To the Pyramids of Arkamanthali on Camel-Back
The Travelers Guide to Aqualon
Thadeus Fletcher, reporting in for his HJT column, "The Travelers Guide to Aqualon". I've got my explorer's hat on, do you?
Now, if you didn't read the previous column, fret not dear reader, here's the sitch: Leaving the Rastrowel port by Manastrat, I fearlessly traveled across the Corsic Ocean to write my travel guide for you, showing you the splendor of the world of Aqualon and getting to see it myself on the way. And before you ask: I am doing the Ocean Belt on my return trip; I thought heading for more exotic shores first would be the right way to go, so keep up, we are going for an adventure.
After reaching the rugged port of Blacksteel, the middle one from among the three Rusty Shore ports of Nankô, Blacksteel, and Ísenwyll, I do some gambling in one of the seedier bars, playing a few rounds of Age of Heroes, losing quite a few keys and my explorer's hat, which luckily I manage to win back later. These dock and steel workers are in the employ of one of the most powerful Steel Barons, Visvalen Aghul, who owns large parts of Blacksteel as well as a strip mining outpost, way out on the Iron Belt. They tell me that work is strange and dangerous: An odd power pulses through the iron and makes it extremely difficult to cut out of the ground, and only few tools and methods can do the job. Hauling the heavy metal blocks is a whole other story too.
Well, I can recommend not to scoff at the rugged appearance of the port: breathe it all in, dear reader, it is part of the traveling experience, and you'll mean hard-working, honest people here.
I leave Blacksteel on the back of a magnet roller, one of those wondrous vehicles that levitate on top of the Iron Belt, hovering several inches above the ground without touching it. The Borealians sold those to the Steel Barrons on the cheap, making them dependent on Borealis carbonic power cells. Clever weasels, those technocrats, I tell you that. Well, we take several detours, but, eventually, I reach the other Rusty Shore, the impressive Canyon of Khepri to my right, the mighty river Giranja before me, and the Red Sands to the left. By the gears, what a sight. The river is so wide, it boggles my mind. Even to the left where I see desert, wide bifurcations of the Giranja are the dominant scenery, and I am told it grows as wide as thirty miles or more in many parts. And the canyon, well... it's pretty big, and several large arms of the river cascade down in magnificent waterfalls, bringing such humidity and masses of nourishing water with them that much of the canyon is covered by thick, lush jungle, disrupted only by several tall fairy chimneys, the largest of which has an ominous, monumental sphere at its tip, and opencast mining operations run by the Kingdom of Arkatrash to mine for marble and red stone.
I pay off the captain of a tiny trade ship that is going upstream, and he recommends I stop off at a cousin's of his before heading for the great city of Arkatrash. Apparently, tourists like me like to take trips out into the desert to see the great Pyramids of Arkamanthali. Never heard of Arkamanthali? Well, it's been a while since that name has been in everybody's mouth, I can tell you that. They were a great line of paros, which is the title of the King of Arkatrash, though during their times they were empires, and the entire Red Sands were settled and fruitful. They arose during the Age of Awakening when the Lady of Water had been a native Arkatrashian and was proclaimed paro, bringing great fertility and growth to the empire. But in the Age of Heroes, my captain now turned tour guide tells me, they fell to the brink of ruin, and nowadays only the great city of Arkatrash remains. Well, that and the Pyramids of Arkamanthali, which are the only grand structures that weren't buried under the Red Sands over the course of many centuries.
Well, he got me riled up indeed. I pass him some extra keys and he recommends I exchange my remaining ones for Arkatrashian money in Arkatrash as it is more commonly accepted around the central Great Land. But first we stop by Jahse, the cousin of captain Hnas. The captain drops me off, and Jahse treats me to a lovely dinner with his wife and young son. We eat grilled viper stuffed with dates, which is a lot tastier than it sounds, and have a nice, refreshing drink of yrvq, which grows all the more difficult to pronounce when you chug a lot of it. With an interesting greenish hue, it is an alcoholic beverage, a sort of ale if you will, made from a special type of algae from the river.
In the morning, we leave on camel-back, an interesting experience to say the least. I have to say that it takes some getting used to, and the heat is staggering. But the endless red dunes do have their charm, gently rolling across the horizon like an ocean. It takes several hours before we reach a small outpost. It is located around a tiny oasis with a couple of palm and date trees, just two little white houses shared by a nice small family. They say that life isn't always easy, but travelers will pass through every few days to see the pyramids, and with them having access to life-giving water, they have carved out a secure living for themselves. They even dream of one day having a whole village arise around the small oasis. If it does, I shall return to inspect the progress they have made.
After staying the afternoon and night, Jahse and I move on, but have to stop by another oasis for the night before reaching the Pyramids of Arkamanthali by noon two days after we left his home at the banks of a western sidearm of the Giranja. Now we see them. What a glorious sight. This photograph can hardly do them justice, for they reach up far into the heavens above. Worn around the edges, but still standing tall and proud, these great pyramids were once the foundation of the Skyward Castles of the Arkamanthali Dynasty. Jahse apologizes, telling me that climbing the pyramids to inspect the old castles is forbidden since the locals as well as the Arkatrashian Government fear that such an act risks damaging the structures. While a bit unfortunate, I see where they are coming from, and seeing these magnificent monuments to human endeavor was well worth the trip. Clearly, the Great Land is the place to be when you are looking for impressive sights like this, and the Red Sands are an excellent starting point for your journey. Keep dreaming, and keep traveling. This column will continue soon, as I explore more of this wonderful world. T.F.