The Sands of Inkseeds, Part 2


    The neighs of horses woke her from her afternoon nap - for what else was she supposed to do around the excavation site? It was boring and sooo tiring. And the idiots didn’t even let her have her nap, unable to… do whatever they were supposed to do with horses to keep them calm. The sounds got even louder and she kicked angrily with her legs, pulling herself out of the bed.


    People were shouting and the animals were making a whole lot of sounds and she just sighed, stopping by the mirror to make sure she wasn’t a mess. She had freshly re-braided her hair the other day and she frowned when she noticed how her hair was getting all greasy again. She had to take another bath and do the braids again this night.


    She heard screams of terror and confusion outside and she shook her head. What are those imbeciles doing now? she wondered as she walked from her palace like tent.


    Everyone was running around, packing in haste, dropping half of their things in the process. She saw her house guards trying to calm the horses and prepare them for a ride and she looked at them with confusion. One of her guards came running towards her, his dark skin covered with sweat, his eyes wide. “Lady Anweithi! Hurry, we have to leave!”


    “Leave? Don’t be ridiculous, I’m not going to play this stupid game with Toreif. Or are you trying to tell me he has abandoned this foolish endeavor and came to his senses?”


    All the guard did was point at something behind her and she frowned at the fool. What was he trying to say? So she turned around, expecting the metat walking towards her, but what she actually saw…


    She froze, her mouth hanging open in shock as her mind struggled to comprehend.


    A massive wall of sand was covering most of the horizon in the east, the sand rolling and whirling over itself in the most massive sandstorm she had ever seen in her life. A sandstorm that had come completely out of nowhere, not even giving them time to prepare for something like this.


    Anweithi heard the people and the guards shouting and screaming, but it was coming as if from a distance. Her legs were rooted to the ground, unable to move, and all she could do was just stare at the massive wall of sand rolling in her direction, so high that if sun was to rise in the east it would be completely blocked out by the dark brown clouds rolling over the earth.


    She could see two riders in the east, running away from the storm, and part of her mind wondered what the point of it was. They couldn’t outrun something like that.


    Who are we to think we rule the land? she thought, shaken to her core. Who are we to truly believe that, even while it is the land that rules us, subjugating us with its every whim, with its fickle moods. She stared at the sandstorm, her mouth dry. With its fury.


    One of the riders than slowed down and she recognized the indigo robes of Toreif. He got off his horse and sent it running, turning around to face the sandstorm.


    What does he think he is doing?

    Isluf saw the metat slow down nearly fifty steps away from the excavation site, getting off his horse, but he didn’t allow himself to ponder what was Toreif doing. No, his first and foremost thoughts were directed at protecting lady Anweithi, because that was his sacred duty.


    He rode past the running Orc and he grimaced at the greenskinned beast, hoping the sand would rip his flesh from his bones.


    The horse neighed under him and suddenly Isluf was flying through the air. As the world spun around him he could see the horse hitting the ground, his leg stuck in a hole, and then the captain hit the ground himself. The rocks dug into his body as he rolled over the sand and gravel, not even capable of screaming from the agony, the world shrinking into a jumbled view of the clear sky and the gravel as he was rolling on the ground.


    When it stopped, he didn’t dare move. His whole body was in the grip of pain, and it was a small miracle he was still conscious or even alive. His mind was hazy and he knew there was something he had to do, something very important. He could hear rumbling of some kind in the distance, distracting his thoughts even more and somehow he knew that important thing had to do something with the rumbling sound.


    He opened his eyes as someone rolled him on his back and he looked into an ugly green face. He blinked, trying to send it away, but it remained there.


    “... don’t move, Fancypants, ya got a dislocated shoulder and a nasty cut on yer head,” a voice came from that ugly green face. “Maybe even a broken leg. I think.”


    It was the Orc, Isluf now remembered. The one he was supposed to watch.


    The Orc then looked up, looking in the direction of the rumbling sound. “It’s goin’ to be over soon,” he murmured, and his lips then moved without a sound, as if he was counting.

    Captain Isluf fell from his horse and Anweithi watched the animal neigh in pain, its leg broken, its cries drowned by the rumbling of the advancing wall of promised death. Sand, gravel and rocks were wailing a thundering song of despair as the sandstorm came charging at the excavation site.


    People were running. People were standing and staring in shock.


    And it didn’t matter.


    Anweithi’s eyes were locked on the metat standing in the sand and gravel alone, standing between the excavation and the storm and she watched him raise his hands, as if he was leaning against the storm.

    Isluf stared into the gaping maw of the storm, barely capable of moving and he began preparing himself to enter the Far Shores. There was one comfort in that thought, and that was that he wouldn’t be going there alone. No one would survive this.


    “One hundred eleven and a half,” the Orc suddenly murmured.


    And the sandstorm crumbled.

    Anweithi watched with eyes wide as plates when the sandstorm hit an imaginary line and all the sand, gravel and rocks began falling down as if Tall Papa had beaten the wind out of the storm with his stick. The rest of the sandstorm kept pushing and pushing, but once it reached a certain distance from the metat it broke down.


    And Toreif Cyrur al-B’ithir stood there, fifty steps away from the newly created earthwork of shifting sand, his hands still raised. Unwavering.


    And Anweithi felt the sting of fear of this man for the first time in her life.

    The day went by too quickly in Anweithi’s mind, her thoughts still tangled by the shock she experienced. Some workers left the excavation site, grabbing what they could, but most of them stayed, believing that the metat was their savior, who could protect them from any kind of danger either the nomads, the desert or the ruins held.


