Into the Desert

This started out as a challenge to see if I could do the opposite of the first instalment of Secrets and write entirely without dialogue. It’s running away with me as well.

In the Year of the Jackal, under the third moon, a strange convoy left the desert city of Ibram to chase a legend.

The group numbered only six. Solvek, their leader, a man of mysterious origin, had spent the past year assembling his followers.

The ranger, Gwealin had been pulled from the Mistbank forests, not entirely of her own will. Ibardore, the healer had settled in the port city of Nye until some undisclosed persuasion prompted her uprooting.

The two fighters, Helakith and Zyron, were siblings who happily left the service of Lord Darkmoor on the Glassnesse Plains at the promise of adventure.

The curiosity was the final member of the set, a holy diviner and oracle, sent by the Temple of the Lionmother after a single conversation with the High Priestess.

They set out from Ibram’s sheltering walls under the moon’s benevolent light, for travel in the Firelands should not be attempted in daylight hours.

They rode in near silence until they reached a waterhole at the time the moon reached her zenith and began the slow descent to dawn. Calculations were made and the decision confirmed, to remain in this small haven until the next moonrise. The oasis to follow was too far to risk that night.

Settling into the deep-carved cave-huts long favoured by the local inhabitants, they shared food, but little conversation. Indeed, this was a group with very little in common, only truly united in their interest in seeing this quest completed.

Danger was unlikely, so only one person at a time remained on watch and the hours passed quickly to the waning of the day.

Once again, they set out under the face of the moon, following a silver path into the deadliest lands in the empire. This night was scarcely more eventful than the first. An attempted ambush by badly-informed bandits only yielded additional supplies for the group and information on a number of lesser-known water holes.

They reached the second oasis as the temperature started to rise in a pre-dawn warning, and settled in for another day tucked under the earth.

And so it continued for another seven days and nights.

On the eighth night, all members of the quest took extra time and care in their preparation. Knives were oiled, arrows were checked, potions arranged and carefully stacked. They mounted, and rode toward the base of the looming mesa that had dominated their ride for the past two nights.

Navigating by landmarks no one else could find, Solvek led the group into the shadow of the giant cliff and further, into an inky crack – a strange flaw in the otherwise smooth surface of the rock.

Raising torches and a mage globe, they travelled carefully onward, moving beneath the Giant’s Table, invaders, dwarfed by the demesne they dared infiltrate. Unseen as yet, but wary of detection by enemies unknown at any time.

Eventually they had to rest, and Solvek led them on a branching route to an underground lake, lit by fractured crystals and fireflies. The first of Ibardore’s potions was put to use, confirming the safety of the water, and everyone drank deeply. After food and sleep, they gathered again, and returned to the main passage. If the other members of the group were curious as to their leader’s familiarity with this hidden world, they held their tongues, this was not a place for stories and gossip.

Eventually a golden spark appeared in the air, resolving over time into an exit from this strange labyrinth. The light’s colour betrayed itself as daylight and the group halted some distance from the beckoning glow to rest again, and ready themselves for the coming night and its activities.

As the golden glow dimmed to pink, then purple, then a deep blue, the group moved cautiously forward, wishing to view the coming terrain, but not yet ready to venture out. Emergence could wait until the friendly moon appeared once more.

The view was unexpected, but then, who could have said what was expected. The plain before the travellers was vast, and, while not lush, was not the desolate wastes of the Firelands either. Questions were forestalled by Solvek’s determined stride into the open night, mounting once in full moonlight and moving into the whispering grasses of this unknown place.

It felt better to be back under open sky. Not safer necessarily, but freer. All members of the group privately breathed more easily as they followed their leader into the waving shadows of silver and charcoal.

Solvek again led a strange path, based on landmarks only he knew and no one else could detect. This night’s destination turned out to be a thicket of hardy trees, not enough to be a wood, or even a grove, but enough to give shelter for the coming day. The heat, when it came, was somnolent rather than deadly and the decision to move at night became more of a matter of stealth than survival.

This extended meadow also provided game, streams and some edible plants that allowed the questers to reduce their reliance on the contents of their packs.

Again, they fell into a steady pattern of travel and rest that lasted a number of days.

They were all too experienced to allow themselves to be lulled into security by the repetition and quiet pace of their days and nights. If anything, it drew them tighter, awaiting the challenge they had all been recruited to face and conquer.

It came early on the sixth night. Approaching a strange and probably unnatural hill, the group assumed a defensive formation and slowed their already easy pace. The mound was guarded by a ring of silent stone sentinels, each monolith twice the height of the tallest member of the party and of proportional girth.

Between the stones, the adventurers could see a clearing created to focus on a single stone chair, a throne, set with its back to a cliff face created by a carved and quarried sector of the hill. All was still and dark, waiting.

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