitely would’ve kept all the air in.
I trod carefully. I had heard all those old stories about booby traps and pressure plates in ancient tombs. Obviously, most of the time, there’s no truth to them, but that mechanical door had got me second guessing what I thought I knew… at least, in this particular place.
Fortunately, there were no traps; no hidden spike pits or poison darts shot from the walls. I walked down the corridor without anything happening except the echoes of my footprints getting slightly louder as I approached the other end.
That made sense a few seconds later when I reached the other end and looked out into an immense open chamber. It was lit, after a fashion, by a shaft of light that came in through a circular hole in the ceiling. It was then reflected around the room by a system of mirrors that cast the room into a kind of gloomy half-light.
It was completely dry in here too. I’m not sure how. Surely if that hole up in the ceiling, wherever it was up on the surface, if it could let in light, it would have let in the sea water.
But, no, here too the place was dry.
By the dim light of those mirrors, I began looking around to see if I could determine just what exactly this place was.
There was plenty to see. Mosaics lined the walls of the chamber, each one showing a curious pattern or design that I didn’t recognise. There were pages showing a script I couldn’t identify, preserved beneath glass. But what my attention went to, what I went to examine first, was at the centre of the chamber.
There, in the middle of that huge space, was an empty circle perhaps twenty paces across. It looked to me like it might be a space for oration, maybe for a priest or some other high-ranking person to address a crowd.
Standing around the edge of this circle were seven tall statues.
They looked a little like the one I had found above ground, the one that I’m pretty sure opened that door and let me in. But these were nearly fifteen feet tall and carved from, I think, black marble. They were… Well, quite a bit more imposing than the little one I’d found earlier.
These statues also wore deep hoods that obscured their faces as well as long, thick cloaks. Because of this, it was impossible to tell if the subjects were supposed to be men or women, or even whether they were human or one of the other peoples. All I could see of them were their legs, just visible beneath the cloaks and wearing high boots, and their arms which reached out from beneath their cloaks to grasp the hilts of long, double-edged swords.
The swords were the only way I could see that the statues really differed from each other. The only similarity was that they all looked very odd. One held a sword that was almost as thin as a poker, while another held one with a more rippled blade. There was another that looked like it had been sculpted to resemble clouds.
Each sword was just as strange as the last, and each was held in the grasp of one of the those intimidating cloaked figures that seemed to glare down at me, despite their hidden faces, as I stood at the centre.
The sight of them stirred a memory, something from my childhood. Stories that my mother had told me and my younger brother before bedtime, back when we both enjoyed those old fairy tales. The stories of the marraman heroes. It was hard not to think about those stories as I looked up at those grand and austere figures.
It was as I was turning on the spot, taking in those statues, that I saw again the mosaics I had noticed when I had first entered; the ones that had seemed to show a strange pattern. I had only glanced at them before but I now saw that they all, in fact, showed the same design. Three broken circles, one inside the other, with the outermost circle resting atop the base of what I think was a stylised arrow head that pointed downwards towards the floor.
There were seven of these mosaics, each one positioned so that, if you were standing at the centre of the chamber, as I was, it would align with the back of one of the cloaked statues.
Curious, I walked to one of the mosaics, to take a closer look by the light of my torch. There was another symbol, at the centre of the innermost, smallest circle. It was a small teardrop design, though it was red so I’m pretty sure it was meant to be a drop of blood.
I moved onto the next mosaic. There was a different design at the middle of this one. I think it was supposed to be some kind of animal tooth, like a wolf’s fang or something like that. Only it wasn’t bone coloured, or even white. It was black.
I carried on around the mosaics, each one had a different symbol in the middle. A bronze set of scales, two entwined emerald snakes, an eye with a pitch-black pupil and iris, a scroll and finally an open hand with fingers pointed downwards.
I had no idea what they meant. I still don’t. I can’t find any reference to those symbols being used by any organisation in any written history I can find. But, like I said, there’s a lot of history that we’ve forgotten.
I made the decision to head back then. I’d been down there too long already, some of the others would probably be looking for me by now. I had satisfied my curiosity and I knew I should go back to the surface and tell Professor Kunum what I had found.
And that was pretty much the moment that I realised I couldn’t see the door I’d come in by anymore.
I don’t mean that it was obscured by the gloom or anything like that, I was looking right at the place I had come in by. The door just wasn’t there anymore. It was just a stretch of blank wall.
I rushed over, pressing my hand against the stonework, hoping it was some kind of illusion or trick, maybe a panel had slid over the entrance while I wasn’t looking, merely obscuring the tunnel. But no, no matter how much I pushed or hammered, the wall remained there and very much solid.
I started to panic a little at this point. This chamber was an incredible find but that did not mean I wanted to be trapped down here and become part of it. I began searching desperately for another way out, any way out.
I think it was as soon as I thought that, that I noticed another door that I had not seen earlier, that I was certain had not been there before.