    And maybe they were right, because stopping a sandstorm like that… It was no small feat. What Anweithi understood about the cursed arcane arts was that it acted mostly as any other kind of natural phenomenon. Like an avalanche or… boulder rolling down the hill. It took some effort to push the boulder over the edge, and once it started moving, one could steer it, but stopping it? That took much much more effort than just pushing it.


    She was sitting in the metat’s tent, watching Toreif treating Captain Isluf with balms and potions. She wondered why Toreif didn’t use magic to heal the captain, but it probably had to do something with the fact he’d just stopped a sandstorm. He had to be tired and weak. And yet, he moved with unexpected vitality and that scared Anweithi even more.


    The metat waved some kind of mixture under the Captain’s nose and Isluf’s eyelids flickered. He seemed disoriented, but then his eyes suddenly went wide and he tried to sit up. “The sandstorm-” he began, but then he screamed in pain as all his bruises and broken bones reminded him what had happened.


    The metat pushed him back into the field bed, trying to calm him down. “Easy now, Captain. It is over, the danger has passed.”


    “The danger...” Isluf murmured as he blinked, confused, and Anweithi wondered if he was in full possession of his faculties. “The nomads. You knew about them!” he narrowed his eyes at the metat and Anweithi frowned.


    “What?” she asked sharply, glaring at Toreif.


    The metat just waved his hand - it seemed he was doing that a lot - and turned to Anweithi. “As I explained to the captain before, no shira, they are of no threat.”


    “No threat?” she repeated, not believing her own ears. “And that sandstorm was what? A friendly gesture?”


    Toreif tilted his head, clicking with his tongue. “I have to admit that I have not expected three full-fledged hunding m’kai capable of casting an intertwined wind ritual for the purpose of a sandstorm,” he said, using as many magic related words as possible with the intention of confusing Anweithi, she was sure about that. “But even that was not a match for Skaven’s metat, was it?”


    She was about to reply with something venomous when she heard a cough behind the tent’s entrance. “No shira. Metat. The nomads have sent a message. Permission to enter?”


    “Permission granted,” Anweithi smirked and watched a young house guard enter. He seemed pretty, his bright blue eyes certainly getting her attention, but she couldn’t remember his name even if her life depended on it.


    “Well? What is the message?” Toreif pressed and the guard cleared his throat.


    “They will let everyone leave, promising not to harm a single soul, but they will stop every caravan with supplies heading here. They said we can either leave and live or stay and die.”


    Anweithi narrowed her eyes. Who they think they are? Desert barbarians, thinking they can dictate terms.


    “You can leave now,” the metat dismissed the guard and waited until he left before he sat down on his field stool, sighing. “Now they are becoming much more of a nuisance than I expected.”


    “How long can we survive here without supplies?” she asked, making the metat raise his eyebrows, looking surprised.


    “We? You are still bent on staying here, no shira?”


    She flashed him a smile. “Dear Toreif. Of course I am. I am not leaving this place without you, just as my father instructed, but I am also of a mind that whatever is lying in the ruins, we cannot leave it here for the nomads to just pick it up. Just the fact they want it proves that there is something - I do not know what, but the stakes are high so I do believe it could prove useful in expanding Skaven’s prestige.”


    The captain rose on his elbows a little, shaking his head. “Pardon me, no shira, but I don’t believe they want it for themselves. They merely want it to stay hidden-”


    Anweithi snorted. “Please, Captain, don’t be so - what is the word Bretons keep using? Ah, yes - naive. Everyone wants something and nobody does anything just out of generosity. They want the treasure in the ruins, there is no doubt about that.”


    “Well said, lady Anweithi,” Toreif nodded and smiled, as if he was glad they could agree at least on something - frankly, even Anweithi was surprised by that. “We have rations for more than two weeks and the workers hit on underground water, which means there is a well and so we have as much water as we will require - in theory. I would still advice rationing our reserves.”


    “But still, the excavation could go on for months. You said it yourself, the ruins are deep under the ground,” Anweithi pointed out.


    “That is true, but I theorized that if we could find an entrance into the tower which we dug up, we could create an underground system leading through the ruins. If most of the tower is still standing, then most of the houses could be standing too.”


    “With so many ‘coulds’ it seems too hopeful for my own liking,” she snorted. “But you are the expert here, dear Toreif. What about the nomads though? Can you match their magic again?”


    The metat shrugged. “As long as we stay here I doubt they will be trying the magic approach again.” He paused and Anweithi pondered those words. She had expected him to brag about his power, how he would be able to stop any other magicka attempt on their lives, but instead he...equivocated. “And I personally doubt they will try a more direct approach such as trying to charge us. They cannot have more than twenty able bodied warriors and we have double that number - thanks to your house guard - and on top of that we have at least fifty workers who would fight for their miserable lives if they were forced to.”


    “Where’s the Orgun?” the captain suddenly asked, getting their attention.


    Anweithi snorted. “Who cares? He probably ran away with the rest of the cowards.”


    “He is still around,” the metat shook his head. “Somewhere. The guards seen him around the excavation earlier, but as of this moment he is nowhere to be found.”


    “The no lo’igra is hiding from us,” Isluf murmured, then looking straight at metat. “Hiding something from us.”


    “I agree,” the metat rubbed his braided goatee. “I will have my guards look for him. But right now, I would advice both you, Captain, and you, lady Anweithi, to rest. There will be a lot of work come morning.”

    Despite what the metat said Anweithi just couldn’t force herself into sleep. She kept replaying the day in her mind, seeing that immense wall of sand in front of her, getting closer and closer. She wouldn’t survive, and that was the reason why she couldn’t stop thinking about it.


