The storm caught you unaware. Far away from your tribe and home, you had nothing to shelter you from the heavy rain and wind. Of no use was your light desert robe, soaked and weighing you down, though you didn’t want to discard it. It amuses me that near death, you still thought of modesty.
Great roars of thunder rolled in the distance and the sound swept through the plains and bounced off the mountains ahead. The land was all but unknown to you, and then, in the dark and assaulted by the elements, you were hopelessly lost, hungry, and afraid. Perhaps the mountains could provide some shelter, you thought, as you didn’t see anything else around which could cover you from the storm. Weariness from yesterday’s long walk and having no food threatened to stop your march and pull you into the wet earth where your bones would have found their final resting place. But you kept going. I like that about you—your unrelenting spirit.
Drenched to the bone, and exhausted, you reached the foot of the closest mountain. You began to slowly ascend the crumbled grey slope, when lightning flashed behind you and lit up your surroundings for a moment. What seemed like fifty or a hundred paces in front of you, a figure in a dark cloak slipped through a crack in the mountain wall. You knew better than to trust a stranger in aiding you, but your empty stomach and weakened body were more persuasive than you cared to admit. Whatever strength you had left, you used it to push your body and reach the opening that the figure went through. The incessant rain pattered the rocky surface, and barefoot as you were, you lost your footing several times and bruised and cut yourself as you made the climb. Finally, you reached the entrance.
It was small and square and dark, and certainly seemed unnatural. Perhaps someone carved through the mountain, though for what reason, you did not know. Thinking was difficult for you in the state you were in, and you didn’t hesitate for long before kneeling and crawling on all fours through the small tunnel. You didn’t expect how much crawling you had to do, and the sound of rain on rock became softer until it was barely noticeable.
Soon, the tunnel became faintly brighter, and you emerged from it to a wide room with smooth walls running parallel to each other. Though it didn’t seem like a room, more like a corridor, as you observed more closely. Alternating on both sides were clay oil lamps, spaced apart just enough to give your eyes some light to see the strange place you were in. The air was warm and heavy, as if you were in a deep cave. There were stone doors that ran along the lengths of both walls, most of them closed, but some were opened inwards. At that moment you suddenly felt unwelcome, like an intruder in a chieftain’s tent or a wanderer in a foreign, unfriendly land.
Someone walked out of one of the open rooms nearby. The look he gave you when he saw you… it was as if you were a murderer. He had a wet cloak around him, and you deduced he was probably the man you saw that led you to this place. Then, like a leaf caught in a spider’s web, your presence seemed to have had a disturbing influence, and was felt by the others. Soon more doors were opened, and people gathered in front of you. Their gaze felt hot on your skin, and you were aware just how unwelcome you were as you looked at each of their faces. One of them, an elderly woman, spoke out.
“What brings you to the Hidden City of Tersir, interloper?”
You expected a rough, strange barbarian language to come from the woman, but instead she spoke the language of the desert tribes, though her voice was hard and unkind.
“I haven’t eaten in four days, and I needed shelter from the storm. I thought I saw a cave where I could wait until the storm passed,” you lied.
The elderly woman’s expression remained. “Why are you not with your tribe?” she said.
“I loved someone I shouldn’t have, and was exiled for it,” you said.
It didn’t seem that most of the gathered people understood what you were saying, and translated whispers cascaded through the crowd. Perhaps some of them were merely commenting on your sorry state of being.
You thought about the woman’s words, and tried to picture how this corridor of stone could possible be called a city. Was there something at the end of it? Yet, as you looked deep into the extended darkness in between the gaps of the crowd, a shiver ran along your spine. You blamed the feeling on being soaked and chilled by the storm.
An older man spoke something to the woman’s ear, softly enough that no one else heard it. She nodded.
“We will provide you with food and shelter for this night, but in the morning you must leave Tersir and never return. As well, we cannot allow you to go back from the same entrance. On your departure, you will be blindfolded and Shuhar will escort you to another exit,” she gave a brief glance at the cloaked man. You were led to one of the rooms, and though it was small with just an oil lamp and a bed of hay and cloth, after eating a meal of oats and seeds, it was all you needed to have a much-needed sleep.
Morning came, though you couldn’t tell what time it was. As promised, you were blindfolded and led by Shuhar through the empty corridor, who was without a cloak and wore dark clothes and a belt with an ivory buckle. Either everyone else was still sleeping, or they didn’t want to be reminded of your presence. You, of course, hadn’t a clue.
A few minutes in, and Shuhar asked you a question.
“What will you do after this? You are without a tribe, and cannot survive by yourself in the wild.”
You didn’t know.
“Do you know where you will go?”
“No,” you said.
There were more turns in this corridor than you thought were possible. It was dead quiet, except for your and Shuhar’s footsteps in lockstep with each other. You figured that you two left the “city” portion of this place long behind. A tinge of anxiety grew in your gut, then rose to your throat, making it harder to breathe, as if an invisible hand was squeezing your neck. Where were you being taken?
Shuhar’s footsteps became more quiet, until there was no sound other than your own bare feet hitting the stone floor.
“Shuhar?” you called out. You brought your hands behind your head and undid your blindfold, though it didn’t do you any good. It was infinitely dark in all directions.
Your heart started to race. After bumping into the walls at your flanks, you regained a certain sense of where forwards and backwards was, but you still couldn’t see a thing. A cold sweat started all over your body. You moved quicker, ever so quicker, to the deep unknown, to the depths of this abyssal labyrinth. Panic took over you, and you started to run.
It felt as if you were coming towards some place, that all these tunnels had a purpose and an end. Soon you felt the air become dry as a bone. Then something made you stop in your tracks, like a deer at the side of a herd. A sound. Like something snapping, repeatedly. As if something old was cracking, perhaps wooden sticks, or an ancient door slowly opening. You tried hard to figure out where it was coming from, though it seemed both far away and right next to you. Then another sound, like twigs scraping against stone. Though that didn’t seem right, it wasn’t quite like wood or twigs snapping and cracking. It reminded you of something. The festivals and feasts of your tribe, there was a sound that you heard… it was more like the scraping of bones.
You kept moving. Another sound, this one seemed like it was in your head:
The bone cracking noise was becoming louder, then you saw a dim blue light at the end of the tunnel. It seemed like it led to a larger room, and you only wished at this point to get out of the dark.
Your unrelenting spirit kept going and brought you here. All those little footsteps—all of them led you to me.
You didn’t have to go into the room to see me.
The great serpent of bone. My long curled spine, and a ribcage the size of a boat. You heard sharp claws scrape against the floor. You saw my skull with white teeth the size of swords, and two haunting blue eyes like glowing orbs, looking at you.
Come now. Your body is weary, and it needs to rest. Your bones will be safe with me.
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