The district seemed a ghost town, except for but a few dark faces peering out from the shadows of black alleys and the windows of candle-lit houses. As they walked, leaving behind the soldiers and the Captain, the all but barren streets of Nuwah rolled out before them. The blackened, dusky sky above; it’s orange hue marred the faintly glowing stars that watched Djaen with wonder. Like a thousand prying eyes, contemplating every movement and heeding every word.
The leaves of a large palm swayed and murmured with the wind, as the two approached a small group of men sitting beneath its shadow, at the steps of a large crumbling home. They shared a long ornate pipe, taking deep breaths of an odorous, sweet smelling substance within, before exhaling it back into the atmosphere. The dense smoke released waltzed with the wind a spell, but soon after vanished into the unknown like a fleeting thought.
“It has been a while since I have smelt the burning sap of the Kaalah.” said Ishaar´ha, scenting the air as they came closer.
Sonoora turned to look at the men, her eyes meeting with a gaunt, bearded visage. An old man whose wrinkled skin resembled the bark of a millennial tree. As their eyes met, the man nodded and beside him an alley became visible through the gradually dispersing smoke.
“This way.” said the sorceress, turning abruptly, heading towards the long, dark corridor. It’s length filled with a thick, blinding mist – the dense smoke of the burning Kaalah Sap that had accumulated within.
Guided by nothing more than one ghostly, obscured source of light, the two ambled forward. And their eyes glittered, mirroring their souls marvel at what they witnessed as they exited the alley. At the heart of an opening lay before them, amid a lush thicket of bramble bushes, shrubs and tall, thin palm trees, the gargantuan, petrified carcass of the Coil Wolf, half-buried in the sand. The revered beast, a gift the Tar believed bestowed upon them in a bygone age, by the God-Queen named Hartzah.
Ishaar’ha gazed with wonder, marveling at the sheer size and majesty of this once breathing being. “To think these creatures once roamed the desert.” said she, quietly.
“…once?” said Sonoora.
Ishaar’ha narrowed her eyes, skeptical. “…I do believe you are powerful” said she. “…but I find it hard to believe any of us would be standing here, were the Old Ones still to be alive this day.”
Sonoora chuckled softly. “That could be true.”
One large brazier illuminated the beasts life-less, fur-covered head. It’s mouth an entrance, warm, glowing, magnificent yet frightening. It felt as though at any moment the beast would come alive, shattering with its sharp teeth all those who stood in its Way and crushing the decaying walls that encased the oasis where it slept.
Sonoora looked back down the alley, then at the wolves void eye, a worried expression upon her face. “This is where I leave you.” said she.
“I shall be seeing you again, I suppose?” said Ishaar’ha, fixated upon the wolves empty gaze.
And the sorceress, shooting an odd glance at the Tar beauty, curtsied and soon after vanished into the shadows, leaving her alone with the beast and whatever it is that lay within its hollowed belly.
Ishaar’ha paused a moment, taking a deep breath before approaching the gaping mouth cautiously, only to be surprised by the laughter of children travelling faintly through the branches beside her. And from behind one dancing bush appeared two startled faces, their mouths and fingers tinted black from the juice of the black-berries they carried within their hands. Upon seeing the towering lady, almost instantly, the two children darted towards one small crack in a wall, frantic to escape.
“We in troubles!” whispered one of them.
“No.” said the other. “You in troubles!”
Unfortunately for them, the crack was only wide enough for one of them to enter, and after a short circus, a few scratches here and there, they managed to come to that conclusion. Ishaar’ha smiled, watching the last clumsily slide into the darkness, dropping behind him one small fruit. She walked towards the crack, kneeling down to pick up the one berry from the ground, anticipating the taste of her childhood gleefully. But as she reached out to grasp it, an arm shot out from within the shadows, stealing the berry right as her fingers were about to meet it.
“You don’t take it!” hissed one of the children, followed by the sound of them scurrying away.
“Almost…” muttered Ishaar’ha buoyantly, snapping her fingers, before heading back towards the wolves head, brushing her hand upon its large fang with respect as she walked inside, noting once more the scent of the Kaalah sap burning strongly from within. A long, worn fabric hung from the back of the beasts throat. Ishaar’ha pushed it aside and the warmth of a fire greeted her. She entered the creatures belly, finding herself now within its empty bowels. The walls its ribs, supporting its structure. A flame at the center flickered, and the sap-soaked tinder beneath reflected its light. Beside it, lay a bed-roll. Inviting and intimate. Coaxing Ishaar’ha to wrap herself in its fur and to enter the realm of dreams.
Her eye-lids felt heavier as she gravitated towards it, until she could no longer open them. She wrapped herself in the fur thoughtlessly and fell into a deep, deep sleep. At first, her senses were deafened by the profound silence of slumber, until her ears filled with the howling of a strong wind.
Ishaar’ha felt her eyes open, though not physically so, and she no longer sensed herself wrapped in the fur of the bed-roll. The vision before her fully took form as she rose to her feet, finding herself now no longer within the bowels of the beast, but instead surrounded by the endless expanse of the desert as far as her eye could see. The sand upon the peaks of its boundless dunes floated into the air as a breeze blew upon them gently. She saw too, an elder man, sitting a ways from her, cross-legged and still, upon a round rug with a labyrinthine design. A long, wooden staff, half buried in the sand beside him, appeared somewhat distorted like a mirage.