    She was this close to death. She was meant to die, but she didn’t.


    What was she supposed to do now?


    So she walked the edges of excavation site, wrapped in a heavy cloak to chase away the cold that ruled over the desert in the night. The moons were bright, just as the stars, and she kept looking up at that strange sea that was the night sky. It seemed so close, all she had to do was just reach and pluck the stars from it. She believed it was possible when she was young, when her mother kept telling her stories of brave Yokudan sailors fleeing their ancient homeland, finding Tamriel.


    How many times did those men and women have to face death? Either on the sea or on the land? Countless times, she had no doubt about that, but how did they cope with it? How can one cope with the notion of staring into the face of death knowing very well it stares right back? Death is patient, death is relentless. Steal one moment, steal two, but it will come anyway. Does death even care? What is a year to death? A mere moment…


    A cloud obscured the moons and she found herself in the dark, which made her wary. She never liked darkness, too many things could be hiding in the shadows of the night and -


    A sound behind her made her jump in fright and she turned around.


    Nothing. There was nothing there, but she could swear she’d heard a distant wail, but somehow right behind her. She narrowed her eyes, deciding it might have been the light breeze that was picking up. Then she heard a strange humming, also behind her, and she quickly turned, staring into the night. But there was, once again, nothing. She cowered instinctively, a shiver running down her spine.


    The rasp of shifting sand sounded behind her and she turned, letting out a surprised gasp.


    There was the guard with the bright blue eyes walking towards her, stopping after he heard her gasp, raising his hands. “My apologies, no shira,” he said in a soft voice. “It wasn’t my intention to startle you.”


    She put her hand on her chest, feeling her heart pounding as if it wanted to jump out of her ribcage, and she took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down. “I merely lost my footing for a moment,” she murmured, trying to mask her moment of weakness.


    “Of course, no shira,” the guard nodded with a solemn voice and walked closer to her. “You shouldn’t be walking alone so far away from the camp, my lady. The night can be dangerous in the desert.”


    “I know,” she nodded and turned her back to the guard, staring into the night with arms wrapped around her shoulders. “I would not mind some company then,” she added softly, feeling somewhat safer with that handsome guard around. “But forgive me, for I seem to have forgotten your name.”


    “Don’t apologize, my lady. I’m a mere guardsman, you’re not obliged to know my name. But if you really want’s K’avar,” the young man said humbly.


    “K’avar,” she repeated, rolling the name on her tongue. It sounded familiar to her, she’d heard it somewhere before. In one of the history lessons. “Lord K’avar. The warlord and veteran of the War of Betony?”


    “Yes, my mother named me after Lord K’avar, the founder of the Order of the Candle. Still don’t understand where my mother found out about a lord from Sentinel and from a different Era, but she was always one for stories,” the young man chuckled, shaking his head. “I can almost hear her voice now, even though she’s in Skaven.”


    “And what is she telling you?” she wondered, a tiny smile playing on her face. It was strange, getting so familiar with commoners such as the house guards, but she had stared into death’s eyes several hours back, she would take anything to stop thinking about that.


    “In a night like this? A frightening story. Yes, I think she would try to scare me with the bakhtak.”


    “Bakhtak?” she frowned, never hearing that word before.


    “You never heard of them, my lady? My mother said that bakhtak are night creatures who try to murder people in their sleep, in their dreams. It is said you can know they are around if you feel a weight on your chest, which is the bakhtak sitting on you and filling you with bad dreams. And if you wake up, the bakhtak will paralyze you and disappear only to come back later, when you’re asleep again.” He then chuckled, shaking his head. “It is said that the best way to chase away the bakhtak is not to sleep alone.”


    Anweithi tilted her head, raising her eyebrows as a smile came creeping on her face. Bold move. “Is that so?” she asked, her voice lower in tone now. She glanced over her shoulder at the young K’avar, admiring his boldness. “Are there any other ways to chase away this bakhtak?” she smiled.


    “I know of few,” he laughed. “I could - Did you hear that?”


    His tone suddenly changed and she turned around, frowning at him. “Oh, please. You said that the bakhtak come only in the sleep.”


    She could see his head turning around in the dark as if he was looking for something. “No, I’m serious. I heard something.” He pulled out his shamshir, staring into the darkness. “Is someone out there?” he raised his voice.


    The answer was silence.


    Anweithi was about to scoff at his poor attempt at making her throw herself into his arms, completely killing her mood.


    But then she heard it. That distant wail. And footsteps. Rapidly closing.


    “Who’s that?!” K’avar shouted, tightly gripping his weapon.


    Anweithi’s went wide when the footsteps got closer, and then she saw it. Footsteps in the sand, appearing out of nowhere. Heading towards them.


    The cloud blocking out the moons parted and as the moonlight swept over the land…


    Anweithi screamed in terror when suddenly there was… something running towards them. It looked like a man, but glowed with white light, its form blurry and almost spectral…


    K’avar swung his shamshir, but it passed through, whatever it was, and then it jumped…


    Right through K’avar.


    There was a flash of white light, silent thunder, and K’avar fell on the ground, his skin grey and charred, as if he’d been burned by frostbite.


    The thing then turned its head towards her. It was human...yet not.


    And she screamed.

    The ground around the excavation site suddenly trembled, the sand began shifting and screams rose to the night sky as the earth began opening, sinkholes appearing all over the site, one even swallowing a whole group of workers.


    The metat watched all that from the top of the hill where his tent was, his eyes wide in shock, but at the same time he was rubbing his braided goatee in thought.


