Like many of our plans, the joint Calendar excursion was doomed before it started. And it never even technically got started. Instead, I ended up going exploring with Harry, Felegum, and Harry. I wasn’t entirely sure why Zeno hadn’t come, but he hadn’t.
Things were pretty clear as we set out, and the four of us traveled through a sector of the city filled with bars and temples. I tried to find familiar places and had no luck, still thinking about Kalends and those legs. To be fair, Harry seemed lost in his own thoughts too.
“We can’t be predictable,” Helli said as we walked. “We can’t hit the same house twice.”
We moved in a meandering way, as dictated by our distractedness as by any sense of place. It wasn’t until Helli pointed out some markings to me that I snapped back into focus. They read something like “rejected”, and the carvings themselves looked relatively unbothered against the derelict city.
The two of us managed to find another set elsewhere, though we got less lucky here and neither of us knew what these second ones meant. This annoyed me, both because I wasn’t totally chill with Helli at the moment and I also just wanted to be cool.
Felegum, who had been watching the skies, sucked in a breath. “Hide, get down!”
We obeyed, and seconds later and chunky shadow passed overhead. Atarka.
We all held still until she passed, circling overhead and then landing on the central pyramid’s golden tip, curling around it like a cat.
Two hours of stealth later, we were still no closer to getting anywhere than we’d been before. We’d encountered a few packs of wandering, animated dead, but they hadn’t had any of those strange scroll case-like things that we’d seen before.
What we did find, though, was a brewery. Two massive metal kegs stood adjacent to one wall, and someone made a joke about Harry fitting into barrels that I didn’t quite get because I was too busy looking at this place.
One window was broken, and coming at the structure from an alleyway, it almost seemed like its own kind of monster– a bulky behemoth cutting a shadow into the sky above.
“We have to,” Helli said. “Zeno would not forgive us if we didn’t.”
We took a two-pronged approach. Helli would take to the roof via a ladder along one side of the building, investigating for supplies above or any ways in that way. Meanwhile, Harry and I would head in through the basement door while Felegum kept watch for both groups. I wondered briefly if he missed Dronie for moments like this, having a companion to pass the time with.
I couldn’t spend too much time focusing on other people being sad because I had traps to search for on the basement door. Luckily for us, there were none, but at least my trained eye was on the job. Also, the door was open.
Inside the cellar it was dusty and full of cubbies, probably once intended for staff to deposit their personal belongings before beginning their shifts.
I looked for shoes, for obvious reasons. I didn’t find any. I supposed that kind of made sense. People probably would have the foresight to bring their shoes with them when going home.
Or fleeing their workplace after an infestation of the undead.
Harry was making signals to Felegum that we were going deeper into the basement, but this was immaterial to me. I was checking through clothes, artefacts of a life that had frozen many months ago. As I searched, I found a piece of paper and unfolded it.
It was a note, in childish handwriting, with the words “be safe, daddy, it’s scary.”
Below the inscription was a little stick figure family: one child, two parents, and a bird on the kid’s shoulder.
I folded the note back up and tucked it into a pocket.
We moved toward the next door, me realizing that probably there was nothing else to be found in here besides petty change and sad notes from little kids and Harry looking like he’d heard something. I confidently opened this next door and a cascade of wooden planks fell in front of us. We stopped, waiting, fearing the worst.
But there was nothing. Just a makeshift barricade. The brewery returned to its quiet.
We walked on through a thin hallway with doors branching off of it and traditional knotted barriers. Harry edged in front of me to, I don’t know, protect me from splinters or something, because all we found were more casks, barrels, and broken bits of wood. At some point, Felegum came in, having heard the commotion and wanting to know if anything was amiss. He quickly joined her search.
Harry tried to open the next door, but it was locked or something, so he moved on. I followed, noting the door for later inspection, and ended up in what seemed to be a larger, shared office space with Harry and Felegum. There were desks, notebooks, and a black stain dripping down one wooden cabinet that I hoped was ink.
Also, there were no chairs.
Further investigation of the papers showed that these were inventories. All of it was in Csipherian.
“Wow,” I said. “They had really bad handwriting.”
I flipped back a while in the ledgers and the handwriting was pristine. Checking the date revealed the shift had occurred two, maybe three years in the past. “Oh.”
Harry had retreated to the locked door he’d found earlier and was knocking back and forth with someone else through the wood. Assuming it was either Helli or Felegum since the monk didn’t seem worried, I headed back down the hallway until a strange mark caught my eye by the railing of some stairs going down.
I squinted at it, because it looked like an underground crime guild.
Except that I was in an underground crime guild and I didn’t recognize this logo. This wasn’t Calendar.
But it was affiliated or tangential to some other force that had moved through my city at some time. Exactly what that was was a question for later. I continued down the hall and toward another rope curtain. Pushing past it revealed rows and rows of wine.
It was dark in there and I wasn’t about to go exploring on my own when everyone was so jumpy, so I just took a bottle from close to the entrance and stuck it in my backpack for later. Zeno would be thrilled. Many of the bottles were picked over, but there were a solid number toward the back of the room that were untouched.
Discovering that Helli had, it seemed, pulled the nails out of the door to reunite with Harry and the rest of us, I showed her the strange symbol by the stairs to see if it rung any bells for her. Together, we were able to determine that it had something to do with “ocean” or “rain” but also maybe “construction”, which was weird.
Harry was walking around the place, trying to figure out if the brewery had a water hook-up and if so, where it was, when Helli stopped mid-conversation with me and froze.
“Oh my god,” she said, “that chest! It definitely had a hidden compartment! I have to go back.”
She was already halfway out the door and on her way back to the private office above us by the time she finished speaking.
And sure enough, when she returned, it was with a sheaf of papers, an absolute richness of maps all cut into little segments.
“Is this–” Felegum leaned in to examine it more closely– “a map of the catacombs?”
I looked over his shoulder. “Sure looks like it.”
Helli held up another note that had accompanied the segmented, torn-up maps. “Is this in Csipherian?”
I gestured for it. “I can try reading it.”
It was definitely Csipherian but it was also just nonsense. Like, the writer was clearly in love with whoever they were writing to and it seemed reciprocated, but damn, some people were just really weird about affectionate terms. Make fun of me as you might, I’m not sure I would ever refer to someone as a “darling rodent” or an “amicable tenderloin.”
Helli handed me and the others some gold “for our troubles” and I noticed her better mood now that we’d been able to find things again. Maybe I couldn’t convince her that Csipherus was savable, but maybe for now easy pickings would be enough.
I looked back at the letter and sighed. “Who the hell would want to embrace a grain silo? Where the hell do we even have grain silos?”
Then I stopped.
“This is a code,” I said. “But I’m not getting it yet.”
Felegum got excited and eagerly offered to help, peppering me with Csipherian linguistics questions. Harry and Helli said they’d head out to bring the others here from the sewer hideout, and on her way out Helli mentioned an interesting mural she’d found in the main office on the floors above us.
It had been a god, massive in size, enthusiastically holding up a glass of beer with a crown of hops on his head.
“Beer god brewery,” Felegum said. “Nice.”