Fiction by: Jack Fine, Grade 12
It was a dark place, long forgotten, visited only by the occasional wayward soul or explorer wanting to reveal its secrets. The archaeologists had stopped coming long ago, the great exploration parties left before them, and the last attempt to resettle the region was centuries ago. Now it stands looming on the horizon, abandoned since time immemorial but refusing to vanish completely. The land itself is deformed, the once flat lower city has sunken into a series of hills and valleys, and the great hill upon which the central palace once stood was rent apart by an ancient cataclysm, producing a rift in the land that swallowed most of the palace and many of the surrounding buildings. All that remains of the palace is a portion of the white marble walls, stretching as a square for a few blocks, and the part of the dome, its gilding long since stripped by looters and many of its bricks fallen into the chasm. If you were to stand on the edge of the chasm you would smell a scent of brimstone and fire, filling your nostrils, causing your eyes to water, and making you want to gag. A crackling sound like a nest of burning coals emanates from the chasm, and every few hours the sounds flare up increasing in speed and intensity, and a deep rumbling comes out. If you were to look down the chasm all you would see would be an orange glow hundreds of meters beneath you. Those who visited the site when it was still accessible have written that staring down the chasm is like staring into the mouth of hell itself, and many since have concluded that devils and demons were the cause of the chasm’s creation.
The great towers of the city shoot into the sky like the legs of a vast overturned insect, blackened by the ages and crumbling, bending over on themselves, the original smooth stone and marble only visible to those who study the towers close up, blackened and obscured by soot, wind and rain. Now moss grows on some of these towers, its soft, spongy texture a harsh contrast to the rough and broken stone of the tower itself. When looking at the towers one can still see the arched windows and gaping doorways, the doors long since rotted off, their balconies crumbled away. The remains of the stonework that adorned the towers is also visible, but as the towers have corroded, bent and crumbled, the designs too have become distorted so that now they just appear as alien designs and the statues as hellish and broken monstrosities.
Of the rest of the city, more remains. The houses loom above those who venture into the streets, casting a shadow over them and giving the feeling that they have entered a place that was not meant for them and which does not want them. In the slums, located just within the walls of the city, the remains of thousands of houses stand as a deterrent and warning to intruders. The walls of the houses are composed of brick and cement and are held up by wooden frames, with roofs made of large slabs of stone. In the aeons since the houses were last lived in the wooden supports have long since either rotted away or petrified, leaving a substance hard as rock and smooth to the touch in their place. When the beams that did not fossilize first rotted away, they took the houses with them. The streets still carry with them a faint scent of decay, emanating from the scrubs and bushes that are always rotting away. It is a faint scent, but when the cold wind blows through the streets the putrid smell intensifies so that seasoned explorers will cover their mouths with scarves.
Most of the houses have fallen in on themselves or lean against their neighbours, creating an effect like a crumbled castle wall, broken and falling over but still a continuous whole, blocking the way of those who don’t travel through the gaps. The slabs of the roofs have suffered a similar fate: many of them have fallen into the streets as their houses bent, driving into the soft earth of the road and bending the ground into even worse footing than it was when the city thrived. Now, as one walks the streets, they can feel the broken rock beneath their feet, poking out to trip them or giving way to make them fall. The slabs also make obstacles out of their bodies, requiring any would-be explorer to crawl over and around them if they hope to progress. Those slabs which haven’t fallen have slid across the narrow streets and crashed into the upper levels of the opposite houses, firmly lodging themselves within the walls. The slabs stretching across the gaps between the buildings form a canopy over the narrow streets, leaving a motley collection of light and shadows akin to a forest floor.
Little is known about the rest of the city, as the only writings that survive deal largely with the palace and the only features visible from the outside are the towers. Expeditions into the interior of the city have proved fruitless as all who ventured farther than the slums have disappeared. It is said that there is a great beast within the inner city that kills and eats all who venture within. A mess of claws and fangs incomprehensible to those who have not seen it, this beast is said to pursue its prey relentlessly until it has fed. Others dismiss this story as myth and maintain that the labyrinthine nature and lack of places to get supplies are to blame. Regardless of the cause exploration of this city is a hopeless endeavour, its mysteries lost to the ages.