    Shouting to halt the sands' shifting only leaves you hoarse. Literally.

    The fire was burning bright in the night and a group of men sat around it, passing between themselves a pipe. They were arguing, or maybe debating, but for them it was the same. None of them raised their voices more than was required, their emotions having been dulled by the smoke while their thoughts were still crystal clear.


    We should leave the fools to their deaths.


    They are not fools, they are only blind for following their false leaders. Does that alone make them fools?


    It makes them sheep.


    They still do not deserve to be denied the Far Shores because they are prisoners of their society.


    A prisoner can see his shackles, his bars. They are not prisoners, they are slaves.


    If they manage to unleash what is hidden then it will not matter anymore.


    I agree, we cannot have them open the passage.


    The city protects itself. Releasing the fury of Alik’r on those who cower above it again would be pointless.


    And we lack the numbers to chase them away with the strength of our arms.


    We need to come to an agreement sooner or later.


    The ground suddenly trembled in the west and they could hear the earth splitting with the screams rising above it. They all stared in that direction for a while, still undecided about their course of action.


    It is awoken.


    We need to make a decision.


    We shall remain here.


    We will not allow it to escape its boundaries.


    We have to act.




    A hunter will be sent.


    One of the men nodded and got on his feet, walking into the darkness.


    Tu’whacca guide your steps, brother.

    Captain Isluf came stumbling out of the metat’s tent, using a staff he’d found lying around as a crutch. His leg was in a splint, which was probably the only thing that allowed him to walk. He felt dizzy, his vision blurry from all the potions the metat had forced down his throat, but as long as it helped him heal faster he wasn’t one to complain.


    As soon as the tremors started he forced himself out of the bed and out of the tent, to see what was going on. And he couldn’t believe his own eyes.


    The excavation site under the hill was being torn apart by large sinkholes in the ground. Equipment and workers were being swallowed by the shifting sand. Chaos was spreading all over the camp. The people were screaming and trying to run away, but the sand kept sweeping them of their feet, dragging them down into the holes. Most of the workers had managed to get into a safe distance, but they still kept running, unsure if the ground was stable, and Isluf couldn’t help but wonder if the earth under his feet would swallow him and everyone on the hill too.


    It couldn’t last longer than a few minutes, but when it was over, Isluf was looking at six sinkholes in the earth, each leading deep into the ground. But where did all the sand and the dirt go? The tremors didn’t split the earth like they did during the earthquakes common in the lands to the east of Skaven. No, this looked as if a god had let fall a few worms on the ground and they had buried their way into the mud, looking for something.


    Everything was crumbling…


    He had to get Lady Anweithi out of here, before it was too late.


    Isluf hobbled towards the lady’s tent, the tremors accompanying his every uncertain step. She had to see reason now, understand that this endeavour was nothing but foolish - and if not, he would make her see that. It was his duty to protect her life.


    He stopped by the tent’s entrance, loudly clearing his throat. “Lady Anweithi?”


    No answer came from inside and he frowned. Surely even she wouldn’t be able to sleep through the end of the world - well, he was probably exaggerating, but it certainly seemed that way to him in this moment.


    “Lady Anweithi?” he raised his voice, but still no answer.


    He burst into the tent and his heart sank.

    “Are you sure? Right here?” Isluf asked Lathkim, looking around. They brought torches and began searching the place where lady Anweithi was seen last, the metat and his mercenaries providing help. The night was suddenly alive with the flames of the torches casting away the darkness, creating a deceitful shadows dancing over the sand.


    “Yes,” the house guard nodded, supporting Isluf. “She went here, and K’avar offered to stay with her. Then I heard a scream from this direction.”


    “And you didn’t investigate?” the captain frowned.


    “The tremors hit then, Captain. What was I supposed to do?”


    Yes, what was he supposed to do? More importantly what were they supposed to do? Isluf couldn’t blame Lathkim for not running towards lady Anweithi, not in this case. They were meant to protect her from daggers in the night and swords gleaming in the sun, but what were they supposed to do when an earthquake hit? They couldn’t be prepared for such a thing.


    “Maybe our dear Lady Anweithi has decided to spend some time alone with the young house guard?” the metat suggested with an awfully cheerful voice, almost as if he’d just experienced the happiest day in his life. How could the man feel like that, after the earthquake had swallowed dozens of his workers? The metat was a snake, not caring for anyone but himself, and it disgusted Isluf to no end.


    “I found something!” one of the mercenaries shouted from the left and Isluf immediately started hobbling towards him. Part of him expected the Orgun, but luckily that wasn’t the case. The mercenary was a Redguard. Isluf really hoped the sinkholes had swallowed the greenskin too.


    “What is it?” he asked, narrowing his eyes. The mercenary pointed at the ground, where something glistened in the light of torches. Isluf picked it up, frowning. It looked like a wooden handle, with a small piece of gold set it in.


    “That’s… That’s K’avar’s,” Lathkim stammered. “It’s the pommel of his shamshir. He always kept bragging about the piece of gold in it.”


    Isluf stared at it and he had to admit Lathkim was right. But where was the rest of the shamshir? The wood was carrying traces of some kind of dust and Isluf rubbed it between his fingers. “Rust?” he wondered out loud, looking at the holes in the wood where the rivets should have been. He then waved with the torch around, staring at the ground and he saw it there, in the sand.


    An outline of K’avar’s shamshir, an outline of red dust in the sand. And right next to it was another smudge of rust that might have once been a hauberk.


    “What kind of cursed sorcery is this?” he mumured.


    The metat crouched next to the red dust, taking it into his hands, watching it disperse. “Fascinating.”


