The Brothers Kurtzman

The Brothers Kurtzman were a strange pair; they were a decade apart in birth, and equally distant in interests and temperament.

Michael, the older, was a studious sort who spent his youth among dusty books and lecture halls. His ad hoc guardianship of his brother-due to their parents unending stay in Europe—didn't delay his studies at all, and by the age of 25 he was close to achieving a doctorate in Archaeological Studies from Yale.

Compared to his brother's serious, cerebral style, Ryan couldn't be more different. The only class he ever excelled in was P.E., and he spent his free hours day-dreaming and carousing with his friends instead of studying.

Michael, on the other hand, spent most of his free time taking long hikes in the Connecticut wilderness. It was during one of these hikes in the swamplands when he came across a length of cobblestone street.

He was, naturally, thrilled to have made his first discovery as an archeologist; it did, however, bother him that this discovery had come not as a result of many hours of painstaking research, but rather as a case of blind luck. He overcame these reservations though the age old art of self-deception: it wasn't chance that he had run across these ruins, he had subconsciously picked up on cues in the environment and used his training to find the site. By these small lies he was able to justify all the money his parents had spent on his education.

Michael went to the Historical Society in Hartford the next day and spent hours poring over old maps of the state. In none of them was he able to find any town or village near the place where he had found the cobblestones.

Michael's bushy-bearded dissertation advisor, Doctor Gaines, didn't share his enthusiasm. It could be a carriage house, or the remnants of a farm. Gaines knew the area he was talking about. It was a nature reserve, so they could never get permission to excavate; it was best just to forget it.

Nick Wood, one of Michael's classmates, didn't agree. Nick was a fortysomething eternal student who had more degrees than a thermometer, and a private fortune resulting from the Eighteenth Amendment and low inheritance taxes; he urged Michael to take matters into his own hands.

It was in the cold days of early February that they begin their excavation; guerilla archaeology was the term that Nick used. Michael had to admit that he liked the notion that they were working around the law to preserve and bring to light the past, while on the other side of the world thugs were using similar methods to destroy it.

Slowly they began to excavate the cobblestone road and the areas surrounding. It was very slow going, sometimes as little as six inches a day, working with spade, dental pick and brush. At the end of each long night of work, they pulled large canvas tarps over their findings to protect them from the elements.

One early morning in late March, Nick was excavating on his own when he came across an inscription on one of the cobblestones that startled him. He snapped a picture of it and rushed to Michael's house to show him.

Nick tossed the photograph onto the marble countertop without a word. Michael took one look at it and his brow creased in frustration.

"You have to be joking," Michael said.

"I don't have the time to waste photoshopping it, and I wouldn't desecrate the site by carving it myself," Nick said.

"Then it must've been some punk kid in colonial times who carved it, then, trying to make his schoolmates think he was clever," Michael said. "Because there sure as hell isn't an ancient Roman village in a swamp in Connecticut!"

"It could explains thing, though," Nick said. "This isn't near any of the old roads, how would they get supplies?"

"They're within spitting distance of the Long Island Sound, they could've been a failed colony," Michael said.

At that moment the backdoor opened and Ryan came in from his morning run. He was dripping with sweat, and went to the to fridge to get a Gatorade. The two brothers simply acknowledged each other with nods.

"Look, you're probably right," Nick said. "But if there is just a chance this is real… it would be the find of a century. This would be like Evans and the discovery of the Minoan civilization on Crete, or the discovery of Sumer!"

"Or we'd end up like that nutjob on the History Channel, you know the one I mean, the one who says aliens are behind everything?" Michael said. "We would need indisputable proof."

Nick folded his hands on the countertop and looked off into the distance, lost in thought.

"How about if we find concrete?" Nick said.

"That doesn't seem likely, all the villas we've found so far were apparently made out of wood, which is why only their foundations are left," Michael said.

Nick snapped his fingers. "That's it! You know how the villas have been getting smaller and we've been finding more of them as we go along?"

"Yeah?" Michael said.

