Most of the torches lining the gray, stone walls of the corridor leading to the Hall of Archives still burned brightly. A few had sputtered out in random spots, leaving small patches of darkness along the long gallery where their light no longer reached. To anyone standing at its entrance staring down the long passageway, each of these islands of solitary darkness reaching up to the arched, barrel vaulted ceiling gave the illusion that there was nothing to keep it from crashing down into the space below. This was, of course, only an illusion. The stone ribs forming the arches had been fashioned of hard, diamond-like almand stone, taken from the quarries at Tower Mount and locked into their keystones to such exacting tolerances, millennia would pass without them slipping even a fraction of an inch.
If that weren’t enough, the bricks set into the open spaces between the arches had been laid in an interlocking pattern of such ingenious design that even though the weight of tons of rock pressed relentlessly down on top of them, instead of weakening, the arched vaults were forced tighter together, increasing their strength and load bearing capacity.
At the end of the corridor, the large pair of thick bronze-and-copper doors at the entrance of the Hall of Archives barred the way. Once polished gleaming and bright, they were now green with patina, blackened with age, and crusted with the dust of centuries. Twenty four large, round, deeply carved bas relief plates – twelve per door – had been set into twelve individual panels framed in vines of ivy.
Fashioned from the same material as the doors, the delicate, copper-plated ivy leaves and tendrils had turned dark green with a rich and deep patina, bestowing upon them the look of actual, living plants. Each large round disk bore the profile of the head of a man. Each man had a different face and wore a different garb. But whether they depicted real men now long dead, or simply representations of mystical heroes from ancient stories, was knowledge long lost.
The doors themselves were thick and heavy – far too large for one man to push open, although it had been of an age since anyone forced them to swing on their hinges. On the far side of the doors, the Hall of Archives was so large that it gave the illusion of a vast and endless cavern, and that perception would have been an accurate one, since that was what it had once been. For even though hundreds of workers, craftsmen and artisans labored to make it a grand, beautiful, and imposing place, it’s designers simply followed the blueprint nature created and allowed it to follow the shape and size of the large rock-walled cavern within which it had been fashioned.
Almand stone had also been laid to cover the rough stone walls of the cavern, and an equally ingenious series of arches and vaulted ceilings hung – some might say floated – high above the great naturally-created and man-enhanced space, designed so that there was not one pillar holding up the large expanse of stone and brick even though it was deep below ground and the relentless pressure exerted upon it was great. Just as in the corridor, light from many torches illuminated the great hall. They’d blazed brightly for the many centuries without tending, but like all things under the unwavering eye of time, some of them had eventually burned out. Yet enough of them burned to light the hall as brightly as if the sun were shining into it through a hundred large windows.
Deep in the inner recesses of the hall, a small circular stairway led twenty feet down into the crypt. At the bottom of the stairs was a small antechamber with a single small bronze-and-copper door. It was decorated with intricate patterns and shapes, but unlike the twin doors leading into the hall, it bore no representations of people, places or things.
On either side of the door large stone figures, at least seven feet in height, stood like silent sentinels. The figures had the appearance of gargoyles or even demons. Each had been fashioned from a single large block of the same dark gray stone. Both the figures were carved to look imposingly tall and very strong – much taller, broader and more muscular than the most powerful man.
A final emphasis that they were, in fact, not men, could be seen by looking at what rested atop their shoulders; their heads had an animal-like appearance, as if the sculptor had used the image of a bull as his model in carving their heads and the faces. Broad flat noses, wide faces and a prognathus jaw line created a disturbing impression. The short, slightly curved horns that emerged from their foreheads only added to the perception, while the short, stubby, leather-like wings that sprouted from their shoulder blades reinforced the image of a gargoyle.
Beyond the bronze doors lay the crypt, enveloped in total darkness. A small space that had been laboriously carved out of the rock, it did not have the smooth almand stone veneer of the hall above. The builders had chosen to leave the natural rock exposed, its rough surface pitted with the marks of the tools used to form it. But although the walls were unadorned, they were coated with a glass-like material that showed the rock surface underneath it, while preventing direct contact.
Light illuminating the space would have revealed hundreds of holes forming small niches carved into the rock, giving it the illusion of being a great honeycomb fashioned by giant bees. A few of the niches were empty, but inside most sat a single gray urn. The urns, cast from sarullium – an alloy of exotic and rare metals – each held the ashes of a single person, but without any mark or name inscribed, the identity of each urn’s occupant was unknown. The black and silent crypt – like the hall above it – had gone millennia without a single person entering it. And with the door sealed, not one speck of light had disturbed the darkness that enveloped it.
In one of the far corners of the crypt, a small flicker of light appeared. Slowly, it grew to form a tiny red glow. Once the glow became steady and strong, another flicker appeared to form a second red glow a few inches from the first. When that too was bright and strong, a third and finally a fourth blinked to life and the dark and silent crypt took on an eerie glow as the dull red light reflected off the urns holding the ashes of the dead.