    “Captain! Here!” another of the house guards raised his voice. Isluf walked those three steps towards him and squinted at the ground. No rust there, but…


    In the sand were the golden rings lady Anweithi braided into her hair. All of them. Does that mean… Is she... He dropped on the ground, desperation gripping his heart with its suffocating grasp.


    I lost her, he thought. I had one job… It was my duty, I was bound by honor… And I lost her.


    “Most interesting,” the metat murmured. “Captain, come look at this.”


    Isluf raised his head, trying to focus on the cursed m’kai. I could kill him right here, rip that black heart of his right from his chest, make everyone take a good look at what’s hiding in the metat’s soul. I might die for it, but what does it matter?


    “Captain, I am serious!” the metat growled and Isluf motioned for Lathkim to help him on his feet. With the guard’s support he hobbled towards the metat and looked at what the old man was pointing at.


    Isluf tilted his head, frowning. It looked like… a footprint. An imprint of a bare foot in the sand.


    “It seems Lady Anweithi might not be as lost as you think, Captain,” the metat chuckled and pointed at the trail leading towards the excavation site.

    18th of Sun’s Height, 4E 204


    Isluf tried to sleep for the rest of the night, but it was impossible to just shut everything off, especially his own thoughts, which swarmed in his head like bats in a dark cave. He couldn’t stop thinking about everything that had happened.


    At moments it seemed as if it had happened to someone else, or as if it was a dream. The sandstorm, the tremors and lady Anweithi’s mysterious disappearance. Just few days ago such things seemed impossible, unbelievable, even, but he as much as he could try to deny it, he still knew it was real. Painfully real.


    And his mind was trying to make sense of it.


    Before he and Lady Anweithi had arrived the nomads warned the metat about the danger in the ruins, but he hadn’t heeded their words, dismissing them as superstition. But Isluf couldn’t help himself but wonder. What if they were right? Whoever they were, they didn’t seem to be interested in what was lying in the city. No, they seemed afraid of it.


    And then the tremors. And the strange rust left behind, as if… It sounded crazy, but it was as if all the metal K’avar had been wearing had completely corroded, and it worried Isluf to think about it. If even K’avar’s armor corroded, what could have happened to the man in it? And why was the gold left untouched?


    Captain Isluf dreaded what they would find in the ruins.


    What if we have woken up what the nomads fear?


    Those were his thoughts in the night and he was mulling over them even as he stared down into the sinkhole, the sun burning above him, its rays illuminating the darkness below. He could see the walls of the sinkhole, the sand and the dirt, and part of him wondered what was holding it all together, keeping the sinkhole from collapsing, filling?


    The work had been slower because more workers had left in the night and he didn’t blame them. He would run too, if he could. If he wasn’t bound by his duty and honor. Those that remained were mostly the desperate or the foolish, the rest being the indentured servants who had nowhere else to go.


    The metat forced the workers to build a lift first thing in the morning, and they worked all through the forenoon until they were finished. Isluf was slowly becoming restless from all his sitting around, resting his leg. He needed to do something, but he knew he would just get in everyone’s way. No, it was better to rest, let the healing potions do their work, because he was sure he would need all his strength - and the support of his leg too - once they descended the sinkhole to whatever was lying in the deep.


    The first time the lift was lowered into the sinkhole, it was carrying mining equipment and just a few workers to unload it. Even then it took almost an hour before the lift was pulled back up and more workers were lowered, along with several mercenaries.


    Isluf heard the angry walk of the metat and he turned around, watching the m’kai walk towards him, fuming about something. Frankly, Isluf even didn’t want to know what had got under Toreif’s skin this time. All he cared about was making sure that Lady Anweithi was still unharmed, or at the very least alive.


    It was a strange thing, thinking about the Lady’s fate. Because even if she was alive and unharmed, Isluf already lost the right to breathe. The moment he returned her back to the Vizier he - and all his men - would be executed for failing at their duty. And they all came to terms with that. They knew they all deserved it, for they had failed indeed.


    “Captain Isluf,” the metat glared at him, clenching his jaws. “I believe you have not heard yet.”


    “Heard what?” Isluf looked up, frankly not interested in whatever the metat had to-


    “The Orgun,” Toreif spat out the word and that certainly got the Captain’s attention. “I see I have got you curious now. Yes, the Orgun. The workers have seen him climbing down into the sinkhole, during the night - though apparently he was not so stealthy about it. The workers could hear him screaming something as ´tusking heights´all the while.”


    “What?” the captain gritted his teeth.


    “Infuriating, is it not?”


    It was, but most likely not because of the same reasons as the metat had - which was probably something about the greenskin setting foot into the ruins before Toreif himself. No, what infuriated the captain was… what if the Orc was behind Lady Anweithi’s disappearance? What if he’d kidnapped her or… Isluf shook his head. That seemed far-fetched, even for himself. The Orc wasn’t interested in Lady Torth’kern at all, what he did seem interested about were the ruins and what lied in the deep.


    Just as the metat, Isluf narrowed his eyes at Toreif. “Indeed,” he murmured.


    “I swear to Tall Papa, if we find him down there pillaging our history, you have my permission to skin the beast, Captain,” the metat grimaced, shaking his head. “Ah, look. The lift is raising. It is our turn now, dear Captain. History calls.”


    History calls.


    What if history should have stayed buried?

    She opened her eyes and groaned as she struggled to breathe. She blinked several times and when her vision cleared she released a surprised scream.