"That means we're getting closer into the city, so we start excavating in the other direction. Roman villages had their tombs on the edge of town, if we excavate those, we'll have all the evidence we need," Nick said.

"The tombstones would tell us for sure, of course, but I don't think it would count as evidence," Michael said. "They'll claim they were forgeries, and there's no way to prove they aren't."

"That's why we'll carbon date the remains," Nick said.

"You can't carbon date cremated remains!" Michael said, then gave it some thought. "Can you?"

"Yes, if some bits of bone or even pieces of wood remain, we'll have a good shot of getting a date off them," Nick said. "The Romans didn't have coal, so they had to use wood in their pyres, and wood only burns so hot."

"I have some friends in the radiology lab who will be willing to help us out," Michael said.

"So you're going to give this a shot?" Nick said, smiling.

"I don't think we're going to find anything, but it really won't hurt to start excavating in the other direction," Michael said. "Just, don't get your hopes up, okay?"

After making arrangements to meet later that day, Nick left. Ryan was studying the photograph that was still on the counter.

"What's SPQR mean?" he asked.

"It's a Latin phrase, it means 'The Senate and People of Rome'," Michael said.

"I didn't think there were any Roman cities in America," Ryan said.

"There aren't, which is why this might be so important," Michael said.

Ryan shrugged and went up to his room without another word. Michael let out an exasperated sigh; how could the two of them be related?

From the Dream Journal of Ryan Kurtzman

In this dream, I was a cat. I was part of a pack prowling the stones of a broken road in a ruined city. The moonlight shone on the smooth stones are we prowled around in the dark, following the scent of rodent prey that hid somewhere in the broken buildings that lay all around us.

There wasn't a single scent of humans anywhere, suggesting that the city had been abandoned for a very long time. One Eye, our leader, was the oldest of the pack, and even he didn't remember a time when humans walked these streets.

There was a crashing from the brush and suddenly a large rat, larger than all but the largest cat in our pack, leapt from the roof of the one of the shattered houses and proceeded to attack Split Ear, one of One Eye's most-trusted lieutenants.

Chaos ensued for several moments, allowing the gargantuan rat time to maim Split Ear. But we quickly regained our wits and proceeded to rip the rat apart. He hurt some of us as he went down, but the outcome was never in doubt.

By the time the sun rose, there was nothing left of the giant rat but bones; we had feasted well that night.

The tombstones gave them no clue as to the years the village had been occupied. As with most Roman tombstones, the epitaph only said how many years they had lived, not the year they had been born.

The tombs did, however, yield lead urns which contained the remains that Michael and Nick were looking for. After excavating a dozen of the small urns, Michael handed them over to his friend in the radiology lab.

The tomb's concrete construction, and Latin inscriptions, were enough to convince Michael that they had truly found the find of a lifetime: a Roman village in the New World.

Eventually the results of the radiocarbon dating came back, and there could no longer be any doubt; the remains were from between the first century BCE and the first century CE. Michael felt there was no question of them continuing the excavation on their own. A thorough, legal, excavation would have to be started.

They took all of their evidence to Doctor Gaines. Michael had expected disbelief or awe; he hadn't expected anger.

Gaines had been Michael's advisor ever since his undergraduate days. He was not only his friend and mentor, but he considered Michael to be the son he never had. It caused him to explode in rage that one of his favorite students should not only attempt to perpetrate a scientific fraud, but to make him complicit in it. (Nick's presence certainly hadn't helped. His status as a perpetual student made him the bane of most instructor's existence.)

After Gaines threw them-and their notes-out of his office, they returned to Michael's house to sulk. They hadn't even begun to formulate a plan when the doorbell disturbed their conversation.

Gaines stood on the front porch, looking downcast. After apologizing for his initial reaction, he looked over their notes more in-depth, and took a ride with them to view the site firsthand.

"I still can't allow myself to believe it," Gaines said, sitting on the tailgate of Nick's truck, drinking coffee from a thermos cup. "But if you were really like that Tsoukalos fellow, you wouldn't have come to me, you would've gone to the media…"

"If this is a hoax," Michael said. "Then it's on us as well."