Maybe it wasn’t the best idea but, at that point, I didn’t see any better options.
I left the big circular chamber and found myself in a long, open hallway. The mirror light was here too but, as well as that, at the far end of the corridor, I saw there was a huge ornate window which was filled with light. Not sunlight, I’m certain of that. We were too far underground for that to be possible. It was a pale, pure white light that shone through the window, obscuring anything that might lie on the other side.
There were more statues in the corridor. Not as tall as the ones in the circle chamber, only six or maybe seven feet tall, though these ones stood on plinths so they still towered over me as I walked down the corridor.
These figures also wore those hooded cloaks, though they were not as deep as the first ones had been so it was possible to catch glimpses of features within the depths of the cowl. One had the pig-like nose and tusks of an orklin, another had reptilian features, I think it was a diman since a drakarian would surely have been bigger. I also saw one with horns curving up out of the cowl, making it a bull-taurox. That was pretty crazy. I’d never heard of any bull leaving Sangland, so what would one, even one made of stone, be doing here?
These ones also all held weapons, but they weren’t all swords. One bearded figure had his hands resting on the head of a huge, long handled hammer while the bull-taurox I’d seen was holding what looked like a double headed pole-axe. I won’t waste your time telling you about every statue, partly because I don’t remember all of them, but what I really wanted to tell you about was the mosaic I found in that corridor.
It wasn’t another of those circle designs. This one ran the full length of the corridor and seemed to depict… Well, I think it was a chronicle of the people who had used this place.
On the far left, I could see people, dressed in what I can only describe as very old fashion, in tunics and dustcoats and woollen hoods. Their faces looked fearful and they were running away. Behind them, looming over them were fearful looking creatures. Some I recognised as khirrocs, I had the chance to see a dead one once in Windcourt’s biology department. But others I had no idea about. Some looked vaguely human but with huge wings and vicious features and others looked like nothing I’d seen before, impossible things that I was sure couldn’t exist in nature. Bizarre geometric shapes that stared with eyes that were too real and yet too unreal.
All these and more loomed over the people.
But then, from this dark scene arose a mountain, at the top of which stood now familiar images, the tall warriors in hooded cloaks. They wielded weapons of fire and darkness itself, hammers that sent out lightning bolts and axes that shone with light. To the right of this image, I saw these warriors attacking the monsters. That part got pretty… Graphic. There was a lot of beheading and dismemberment.
But then, to the right of this image, the warriors were depicted as triumphant, holding their weapons aloft as the sun shone behind them and the people cheered.
Looking at that mosaic, all those old stories came back to mind. And, I know how this sounds, but in that moment, I became convinced that what I’d found was some ancient meeting place or temple of the marraman.
It made a kind of sense, I mean, all those stories had to come from somewhere. Perhaps they hadn’t been exactly as they were in the tales but there had to have been a seed of truth that grew into all those stories. And, if it was that, then this might be one of the most momentous finds in the history of the Federation.
I swallowed my excitement, reminded myself that I still needed to find a way out. I turned my attention back to the corridor.
It ended in a short set of stairs that led up to a raised, circular platform that adjoined the wall with the shining window.
I climbed up the steps. There were two more statues at the top, one on either side. Each held a long spear that looked like the ones you’d use for hunting wild boar, held out so the blades touched over my head.
The platform was empty except for a strange symbol inlaid into the floor in the very centre.
It looked like some kind of rune, but I’m not a linguist or a typographer or anything like that so I can’t say what language it might be from. Witness, it might not have been a rune at all, I have no idea.
What I do know is, as I drew close, the thing began glowing. Now, I’ve heard enough stories to know that strange glowing symbols are best avoided so I turned to get out of there. Or rather, I tried to. My feet were frozen to the floor. I couldn’t move.
There was a flash of light, so bright that I was blinded for a moment.
The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground, staring at the sky. I heard a shout of alarm and turned to see Alayna, one of the other archaeologists on the team, running over to me. She said I’d been missing for a day.
I was dazed. I looked around and saw that I was back where I’d been when I’d found that little statue. But that statue, and the door down into that cavern… They were both gone.
The Marraman. I remember hearing those stories when I was a child. Merium and her companions, Haykn the Beast Slayer, Geherant the Good. It certainly would be rather exciting to find out there was some truth to those tales, that such people might have once existed.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear any evidence will be forthcoming any time soon. The dig reports show the excavation around the temple site found various examples of pre-Dark Age pottery and assorted other artefacts, but if this secret underground part of the temple was ever found again, it was kept out of official reports.
We contacted Ms Kanarook. She told us she was never able to find the underground chamber again but remained confident that the information donated was accurate to her memory.
Westrock Univerity is still conducting surveys in the Dogr region of the Wind Islands, so I suppose we shall have to wait and see if anything like what Ms Kanarook remembers turns up again.
[The venoscribe clicks, and the whirring stops.]
[The end theme plays and the Announcer recites the credits.]