The fourth floor. She found herself smiling as she headed up the “public” stairs. They had been cleaned up so much, she hardly recognized the area. Of course, Joaon would not have wanted tourists getting slid back outside or put into a long sleep, not if the purpose was to bring some money in and, it seemed, educate people on Kael, or on her legend.
She stopped to read a plaque she’d missed on the first time up.
Kaelingrade Torrent-Step started her career brewing simple potions for her local village, in a time when potions were the bulk of the magic available to the common people.
Below that was a description of one of her favorite healing potions. She wondered: were those no longer in use? Were the ingredients no longer considered proprietary? And what did that mean, potions were the bulk of the magic available to the common people?
She was going to need to do a lot of research, and she didn’t know how to go about it. Was her life’s work now useless?
Well, Kael, she told herself, you went to sleep for a thousand years because you were tired of being bothered. Perhaps it serves you right that now nobody will need to bother you.
Her internal voice had gotten quite sharp with her over the centuries, she noted.
The fourth floor was empty, because the fourth floor had been laid out with illusions and screens and shifting walls and all the other things that were designed to slow down all but the hardiest of heroes . That had been the first trap she’d put in. She wondered if Joaon had removed them, or if they had just been considered spare furniture when Mr. Vibius – or, presumably, his predecessor – had put in the gift shop.
Speaking of a maze of shifting walls and illusions, the gift shop appeared to be made almost entirely of glass cases, so that you could see through to the next display but not get there. A bored looking young man manned the counter, in a robe so much like her servants’ clothing that Kael had to look twice at him to be sure he wasn’t one of hers. No. He came from the Far Isles, from the looks of things – or his ancestors had, it having been a thousand years.
“You the new Kael?” He gave her a look she’d sent other men packing for, often doused in an unpleasant itching potion.
“That I am,” she agreed. “And you are-”
“Well, the nametag says Areonta, because that’s the guy that, I don’t know-”
“-procured everything for Kael, that is, Kaelingrade Torrent-Step, when her tower stood here.”
“Yeah, that’s what the brochure says. And they dressed like this, I guess. How they know that sort of thing about a legend, I don’t-” He trailed off, looking worried. “Oh, you’re native, aren’t you? I thought maybe you had just put on make-up for the look, but that’s really your… shit, I’m sorry.”
“As I understand it,” Kael said carefully, “It’s been over a thousand years since Kaelingrade Torrent-Step is said to have walked the halls of a tower like this. Even my people would likely suggest that was more myth than history, at that point.”
She was going to have to find ‘her people’ at some point, and sort out what “native” and “non-native” meant in this context. There seemed to be a lot of baggage attached to it, and she didn’t want to reveal herself before she had to.
The non-Areonta relaxed. “Oh, okay, sorry. So how do you think they know?”
“Well, if I were doing this, I’d use old stories and old paintings and I’d go from there. If you have ruins of one tower a city over, it’s easy enough to guess that all the towers were similar.”
“But how could they even build something this tall? I mean, okay, the natives – the natives I asked about this said ‘magic,’ but magic doesn’t do things like that. The last mages died out-” He hesitated. “…Oh. So our records say that the last mages died out two thousand years ago, but that’s way into the realm of myth, for one, and for another, that’s, ah, Eastern mages. I suppose when we came over here – our ancestors, I mean – we didn’t stop to ask when their mages had died out. Or if they had.”
“I imagine if they hadn’t, any sort of conquest would have been a lot harder.” Died out. That was interesting. She was going to have to do more research. “You seem to know a lot about this.”
“Well, I always was interested in pre-Conquest history, and this job pays better than anything else like it, anything I can get without a degree, I mean.”
I wanted to study the pre-Conquest ruins, but nobody would pay for that, and nobody would pay for the degree…
Kael smiled more warmly at him. “Is that so? I think there might be some really old stuff around here – let me do a little more looking. I don’t want to get fired my first day here.”
Now where had those words come from. Fired? Oh. She really had to get back into the habit of testing every ingredient. This potion was doing some strange things.
“Yeah? That would be neat, thanks. I mean, I know this place is supposed to be a museum, but half the time, Mr. Vibius has us just shilling whatever will make the most money, you know?” He gestured around the gift shop. “I mean, how much of this stuff could actually be pre-Conquest?”
Kael took a slow look around the shop. Most of it looked like gimcrack, useless things that had the name of the tower painted on them. But here and there. “Hrmm.” She opened a carefully-carved wood box. “The carving on this is pre-Conquest design.” She was growing to hate the word Conquest. Who had conquered her people, and why?
“Is it really? I thought those were made in the Ikitem Peninsula or something.”
“I cannot say where they were made-” Ikitem, Ikitem. She needed a map. “-but the designs are definitely pre-Conquest.”
“What, do you have a degree in this sort of thing?” And if you do, why are you here?
“I think the simplest answer to that is that I have practical experience. Now, I believe I should go back up to my post, before Mr. Vibius becomes annoyed.”
“Of course, of course. Uh – nice meeting you.” He waved uncertainly. “Have fun stirring the cauldron?”