00A – Forward by Ashley Rose

    Every story has a beginning.  This tale began on February 5th, 2006.

I had just come back from Maryland, where I had a job designing the surrounding grounds of a prolific billionaire’s mansion (due to legal reasons, I can’t say who this was).  It was a rare opportunity, so I approached the project with all that I had.  I put three months of work creating what I thought was a masterpiece of artistic and functional botanical bliss.  It was something that I felt would rival the functionality of Central Park, yet contain the beauty of the Champ de Mars or the hanging gardens of Babylon.

Okay, so maybe that was a bit of a stretch.

Needless to say, the aforementioned billionaire brought me back down to Earth very quickly in our first (and only) face-to-face meeting. While some of what they said was completely wrong, a lot of what they said was, to my dismay, completely right.  Although I begged to be given a second chance, they didn’t see fit to give me one and I was replaced by another landscape architect in waiting almost immediately.

I returned home to Vermont the next day saddened, dejected, and otherwise miserable.  Hearing your work is not good enough despite the immense amount of effort you put into it is always a bitter pill to swallow.  So it was a relief when I found my boyfriend, Walter Clarke, waiting for me at home.  He had been away in New Mexico for over two months and I had missed him terribly.

After we hugged and greeted each other, I could see right away he wanted to tell me something big.  Walter has this habit of biting his lower lip when he’s holding something important back and his front teeth were almost about to break the skin.  Bless him though, he was quiet the whole time while I vented about my lost client and utter failure in Maryland.  The end of my tale was rewarded with a hug and a kiss on the cheek (the only time he stopped biting his lip, I might add).  Just to tease him, I sighed and paused very dramatically before I gave him the go-ahead to tell his story.

And what a story it was.

Walter has a degree in Archeology, of which he is quite proud.  It has taken him all over the world in search of fantastic ancient civilizations and artifacts.  Before he left, he had told me he’d been asked to take part in a dig by a non-profit organization called the D’ni Restoration Council (very odd name, I remember thinking), but didn’t know more then that before he flew out there.  As he explained to me that day he came back, a very large cavern several miles below the surface in Eddy County, New Mexico was discovered sometime in 1987 and many had gone down there to study, catalog, research, and hopefully restore what was in that expansive cave: the remains of a civilization called the D’ni.

The whole thing sounded like something out of a fantasy novel.  I couldn’t believe my ears when he told me about special books written in a strange dialect that you could put your hand to and it would instantly teleport you to a distant, fantastical world not of this galaxy or possibly of this universe.  And apparently, this same culture had left behind a treasure trove of artifacts down in this unforgivably dank cave – and he wanted me to come down with him to see it for myself.

I’ll be honest: I briefly thought he had gotten a hold of something illicit and potent in the New Mexican desert and he was still coming down off of it.  It all sounded like a joke, really.  Still, Walter is not one to make fun of me when I’m in a sour mood, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.  With no new projects in the pipeline and the Maryland job scrapped, my schedule had opened up considerably at that moment.  So after a few moments of thinking it over, I agreed to join him.

I was sure we’d need to pack, get airline tickets, hotel reservations, and everything else that involves traveling out of one’s comfort zone.  Walter put all that to rest when he cryptically said we would not need to buy anything to get to New Mexico and to pack only what he and I could carry.  I threw all my design equipment, a decent selection of clothing and a couple of books into bags and met him in the living room – where he proudly showed me a book of his own.

Now keep in mind, Walter is not one to get what you would call “giddy”.  Sure, he’s been very happy many times, but I have never seen the man giddy in the purest sense of the word – but with that book in hand, open to the front page where a very detailed picture was displayed – he smiled from ear to ear with giddiness.

I didn’t know whether to be excited along with him – or frightened by this.

“Put your hand on the picture,” he said, looking directly at me with that ecstatic smile still plastered on his face, “and hold on tight to your bags.”  Glancing at the page like I was about to pet a live cobra – I grasped my bags firmly and then slowly placed my palm onto the picture.

And that’s how my journey into D’ni began.  Everything that Walter had told me in our cozy living room that day was completely true, quickly dousing my skepticism and revealing to me wonders the likes of which I had never even dreamed!  I quickly learned about the D’ni, The Art of Writing Ages, the Fall of a once great people and what they left behind in this massive, yet largely dormant cavern that the DRC was trying to restore.  And of course, I met our friends.  Our allies.  Our fellow explorers.  Those who had also taken an interest in this forgotten utopia tucked far beneath the earth.

One day, Walter and I, along with a friend of ours named Chris Stevens (a regular colleague of Walter’s), ventured into the labyrinth of tunnels surrounding the massive cavern of D’ni.  They had found something interesting along the lake at the southeast end, away from the capital city island of Ae’gura and the City Proper (what they called all the neighborhoods along the cavern wall at the northwest end).  Unfortunately, the DRC soon left after this discovery (lack of funding, they said), so we could not count on them for help in this.  We took it upon ourselves to research this location and hopefully restore it.

From the materials we were able to find, it was called “Kotsahvosahn”, roughly meaning “The Eighth Gateway” in the D’ni language.  We simply dubbed it “the waystation”.  It was a port used by the D’ni as a hub for transportation of cargo and citizens for the outer tunnels and those that lived and worked within them.  It wouldn’t sound like it would have an interesting story to tell.  At first glance, it would seem like nothing more than the D’ni equivalent of a train station in Kansas.  We soon found that, like everything in the cavern and the Ages beyond, there was a history to find everywhere you sifted through the debris.

The book you are about to read is one such story.  It is a body of work assembled by myself, Walter and Chris, and recovered and presented by our colleagues in the new, explorer-driven Guild of Messengers.  It’s the story of a D’ni man named Lothias.  From his birth on the Age of Teshafee to his final end after the Fall of D’ni – his life is our subject.

This book represents years of research, restoration and understanding into the everyday life of the D’ni as they once were.  As we, the explorers of D’ni, both new and veteran, slowly continue to bring the cavern back to life for future generations, so too shall we look back at those that once lived within these hallowed hallways of the cavern.  Hopefully in this, the spirit of what D’ni was shall live on in those of us that experience it.
Ashley Rose