"I have some friends in the state senate," Gaines said. "That should be enough to get some security on this site, and start the process of getting permission to do a legitimate excavation."

"We're probably going to face some heat for this, I suppose?" Nick said.

"Trespassing charges, surely," Gaines said. "I think we can probably get the state to drop them, though."

Gaines let out a long sigh. "I can't allow you to be part of the excavation, you must realize that."

"What?" Nick said angrily. "Why?"

"Because if we were behind the hoax, having access to the site would give us additional chances to plant artifacts," Michael said.

"That's bullshit!" Nick said.

"No, he's right," Michael said. "We'll still get credit."

"Of course," Gaines said. "In fact, I want you to undertake some of the background research for the excavation. There were Indian tribes in this neck of the woods for a thousand years before this village was built. We need to know if there are any legends about this place. Perhaps they even know what happened to it."

From the Dream Journal of Ryan Kurtzman

I dreamt again that I was a cat, prowling the ruins of a long-dead city with my pack.

It was the night of the 17th of March, the Cat's Sabbath. In the large open space in the center of that dead human city, all the cats of the surrounding regions met. There was myself and One Eye, and the rest of our pack.

There was Three Claws, so named for the two claws on his left paw that he lost to a fight with a hawk many years ago. His greenish eyes shone in the moonlight.

From the lake far to the north was Fish Breath, the only cat I knew that loved water, who chased after fish in their own environment. His coat was sleek and clean, and he showed his fangs to me in appreciation and recognition.

I touched foreheads with Lightning, a Prussian Blue who was the fastest cat known, for we had grown up together in the massive forest surrounding these ruins.

Also there was Streaker, who was nowhere near as fast, but managed to get to the ripe old age of ten summers without any injuries, because he ran at the first sign of danger.

Old Joe was also there, an orange tabby who had once been a mouser for a farm run by humans, he was older than Streaker and as wild as any one of us.

For the first time in years, I saw Swamp Boots, a shorthair who lived in the swamplands to the east, and fed on frogs and salamanders.

Also there, and given a wide berth, was the striped cat who had no name, but who was referred to as The Ghoul. Many years past, he had fed on the corpses of humans, betraying the ancient pact between our species. His eyes were sickly yellow, and the protuberances of his ribs could be seen through his mangy coat. In his presence I felt awe in the loving capacity of the All-Mother; even this wretch was not beyond her love.

These and many others (whose names I've forgotten in wakefulness) met in the central plaza of the ruined city. There were no speeches, incantations, mystical gestures, or symbols drawn. The only thing that was necessary to make our deference known to our lady-the All-Mother, Tinzel, she of a thousand teats-was to gather together in this place on her Sabbath, and begin to purr. The synchronized purring became a rumble in the crisp winter night, and I truly felt something magical in the air, as if our goddess were standing beside me.

Suddenly the warm, pious harmony was broken by a scream. I jerked my head around and saw a member of my pack being attacked by a large wolf with a dirty grey coat. There were other screams of pain, and I jerked my head around in many different directions as I saw that we were under attack by an entire pack of our lupine foes.

I saw the tip of Streaker's tail as he fled into the woods. Swamp Boots and Old Joe were following his cue. Lightning leapt at the wolf that was attacking Three Claws.

"No! Don't flee!" One Eye called. "If we continue to offer our prayer to Tinzel, she will save us!"

I saw a clear line to the woods and made a run for it. One Eye could say what he wanted, but I knew better. The wolves worshipped Enil, who even Tinzel was forced to respect. I never looked back,

and didn't stop running until day broke.

Michael began his research in the libraries of Yale. He started with the general circulation books in Sterling, where he found many published books on lore of the Pequot, Mohegan, Paugussett and Schaghticoke tribes. Even though he looked through the entire library's catalog of such books, some two dozen volumes, he quickly found the same legends with sometimes even the exact same phrasing. Checking the bibliography pages in the back of each book confirmed his suspicions: they all came from the same sources.