    Anweithi was standing in the middle of a crowd of people. They were pushing against her, walking somewhere and dragging her along, completely unfazed by her screams. A few gave her a look with raised eyebrows, but they just kept walking, looking away as if she was something completely uninteresting.


    Everything was cast under a strange green light and she raised her head, noticing a ceiling of green glass above her, as well as walls made of the same material. She looked under her feet and somehow wasn’t surprised that the floor was made of green glass too.


    “Where am I?” she asked a woman walking next to her, but there was no answer. The woman didn’t even look at her. Anweithi grabbed her arm and forced her to meet her eyes. “What is this place?”


    The woman turned to her and Anweithi twitched under that gaze. It seemed as if the woman was looking right through her, completely unaware of her presence. Anweithi pulled her hand away and her eyes darted around her surroundings. There were people as far as she could see, and that was the strange thing. The ceiling and walls were completely drowning in darkness and Anweithi could see no source of light, and still, there was the green glow that illuminated the path.


    It didn’t make any sense.


    The people around her. They were all Redguards. But most seemed… strange to her. Their clothes certainly did not follow the recent fashion, having more of an archaic look, just like she had seen on old rug paintings or mosaics in Skaven’s palace. She saw a few warriors and even their armor seemed ancient. Yokuda ancient.


    What is going on?


    “Hello?” she raised her voice, trying to get at least someone’s attention. “Can anyone hear me?”


    “Lady Anweithi?” sounded a surprised voice somewhere ahead of her, and she narrowed her eyes.




    “Lady Anweithi! Where are you?”


    “Behind you! Here!” she raised her hand, jumping up and down to get the house guard’s attention. Her hair kept whirling around her head and she noticed the braids were lacking all the golden rings.


    “I’m coming!” K’avar shouted and she could hear him pushing through the crowd, grunting. A few moments later he appeared right in front of her and she grabbed his face, making sure it was real. She threw her arms around his neck, tears swelling in her eyes.


    “How?” she asked between her sobs. “I saw… I saw you die, K’avar.”


    “That’s not possible, my lady,” he murmured. “I’m standing right here, feeling as alive as before. And these are not the Far Shores.”


    “K’avar, that...thing…”


    “I know. It’s going to be alright,” he stroked her hair. “It got you too? It must have, why else would both of us be here?”


    “I… I don’t know. Nothing makes sense. What do we do? K’avar? What do we do?” she asked desperately, struggling to keep her emotions at bay. Fear was creeping up her spine, because she didn’t understand a thing of what was going on.


    The young guard looked around. “The wall. Let’s get to the wall, maybe that will give us a better idea,” he murmured. She dried her eyes and nodded.


    He took her hand and she squeezed, afraid to let go as they pushed through the crowd who mostly ignored them. A few of the people glanced at them, surprised looks on their faces as they measured their clothes, but then they looked straight ahead again, as if they had lost interest in the two.


    They reached the wall and K’avar began rubbing it with his hand, trying to clear the glass so that they could look through. Then he suddenly stopped and Anweithi tilted her head, confused. She looked at the spot he was rubbing, looked right through it.


    And all she could see was sand and dirt. Pushing against the glass.


    More tears appeared in her eyes.


    We are buried alive.

    The lift kept descending down into the darkness, the air filling with the smell of dirt and decay, and Isluf kept staring at the sinkhole’s walls, afraid they would collapse at any moment. They should collapse, he knew that, but it still didn’t make any sense.


    He could hear the ropes creaking under the weight of more than a dozen men, just as the wood was creaking, and Isluf gripped the railing tighter with every creak. He had taken all of the house guards with him, and with the metat and his own men, the lift had become quite cramped.


    The captain looked down and all he could see was the darkness. The bottom was nonexistent. There were torches flickering somewhere down, but it seemed that they were set on some kind of a ledge in the sinkhole. So they haven’t reached the bottom, he thought, and wondered how deep the sinkholes were - and more importantly, how deep under the ground the ruins could be.


    The metat kept staring at some kind of device in his hand and Isluf frowned. “What is that?”


    Toreif looked up, his bright eyes narrowing, and then he chuckled. “If I tried to explain, Captain, you would not understand a word. Let’s just say that this device shows direction. It should become quite useful once we find ourselves cut off from sunlight.”


    “Direction to where?”


    The metat snorted. “You surprise me, Captain. I thought you were smarter than this, but apparently I was mistaken.” Isluf glared at the metat who completely ignored that. “If you have not noticed, the sinkholes appeared in a perfect circle around the first dig, where we found the red mineral. I do believe that must have some kind of reason thus the tower is our destination.”


    “All I care about is finding Lady Anweithi.”


    Toreif snorted. “Do not be so shortsighted, Captain. We are about to discover something that has been buried for at least three Eras. Can you comprehend what that means? The marvels we could find here-”


    Isluf looked away, shutting the metat’s voice out completely, trying to sharpen his thoughts into a cold, calculating weapon, which he knew they would need very soon. The metat may be easily distracted but Isluf didn’t have that privilege, he had to focus and expect danger at every corner.


    The descent seemed to take forever, and the Captain even found himself dozing off, the everpresent darkness chased away by the light of the torches becoming too familiar for him to even notice it. It just became part of everything that was going on, which only made Isluf wonder just how much a human mind could get used to after a certain period of time. Heat, cold, darkness, light, the human body could adapt to that just as the mind, but could it adapt to more complex extremes such as guilt? Failure? Shame?


    What is darkness compared to self-loathing? What is hunger compared to desperation?


    Nothing but sand in the wind.


    The lift then neared the light of torches set into the wall of the sinkhole at the sides of something that looked like a naturally carved tunnel. Isluf could see people standing in the tunnel watching them, and it took him a moment before he realized they were the workers that had been sent down first.


