Polo sat in the shade of a leafy tree and watched as the scholars debated. From the way their arms were beginning to move above their heads and the snatches of words that were reaching him, it was apparent the debate was getting very heated. As usual, Polo was relieved that wasn’t his job. He hated most regular conversations, let alone fights.
“What are they still talking about?” Nert asked. As the debate got more and more…involved, Nert had gotten equally agitated. He was now pacing around the tree and Polo quick enough to kick up dirt. Polo knew this was only going to get worse and hoped the scholars would hurry the fuck up.
“It’s a big sign, Nert,” Polo said. “And it’s not a language I’ve seen before.”
“Of course you haven’t seen it! You’re a fucking hunter! They should have figured it out by now!”
Polo stopped his pacing and rubbed his forehead. “I’m sorry, Polo. I just get so worked up! We found a whole new ruin! We should be the talk of the community! We should be in there already, looting anything worth taking and destroying the rest of it, followed immediately by a solid of week of eating, drinking, and fucking anything that moves. Instead, we’re stuck out here in the heat watching a couple of nerdlingers doing a bunch of what they do best. Talking.”
“I fucking hate talking,” Polo said.
“I know!” Nert said, waving a hand at him. “A rational reaction! Who the fuck wants to sit around and make mouth sounds at each other all day when they could be making fist punches and knife stabs?”
“Nert, you’ve got a point, but we still have to wait.”
Nert began his pacing again, faster this time. He was practically at a light jog.
“Minutes, Polo, I am giving them minutes! And then I am walking past them and taking what is rightfully mine!”
It was an impressive looking ruin, and Polo had to admit that he was fairly desperate to get inside, too. Not out loud. Never out loud. If he admitted it out loud the next thing that would happen would be Nert launching himself over the scholars as he gave them the bird.
“YOU’RE INSANE. IT’S A GOD DAMNED WARNING.”
“YOU’RE A GOD DAMNED WARNING.”
Nert stopped pacing again to exchange a look with Polo. All four eyebrows raised. Neither of them had ever heard a scholar talk above a muted cadence, let alone screaming into each other’s faces from two inches away.
“Maybe we should-”
Polo had to run to keep up with Nert. One of the scholars, this one with three green lines across his forehead, saw them coming. His face turned pale as he held up his hands in front of him.
“Stop! Stop! We can’t get any closer!”
“Don’t tell them that!”
“We both need to sign off on this, Dole. And I don’t.”
“Well, maybe you can go in. I doubt you have much of a brain left to cook, anyway.”
“Fuck you, Dole.”
“Fuck you, Redrick!”
Polo held up his hands, fingertips to palm, to call time. He could tell Nert had been inches away from using the scholar’s spat to run past them. It would have worked, too. In almost thirty years of life he’d never seen scholars angry like this. They had almost come to blows.
“What is going on?” Polo asked.
“Yeah!” Nert got between Polo and the scholars and stalked back and forth. “It never takes you eggheads this long to decide something. I was hoping to be inside the ruin covering myself in shiny necklaces and shit by now.”
“This is an unusual case,” Dole said.
“No, it isn’t,” Redrick said in a singsong, rolling his eyes.
“Hey!” Polo put a hand between them before they could begin fighting again. “Explain.”
Dole shot a look at Redrick, who made a buffon’s bow to indicate Dole could talk. Dole scratched at his cheek with his middle finger as he talked.
“The signs outside this ruin are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. But I have heard of it.”
“It’s a legend. A tall tale.”
“Can I talk?” Dole asked. Redrick held his hands up. “It’s not written in any ancient language we’ve ever seen before. As far as we can tell, the sign was made in a way that was supposed to outlive language.”
“Outlive language?” Polo asked.
“Languages aren’t alive, stupid,” Nert said. Redrick snickered and high fived Nert.
“Okay, no, don’t do that,” Polo said. “Don’t encourage him. Don’t encourage each other. Dole, right? What’s the message say?”
“Basically, it says ‘do not enter on pain of death.”
“Ohhhh, sure,” Redrick says. “Now it says something clear and simple! What about all that gibberish you spilling the entire hour you were reading this thing? ‘What is here is dangerous and repulsive’ this and ‘this message is a warning about danger’ that and ‘the form of danger is energy’ the other thing.”
Nert snorted. “Energy? What the fuck does that mean?”
“I don’t know,” Redrick said. “I don’t see any of it. It’s not in any language we know, therefore we can’t read it.”
“It’s…in…pictograms!” Dole said, gesturing toward the sign. “It’s all pictures! You can see it, plain as day!”
Polo squinted at the sign. He wouldn’t say plain as day, but it did seem like pictures. And they didn’t seem like happy pictures. There were lots of little shapes under a line. Then that line was broken. Then the little shapes were everywhere.
“It sort of looks like they buried something. And they don’t want us to disturb it,” Polo said, scratching his head.
Dole clapped his hands. “Yes! That is my belief also. This is not a good place. Something terrible was contained here, and the old ones are trying to warn us that if we even were to walk near it we would be in terrible danger.”
“I don’t see it,” Redrick grunted. “Right?”
He was asking Nert, but Nert was squinting at the sign. Polo could see the strain of concentration on his face, and he felt proud that Nert was putting that much effort into something that wasn’t snapping a wild beast’s neck with only his hands.
“You know what? I do see it,” Nert it. “Something is buried here.”
Redrick’s jaw dropped, and he turned a bright red. He was outnumbered. Polo was disappointed, but there was something spooky about that sign. He didn’t like. He wanted to leave, and he was relieved-
“I bet it’s treasure.”
“What,” came from both Dole and Polo. Redrick pumped a fist.
“Yeah, this is all lies. The old ones lied, liked, all the time. There’s treasure down there they don’t want us having. We just have to dig it up.”
“Fuck’s sake,” Dole said, burying his face in his hands. He took a long sigh and when he came up for air, Polo could see it plain on his face: Dole was fucking done. “You know what? Fine. Go dig up your buried treasure. Just you and your friend here.”
“I’m not going in there,” Polo said.
“Fucking not cool man,” Nert said.
“I’ll take your claim!” Redrick’s arm jerked up above his head, waving around like Polo might not have known you said that.
Polo sighed. “Take it.”
“Good,” Dole said. “You two. And only you two can go in there. No coming back until you find something!”
Giggling like school children, Nert and Rodrick ran past the sign toward the ruin. Polo and Dole watched them go.
“Sorry,” Dole said. “They’ll probably die.”
“I know. At least he’s going to go out how he wants: thinking he’s important.”