There were no legends of strange men from foreign lands, or anything related to the swamp where they had found the Roman village. Upon informing Doctor Gaines of this, he was told to widen the net and start searching colonial accounts as well. Michael wouldn't have seen this as such a burden if his research partner hadn't taken to spending all day on the plaza outside the library, chain-smoking and hitting on coeds.

As April wore on Michael moved to the handwritten accounts in the private collections of the Beinecke library. By that point Nick didn't even bother accompanying him; Gaines's treatment of them had made him bitter, and his interest moved onto other subjects, such as breaking the land-speed record.

The Miniiwi marshlands, as they came to be known, were part of several colonial estates, and had ended up in the state's hands when they were confiscated from a loyalist aristocrat. There were no records of any attempt to develop it, which wasn't all that unusual. It brought to mind the proverbial elephant in the room—why would the Romans have chosen a swamp as the site for their village? Especially when there was so much better land within 50 miles of that site.

Michael put that question to Doctor Gaines during one of their biweekly meetings. He informed Michael that their working theory was that this was due to topographical changes in the last 2000 years. Most likely the area hadn't been a swamp when the Romans had lived there. He reminded Michael of the ancient Greek city of Pavlopetri which was now completely underwater.

At their meeting in early May, Michael was forced to declare failure in his efforts.

"I'm not sure that really qualifies as failure," Gaines said. "Not finding something could very well mean that what we're looking for doesn't exist. Knowledge of the absence of something is just as valuable of the knowledge of its presence."

"Zero's a number, eh?" Michael said with a smile.

"I wouldn't give up just yet, though," Gaines said. "The tribes in this area had no written language before the Old World incursion. Therefore all of their legends must have been passed down orally. I'd suggest talking to the tribal leaders; there may have been something the folklorists missed."

Michael grumbled. "I hate talking to people. That's why I got into this, all the people I deal with have been dead for at least a hundred years."

Michael was never the sort to believe in clichés or stereotypes outside of literature or movies; still, he had expected something different from his experience meeting the tribal leaders. They were all dressed like businessmen, and showed a profound ignorance of their background, seeming far more interested in tax-free stores and casinos. He eventually ended up talking to a folklorist on the Schaghticoke reservation, a fellow only a few years his senior by the name of Robert.

Like the tribal elders Robert knew almost nothing about the swamp in question, but unlike them the query ignited his curiosity. Michael hem and hawed, but eventually shot Doctor Gaines a text asking for his permission to reveal the existence of the Roman village, and a got a reply in the affirmative.

Robert was, naturally, astonished. He asked many questions, very few of which Michael had answers for. The end result of revealing this knowledge was that Robert was now as disappointed as Michael in the absence of any legends regarding the Romans who had lived there.

"There is something, though," Robert said. "The name of the swamp, 'miniiwi', it's a word that means 'infection'. I assumed it was named that because of all the mosquitoes, who might spread disease; now I'm not so sure."

Michael told Doctor Gaines about this at their next meeting. Gaines thanked him for bearing with him, even though the search had ended up being fruitless.

"I do have some good news, though," Gaines said. "We got the results back from those remains we found in the Villa dei Lupi. They confirm the results you got from the cremains."

Michael looked at his mentor nonplussed. "Well, it's nice to know that you accept that we weren't perpetrating a hoax."

"You can stow that smarminess, Kurtzman. Especially since I'm putting you back on the dig," Gaines said with a smile.

A great deal had been done since Doctor Gaines had take over the dig. Excavations along the cobblestone road had continued in both directions, revealing more tombs on the outskirts of town, and eventually a more-or-less intact suburban villa with many frescoes of wolves. This had come to be known as the Villa dei Lupi.

The excavation in the other direction had turned up more foundations of wooden houses, though a comparison of the maps of the Pompeii and Herculaneum excavations suggested that they were nearing the entrance to the town's forum.

These suggestions turned out to be right on the money, and they were excavating the forum by June. The first considerable structure they found was the temple of Venus.