    One of the mercenaries on the lift rang a bell hanging on the construction, and the descent stopped immediately. A rope was thrown towards the workers in the tunnel and they began pulling the wooden construction closer. It was a slow process, because the lift had to be lowered several times to compensate for the distance between it and the tunnel but after a while Isluf was standing once more on firm ground and feeling quite relieved.


    He looked around, and realized that he had been mistaken when he considered the tunnel to be a natural one. It actually looked like a hall, the stone around him being the work of human hands. Motifs and mosaics covered the walls. Most of them had been destroyed by the inevitable march of time, but that didn’t matter much to Isluf. He wasn’t here for sightseeing.


    The metat, on the other hand, was fascinated. “Amazing. Very early Yokudan work,” he murmured to himself, lost in his own thoughts of ages long gone.


    “We are not here to admire walls, metat,” Isluf reminded him in a rougher tone than he had wanted, but the m’kai barely seemed to notice it. Instead he nodded, murmuring to himself and then turning to the captain.


    “Well said. I say we follow this path and see where it takes us. I wonder if we are at what would have been the city’s ground level. Or perhaps above it. These walls around here and especially the size of the hall seem too big for a common house. What do you think, Captain?”


    Isluf shrugged.


    “I think we are in some kind of palace right now, maybe directly connected to the tower.” He then paused, grabbing a torch from one of the workers, and stared down the hall. “Oh, and keep an eye out for the strange mineral.”




    “Why? Well, my working theory is that the closer we get to our destination the more frequent the mineral gets. But it is only a theory of course.”


    For some reason that notion scared Isluf. One wrong step in the dark meant any of them could touch the mineral and would just...die without really dying. And they still had no idea what else was down there with them. Isluf could feel his hand trembling with his nerves. He gripped the pommel of his pulwar as tightly as he could, baring his teeth into the darkness.


    “Weapons ready, men,” he turned to his comrades, knowing the name of every single one of them. Good men, all of them. He trusted them with his life, especially now that he wasn’t that much of use because of his broken leg, still in the splint. He was leaning against an improvised crutch Lathkim had made for him, unsheathing his weapon with his other hand.


    They all prepared their weapons, some with torches in their off hands, some with shields.


    They couldn’t be more prepared than this.


    And he hoped it would be enough.

    The hunter approached the excavation site from the north, exploiting the fact that all the guards and workers were situated around the sinkhole the metat had used to descend into the deep. He sneaked towards another of the holes, well out of sight, and stopped at the edge.


    He looked down into the hole and began unwrapping the rope he was carrying, anchoring it to a broken crane that had been left behind.


    And he began descending.

    They progressed through the halls quickly and Isluf was quite surprised by the size of the complex. It seemed as if the halls were endless. Every time they reached an intersection they marked the stone so that they knew which way to return, while the metat kept playing with that device in his hands. Isluf got a better look at it and the metal it was made from looked like the ones used by Dwarves. It was clicking and hissing and it was generally all kinds of strange to Isluf. But it pointed to some direction every time. The question was if they were good directions.


    One thing Isluf couldn’t deny was that the frequency of the red mineral had increased. It was growing through the walls and the ceiling, and they even had to walk through a large room, where it crystallized through the floor. They lost one of the workers there, the poor soul stumbling and impaling himself on one of the ruby-like stalagmites. And they just left the body there, too afraid to touch it, in case it would affect them too.


    The captain had no idea how much time had passed since they entered the halls. Maybe it was already night outside. He turned to Latkhim. “How long have we been here?”


    The guard pulled an hourglass from his pocket. “Four hours, maybe. It should be getting dark soon.” He paused and grimaced, clearly struggling with something. “Do you think we will find her, Captain?” he asked with hesitation in his voice.


    “Of course we will. It is our duty,” Isluf said resolutely, patting Lathkim on a shoulder, even though he had his own doubts.


    His leg hurt as if Sep himself had taken a bite out of it and it was slowing him down, which clearly annoyed the metat, who wanted to press on. So Isluf clenched his jaws and just continued, even though he wasn’t sure how long he would be able to keep up.


    So he sighed in relief when they reached another intersection, the halls diverging into five more, making it even more difficult for the metat to figure out which one to take. Isluf sat down on the floor, letting out a long exhale through his nose as he eased the pressure on his leg.


    Toreif was murmuring something to himself as he toyed with the Dwarven device and Isluf looked around, mostly at all the people. A dozen of his house guards, nearly that same number of mercenaries, and at least a twenty of workers. They all seemed tired and to a certain degree frightened, and he understood that. He was frightened too.


    He narrowed his eyes as he looked at the ground, at the dust covering it. “Metat,” he said, clawing back onto his feet, a frown on his face.


    “I am focusing, Captain-”


    “The floor. Look at the floor.”


    Toreif frowned in confusion and then glanced at the floor, just as everyone else.


    It was covered with footprints.


    A distant wail sounded from one of the halls and Isluf nearly jumped out of his pants.


    “What was that?”


    “Where did it come from?”


    “I think it came from there,” one of the workers pointed towards the hallway to their right.


    And then it sounded again, much closer now.


    “Torches! Throw the torches there!” Isluf ordered and three torches flew through the air, landing on the floor with some space between them, creating pools of light in the sea of darkness.


    Everyone was staring that way now, their breaths quickening, their hands trembling.


    The wails echoed through the halls once more. And then Isluf heard footsteps. Bare feet slapping on the stone floor. Multiple pairs.


