“You and your ridiculous ideas,” Alice’s voice lilted as the carriage rumbled across the rough, unpaved roads. Magnavius ignored her and instead concentrated on the other sounds: the way the carriage groaned and creaked around them as it struggled to absorb the impacts of the road.
The carriage leaned and all three passengers were forced to bend in the opposite direction so as to stay upright on their seats. This forced Chisholm to glance up from the book he was reading and he glanced between his travelling companions with a wry smile.
“The ruin forms part of a larger structure in honour of Asmeph,” said Alice. She didn’t add hmmpf to the end of her sentence because it was—indisputably—inferred. Asmeph was a fertility goddess worshipped long ago in the Nacreev.
For years, the region had been closed off to foreign visitors, but thanks to a gradual thawing in tensions between the Nacreev and its surrounding nation-states (all of which were in thrall to the Great and Glorious Empire of Her Royal Highness) these restrictions had lessened. In response, universities from Caladon had started sending students in battered carriages across unpaved roads in order to study sites in the area.
In only three years there had been several major discoveries. A stone monkey (no monkeys lived in the Nacreev now), dozens of rusted metal mechanisms (their utility unknown) and at least one shrine in honour of Asmeph.
The first photographs of the fertility goddess had caused quite a stir when they had appeared in the newspapers; for even in blurry half-shadow on grey paper, the image of the hitherto unseen Goddess was certainly provoking: her broad shoulders, enormous breasts and erect nipples spoke of a fierce, independent sexuality.
And although neither Magnavius or Chisholm could not wholly understand why (though, of course, Alice understood) the statue had become a sort of feminist icon back in Caladon, such that Her Majesty’s government was already in talks to “procure” the statue for the state museum. Of course, several politicians from the Nacreev region would be compensated.
Alice had already started writing her thesis on Asmeph, which was why she was so determined that the ruins they were heading to investigate would be dedicated to the goddess. Should her wishful thinking prove accurate she would almost be guaranteed grant money in order to conduct her research.
The lads, however, were of a different mind. Magnavius believed the newly-unearthed structure was, perhaps, a greater temple devoted to a number of different deities. Chisholm, on the other hand, well… nobody ever really knew what Chisholm thought. He spoke little and his face was usually hidden by the cover of some obscure book.
In truth, none of them were certain what to expect from the ruins. Only a few muddy photographs had made it out from the dig site and even the descriptions had been vague: the one thing that they had in common was that they referred to the ancient structure as a wall: the Wall of Tet they called it, for Tet was the name of the village above the ruin.
Magnavius thought back to Professor Emlin’s notes:
A brick wall buried beneath the ground, each brick inscribed with numerous letters from a runic alphabet that is yet to be identified.
Although the façade of the wall itself is said to be impressive, granting as it does a vision of a completed structure from another time, your studies are to focus not only on the wall and its construction, but also to seek out such signs of habitation, ritual devices, or other inscriptions within the vicinity.
Magnavius knew at least three additional tunnels had been excavated so far—all of them leading away from the wall. Each attempt to dig in the areas directly around it had revealed only more bricks; indicating that the Wall of Tet was much larger than first suggested.
Then, at last, the carriage stopped and they were being ushered out by men wearing rifles on their backs and ceremonial swords at their waists. A plump woman beamed at them as they exited the carriage.
“Yes, yes,” she said. “And here are the fine students from Caladon.”