Michael knew something was wrong with the temple almost immediately. It was obvious who the temple honored, due to the symbolism in the frescos, the temple's layout and construction materials. However every inscription they could find had the word Venus scratched out, leaving nothing but a ruined patch in the marble or concrete where the name had been. It was as if the residents of the town had placed a damnatio memoriae on the Roman goddess of love.

The frescoes also had their share of oddities, every single one of them had a crescent moon atop Venus's head. (Some of the other archaeologists suggested they were meant to represent horns, but Michael noted that the crescent didn't appear to be attached to her head, it was just braided into her hair.) All of these had been added long after the frescoes were originally painted, by a much less skilled artist using a different type of paint.

The strangeness persisted as they continued to excavate the temple. There was an inscription that referred to the goddess as "Phoebus", followed by a ruined patch of marble where the word "Venus" should have been. As Michael dusted this off and read it, he shared puzzled glances with his two colleagues who were nearby. Nowhere in Roman or Greek mythology had Venus ever been referred to as a goddess of the moon.

They eventually unearthed a marble statue which had the conventional likeness of Venus. It was the only image of her in the temple which didn't have the upturned crescent. The pedestal presented its own puzzle. Carved in large letters was a single phrase, and there was no ruined marble to indicate that the word Venus had been struck out; it read: mater omnium. The All-Mother, an epithet of Venus heretofore unknown to academia.

Very soon everyone assigned to excavate the temple felt an uncanny sense of dread; a unique feeling that can only come about when finding something alien in a place where the familiar was expected.

Doctor Gaines was not perturbed, however. "This village was cut off from the Roman world since its founding. In many ways we're dealing with a completely new culture. Frankly it shouldn't be surprising that their religious beliefs changed over time; especially if they had extensive interaction with the native population."

Doctor Gaines then informed Michael that his team was being pulled of Venus's temple so they could help excavate the gargantuan temple they'd found on the northern edge of the forum.

"But we aren't done," Michael said. "We've still gut the entire eastern wall to excavate."

"We can come back to that later, the temple of Jupiter will be the most extravagant. I'd tell you it'd make a good image for our UNESCO presentation, and it will, but to be honest…. I just really want to see what's in there," Gaines said.

Michael gave his mentor a sly grin and nodded in agreement.

As with all the other temples they began to excavate the external perimeter first. Most of the front wall has been dug out, including the doors, as well as a set of broken columns in the entryway that had once supported a wooden roof that hadn't survived. Although Doctor Gaines was in a rush to excavate the temple's interior, he followed the standard procedure of excavating a meter clearance in all direction, otherwise they risked one of the walls collapsing on them as they excavated the interior. Because of this, they spent an entire week digging out the area around the temple. Michael was in awe to discover that the temple was indeed as large as Doctor Gaines expected.

"It's bigger than the Temple of Jupiter at Pompeii!" Michael said to Doctor Gaines as they stared at the temple's façade on the dawn of their first day of excavating the interior.

"The residents of this town must've been a pious bunch," Gaines said with a smirk. "Or else they were compensating for something."

Slowly, inch by inch, they began to excavate the temple's interior. Again they dug out the perimeter, not wanting to rely on support braces to hold up soil that they were going to remove in a few days anyway.

The first day they uncovered three frescoes, but they looked like random blobs of paint with many repeated sharp angles.

"Is this supposed to be some sort of decoration?" Michael asked his mentor as they stared at the first fresco.

"But these are definitely where frescoes representing the god's legends are supposed to be," Gaines said. "A decoration wouldn't be given this much prominence."

Julie Baird, one of Doctor Gaines's undergraduate helpers, joined them. "You know this looks like?"

"Like these Romans discovered abstract art?" Michael said.

"It looks like one of those magic eye pictures," Julie said. "You know, those ones you have to cross yours eyes to make out what it is?"

"That's impossible," Michael scoffed. "They use computers to draw those."

"I don't know," Gaines said. "Don't you remember how Holbien hid that skull in his painting?"

"Which painting?" Julie asked.

