Rovas wiped the sweat from his brow.
had plunged deeper into the
A mournful howl, the wind skirled sand across their path. That damned, ever-constant wind – now teasing, now raging, at times whispering maddeningly like a siren just beyond the next dune – frayed their nerves. The souls of all those who died in the first Aura Storm were said to be trapped on the desert winds. Most in the caravan felt it prudent to mumble a few extra prayers each day.
“Not far now,” the old merchant wheezed. He looked down at Rovas from atop a riding lizard. “You’ll see; a stopover point, in the middle of this. A lost city.” The lizard stared, as blankly as most of the caravan had when they’d been offered triple pay for what was usually a standard journey. Rovas just nodded dully.
The lost city in the desert’s heart was lair to demons that stalked the dunes by night. So traveller’s tales had always said. Or it hid the treasures of a kingdom that fell to raiders when their gods deserted them, during the Wizard Wars. Or it was an entrance to the underworld; any venturing too near were taken down into the lightless depths as slaves to the giant blind monkeys. Likely, Rovas thought, it didn’t even exist.
He raised a flask of tepid water to his parched throat – and stopped. Something had glinted in the distance. Just an ornithopter, the human told himself; gnoll tribes roamed the desert at will.
As the caravan crested a dune, they came to a halt. Some muttered fervent prayers for protection from evil spirits. Ahead, less than an hour’s desiccated trudging away, lay countless shattered stone blocks. The ruins radiated outwards from a ziggurat, atop which large metal statues gleamed in the sunlight.
“There!” The old merchant pointed, grinning. “See?”
Rovas squinted. At this distance, no movement could be discerned amid the ruins. But there were clearly tents pitched to one side of the ziggurat. “Someone else is there already,” he said.
been rumours, these past few months, of small bands slipping quietly
By the time the caravan reached the ruins, a small group had assembled near the crumbling walls of the lost city. Not all were human. Most wore plain shifts, tunics or kilts. A short woman with goat legs breastfed a green-skinned baby. A young ratkin, his fur dyed into rainbow swirls, threaded prayer beads through nervous claws. Alongside him a dwarf, bare chest tattooed with a serpent winding through the lines of a five-pointed star to strike at its own tail, mumbled supplications.
“Welcome, brothers, welcome!” The blind old half-elf faced the caravan, yelling in their general direction. “May the light of the Blessed Messenger heal you.”
As the caravan dispersed into the camp amid the ruins, Rovas thanked his lucky stars he’d only signed on for the one journey. Mercenary guard was a simple life, occasionally risky but never rewarding enough to attract unwanted attention. All Rovas wanted was to make it back to his favourite tavern. With the money he’d made on this trip, he could spend more time drinking and wenching before he had to travel again.
A pilgrim approached him, a strange gleam in his eyes. “Are you the one? Are you the prophet?”