“Welcome back, Ishaar’ha.” said the man, his facial features partially concealed. His voice melodic, consummate and powerful.
Ishaar’ha bowed, a humility and grace in her movement. “Greetings to you, Elder Imah’an”
The man held in his hand an ornate pipe, not dissimilar to that of the one who showed them the way.
“An inquiry first, perhaps?” said he, releasing a cloud of smoke from his wrinkled lips.
“Why have you brought me here?” asked Ishaar’ha, lifting her head.
“Ah!” said the man excitedly, rising steadily from the ground. “An arrow to the heart, as always. Let me show you then.”
And the starry sky above ripped apart, revealing behind it an image. A woman dressed in a shimmering gown, traversing a lushious, green forest; the tree-trunks of its trees wider than the spiral of Nheede. Her voice a song, such a melody that made her spirit visibly burst with joy.
“A journey to the north.” said Imah’an.
“To what end?” asked Ishaar’ha, watching the woman walk amid whispering leaves.
“Answers to questions and questions to answers.” said the man. “You know too true the troubles the living face now. How wickedness fills, until it overflows. We seek clairvoyance, for fear of what is to come.”
“And what is to come?” said Ishaar’ha, her gaze falling once more upon the elder man.
“We know no longer. The darkness that has swept over the land, this the old prophecy foretold, fulfilled three thousand years ago. Since before the ritual began, our clairvoyance has waned. The eyes in the sky now speak to us only in riddles. The word seems to have abandoned us, we see no further than now.” said the man.
And the image before her changed once more. The forest and the woman, and the dunes where she stood, replaced by the empty, decaying streets of Nuwah, the sight which impressed a feeling of sadness upon her soul.
“This is all that is left of us.” said the man. “We are empty, like the streets in which we famish.”
“What can I do?” said the woman, angered by the vision and its effect upon her.
The old man trembled. “Seek answers, Ishaar’ha. Go north, heed Solas’ song in the forest of light. I fear we must remind the twins, that we are worth the life that we were given. This is all we know and nothing more.”
“And you see me fit for this task?” asked Ishaar’ha. “You know I cannot abandon my blood, that is the Order, a high law that you know cannot be broken.”
“A noble blood courses through your veins, arbitrator, yours is the legacy that founded the Order and its high laws. You can change them, make them truer.” said the man.
“I am not my legacy. I am but a slave to my shackles and the quarters of my masters.” answered Ishaar’ha.
“You must awaken.” said the old man, holding now in his hand the long, wooden staff, the top of which was curved and green with moss.
“It is in the assumption where truth lies.” continued the man, drawing now images upon the sand.
Ishaar’ha approached, and the sand where he drew turned translucent, like water. And in its depths, she saw a group of men within a dark cavern. Slightly distorted, yet distinguishable ruins of a city illuminated by blue braziers, and a large temple; its tower wreathed by a sparkling, white dust.
“Look within. Ordinary men, though not wholly so, who seek to change the world. An assumption of true form.” said he, stirring the liquid with his staff.
“Who are they?” asked Ishaar’ha, watching the men curiously.
“They are you. And they are I. Only their physical shapes make them distinguishable from us. They seek freedom and it is from their actions that we are inspired to live. They go deep into the caves beneath Nheede. They pursue the scrolls of the King, the scrolls of the Elder Necromancers.”
Ishaar’has eyes widened as she stepped back. “Impossible. They will die.”
“We will all die. That is for certain. But it matters little compared to the lives that we can live.” said he, lifting the staff, the image beneath turning to sand once again.
“You think me moved to relinquish the law for them?” said Ishaar’ha.
The old man shook his head. “You must awaken. The tribes are scattered, separated by the Kings malice, men killing men for His gold, wars for His territory and power, all laws must be scrutinized, if what follows is darkness and death. It is as clear to me as it is with you.”
And as he spoke, the dunes returned to envelop them, under shroud of night and a billion stars.
“The men you saw and the wish one seeks fulfilled, will only come to fruition if you are to take up the mantle once more, Ishaar’ha.”
“I do not understand…” said she.
“You were born with the gift of sight. You see life and its full beauty in a world of horrors and fear. These are the qualities of a magnificent soul, heed my words and travel north, or you will die here along with the rest of our blood.” said the old man, leaning heavily upon his staff. “…and your gift forever squandered, forgotten and lost in time.”
“But who am I to change the world?” asked she once again.
“Do not impede yourself with self-doubt. You can be the one to change the world, if only you assume this to be true.” the man whispered, his voice distorted, ebbing and flowing unevenly.
“This dream is ending, as is my life.” said he, returning to sit upon the round rug.
“What are you saying?” said Ishaar’ha, a feeling of panic growing within her heart.
“There is no place for me in life, if I have lost the gift of clairvoyance. I pass onto you the last of my knowledge, the words I have spoken to you within this illusion. I am so sorry… that I cannot tell you more…” said he.
The stars above began to disappear as he spoke. The image before her gradually washing away.
“Only remember, that what lies ahead can begin only now…” whispered the man.
And the woman felt her body numbing. A limpness spreading from the tips of her toes upwards. She felt her eyes-lids heavy once more. She attempted to speak, but no words were heard. The man before her, only a mirage now, until the darkness of slumber defeated her once again. She felt herself falling softly, like a feather floating in a lightless bubble. And soon the scent of the Kaalah sap returned, and with it, a loud and horrifying cry.