"I forget what it was called, but there's this odd blur on the bottom of the painting, but if you turn it at a certain angle, it becomes a skull," Gaines said.

Julie took out her phone and started swiping her finger across it.

"I don't think Roman art was that advanced," Michael said.

"I'm not seriously suggesting that's what it was. However someone could've developed the technique in isolation," Gaines said.

"Damn, no signal," Julie said.

"Hey, newbie, check your messages on your own time," Michael said, with a good-natured smirk.

"No, that isn't it," Julie said. "There's this app I saw once, that solved those puzzles. But I don't have a signal here so I can't download it."

"Yes, I have never been able to get a signal out here," Gaines said.

"Doesn't surprise me, this is a nature preserve. I don't expect they would have let someone put up a cell tower," Michael said.

Later the undergrads went into Lidenbrock to get everyone's lunch. Near the end of the day Michael ran into Julie as he was walking back to the campsite.

"Did you ever try the magic eye app?" Michael asked, only half-joking.

"Yeah, the damn thing bricked my phone!" Julie said. "I thought you didn't have to worry about those things when you have an iPhone!"

"So that happened when you installed it?" Michael asked.

"No, it happened while it was decoding the picture. I couldn't believe it! Talk about anti-climatic!" Julie said. "Walter snapped a picture though, he said he was going to go try to do it manually in Photoshop at home; apparently there are some custom filters for that."

That was right, Walter realized. Some of the undergrads were going home for the weekend, at least to do laundry and take a shower. Michael, Doctor Gaines and their teams were too excited to stop now, however.

Without the undergrads to help them the work was slow that weekend. They only managed to extend their perimeter of the interior to the back of the temple. On Sunday night Gaines came back from Lidenbrock with a grave look on his face.

"Walter Feldstein had some kind of psychotic break," Gaines told him Michael in confidence.

Michael couldn't believe it, and pressed his mentor for details.

"Apparently he threw his computer through his dorm room window, which was on the third floor, then he went down and attacked it with a baseball bat," Gaines said. "Campus police tried to take him into custody and he resisted, so he ended up getting committed to the psych ward."

"Is he going to be all right?" Michael asked.

"They're not sure… but I don't think so. He's apparently gone catatonic, and before that he was gibbering nonsense," Gaines said.

When the undergrads returned the next morning, Doctor Gaines gathered them around the fire and told them of their classmate's fate. Everyone was stunned, a few broke into tears, several chose to go home.

Later Michael was taking a break with Doctor Gaines, and something occurred to him.

"Why would a computer geek like Walter have a baseball bat?" Michael asked.

Doctor Gaines choked on his tea.

Very soon they managed to clear the entire inner perimeter of the temple. They had continued to find more of the strange frescoes, eventually discovering that there were no normal images to be found on the inner sanctum's wall.

They then began to systematically dig out the rest of the temple, two weeks of boring digging and cataloging followed. The monotony was broken up with the discovery of a marble statue in the center of the inner sanctum. The thrill quickly gave away to confusion.

The statue seemed to have been built in the likeness of the great statue of Zeus at Olympia. Jupiter sat in a bronze throne, holding his two hands aloft, one holding a scepter, the other a statue of Nike, the goddess of victory. Or so it must have originally appeared. Someone had taken the scepter, and perhaps that same someone had been the one who beheaded the statue. A bronze rod of the statue's skeleton curved up from the marble neck.

Grafitti was scrawled all over the statue, some of it was in red paint, other had been carved into the very marble. On the base was written: Iuppiter supreme , pater nihil: Supreme Jupiter, father of nothing.

The word "Enil" was scrawled multiple times all over the statue, but none of Doctor Gaines team could figure out what it meant.

"There must've been a religious schism," Michael said to Doctor Gaines as they gazed at the defaced statue.

"But why would they leave the desecrated statue of your previous god in the temple of their new god?" Gaines said.

"A test of loyalty, maybe? Anyone continuing to worship Jupiter would be unable to look at that and not shed tears," Michael said. "That's how they'd weed out the orthodox."

As the excavation of the temple continued, it was discovered that the statue stood on a giant stone trapdoor, which swung on massive bronze hinges. A depression in the floor indicated a place where a pull-ring had once been. A thorough search of the inner sanctum didn't turn up the missing ring.

Doctor Gaines speculated that it could lead to an undercroft or catacombs, where the remains of dead worshippers were interred.

"But why would it be in the center of the temple?" Michael asked.

"And why would you place a statue of a defaced god on top of it, making it impossible to open?" Doctor Gaines added.

Close examination revealed that the statue was not attached to the floor. Doctor Gaines and Michael argued back and forth about what to do next. Michael felt that moving the statue would risk damaging it, but Doctor Gaines believed that opening the trapdoor should be part of the excavation.

"You expect me to go before those UNESCO people and show them a picture of this," he said, motioning towards the scene before them. "And say: here's a trapdoor, we have no idea what's under it?"

"Better than bringing in a pouch full of dust and saying: here's what's left of the only known reproduction of the lost statue of Zeus at Olympia," Michael replied.

"That isn't your problem, if something goes wrong, I'll take the fall for it. We're going to open that trapdoor," Gaines said. "And that's the last I want to hear about it."

Michael gritted his teeth, but knew there was no point in saying anything. He just hoped that they weren't making a huge mistake.

From the dream journal of Ryan Kurtzman

For the first time in many months, I dreamt that I was a cat again. The leader of our pack, One Eye, was dead. The old ruin of the human's city which had been our home for most of my life now belonged to Enil's wolves.

I spent most of that cold spring wandering in the wilderness. I stalked mice, rats, and birds; I even ate the occasional squirrel. I ran across a pack of raccoons who ambushed me and left me for dead in a gulley. I still have a limp in my right front leg.

I longed for those long days in the sun-drenched human city, where we hunted in packs and everyone got their fill, and we were never overwhelmed by our prey. My fur stood up in anger as I thought about Enil and his wolves, taking away what Tinzel had given us.

The first day of summer found me in the eastern swamps. I sniffed the grasses and fronds of the plants, looking for the scent of my countryman; eventually I caught the trail of Swamp Boots, and followed it up into the hills surrounding the swamp. I eventually found Swamp Boots snoozing in a tree; when he became aware of my presence, he leapt down and we touched foreheads in the ancient sign of respect and affection.

Swamp Boots taught me how to survive in the swamp. Frogs tasted better than I would have thought, they had the texture of chicken, with something of the brininess of fish; both things that I loved.

One day when we were sunning ourselves on a hillside, Swamp Boots asked me if I wanted to see the place where Enil had awoken.

Like all cats, I had been told the story when I was a kitten. Enil had been trapped by the humans many lifetimes ago; but someone had been foolish enough to release him. Every human, everywhere, had been wiped out in the space of a single night; so great was Enil's fury at being trapped.

I followed Swamp Boots deep into the swamp, until we came to a massive hole in the ground. In this hole was a city which was much older than the ruined human city my pack had prowled. It had long ago been inhabited by the humans who had sealed Enil away.

Swamp Boots lead me through the trenches, our claws tapped on the cobblestone street which the foolish humans had unearthed. We passed many dusty piles of bones, unfortunate humans who had aided in the release of the terrible All-Father.

At last we came to the place where it had happened. I felt my fur rising as I looked at it. The building was so tall that not even the most foolhardy cat would attempt to climb it. There were shattered pillars out front, accompanied by bones of long-dead humans.

Swamp Boots lead me inside; the interior was dark and dirty. There were bones everywhere, coated not just in dust, but dirt as well. We walked on, until we came across a smashed statue. When it had been whole, the statue must have been at least twice as tall as a real human being.

Beyond it, in the exact center of the room was a large trapdoor, which hung open. Swamp Boots and I went to the edge and stared down into the darkness. A light, foul-smelling breeze rustled my whiskers.

At that moment I woke up, and had never been happier to realize that it had been just a dream.

The End