    The most distant torch flickered as if something just passed it and Isluf frowned when he saw more footprints appearing in the dust.


    “Weapons!” he shouted, even though he had no idea what was happening or what they were fighting.


    The second torch flickered.


    The workers began panicking and Isluf bared his teeth. “Turn your back and you’re all dead! Fight for your lives!” he shouted, and they looked at him in the light of the torches, their faces distorted with terror.


    Third torch flickered.




    The mercenaries and the guards swung their weapons at their invisible opponents. Isluf saw how their weapons cut the air without any resistance, only to begin corroding at a tremendous speed.


    Silent thunder echoed through the hall as something collided with the fighters, white lights flashing through their bodies, only for the men to start falling on the ground, their skin charred with something that could only have been frostbite.


    The fighters kept swinging their weapons around in blind fury, but one by one they fell to the ground, each with a white flash accompanying them.


    Isluf’s hands trembled as he turned towards the metat, who was staring with wide eyes, completely frozen. The captain grabbed the metat’s arm and shook the man. “Metat! Do something! Now!”




    “You stopped the sandstorm!” Isluf growled, watching his house guards, his friends, dying, killed by invisible opponents. It was pointless, they couldn’t defend themselves against such foes - they needed magic. “Those men are dying!”


    “I can’t!” Toreif screamed into Isluf’s face before turning on his heels and darting into one of the hallways, disappearing from the Captain’s sight.


    “Coward!” Isluf shouted after him, before he turned around, back to where the men and women were dying one by one, the workers now trying to run in all directions and Isluf found himself backing away, his pulwar pointing towards all the dead bodies. His blade was shaking, his hand unable to stop trembling. Isluf licked his lips.


    This wasn’t the moment he imagined he would die. Not like this, unable to fight back.


    The last of the workers fell and Isluf found himself backing away, his pulwar pointed at the darkness. A useless gesture.


    There were whispers coming from in front of him, silent wails, but he still couldn’t see anything. Something had just killed more than thirty good men and women and he didn’t even see it. He would follow them to death very soon. And there was nothing he could do about it.


    He had failed.


    Stand with me, Tu’whacca, he sent a silent prayer and -


    All of a sudden the hallway was lit by a pale red light coming from somewhere behind Isluf, followed by a low soothing humming, but what he saw in front of him took his breath away and didn’t allow him to turn around.


    Half a dozen of spectral forms were standing in front of him. They looked like humans, but they glowed with white light, faceless and intimidating. They paused for a moment as they stared at their own hands, as if they were seeing them for the first time, and then they focused their gazes at something behind Isluf.


    And they began moving, heading straight for Isluf, prepared to just pass through him.


    A sound came from behind, as if a sword was screeching against a scabbard, and the air vibrated, golden light sweeping through the hallway. It was as if someone had swung a sword right next to Isluf’s head. He could even feel the air move on his skin, and…


    The spectral forms fell on the ground, falling into pieces as if they had suffered a thousand cuts. The white glow slowly dissipated and the rest of their bodies disintegrated into nothingness.


    His gaze shifted towards all the bodies of the men and women that were with him in the hall, all his house guards he had known most of his life, noticing all the metal on their bodies corroding and their flesh… crumbling, peeling off, disintegrating too.


    Lady Anweithi, he thought desperately, leaning against the wall and sliding down, unable to take this anymore. This choking feeling of failure, now solidifying even more around his heart. If these things had gotten to lady Anweithi… then she was truly lost. What was he supposed to do if there wasn’t even a body to recover?


    He had completely and utterly failed.


    He heard footsteps to his right, heavy and shambling ones, but he lacked the strength to even look in that direction. He lacked the strength to even be curious as to who had just saved him. Everything seemed overwhelmingly pointless at this moment.


    “Do you want me to save your batek, Ra Gada?” a dry voice rattled above him and his eyes honed on the feet in front of him. Protected by rusted armor of ancient design, the skin under it completely hidden by linen strips wrapped around the legs. Isluf’s gaze slowly shifted up. The air was filled with the stench of death and decay and he suppressed a scream when he looked into the face wrapped in linen strips, revealing only two eyes burning with yellow light, staring at him.


    He quickly bowed his head, getting on his knees, and touched the floor with his forehead. “Revered ancestor,” he murmured with as much respect as he could muster in this moment.


    The undead creature didn’t say anything, but Isluf didn’t dare look up. Whoever it was, he - Isluf assumed it was a he by the stature and the armor - was mummified as was the custom of ancients Yokudans, which made him a very ancient creature and an ancestor in Isluf’s and Tu’whacca’s eyes.


    “Do you want me to save your batek?” the undead Yokudan asked again.


    “My...soul?” Isluf blinked and looked up. Suddenly he understood where the pale red light was coming from. The undead’s left hand was engulfed in the red light, extending past his arm, whirling and twirling like a snake only to shift into a stem of a rose. The undead’s right hand was engulfed in a similar way, with a golden light that extended past his arm too, almost as if it was a blade. “Shehai,” the captain murmured in reverence.


    Right in front of him was an Ansei. A Swordsinger of ages long gone.


    “Yes, your soul, Ra Gada,” the Ansei snorted. “Do you want to reach the Far Shores? I give you that option now, because if the souleaters get to you, you will be denied that. Just as your companions were.”


    “Souleaters?” Isluf looked into the Ansei’s burning eyes. “I don’t understand, revered Ansei.”


    “Foolish Ra Gada. Netu anselim, while you still can. Or fall on your own sword, because that option is more preferable than what the evil lurking here has in store for you. Netu anselim.”


    With those words the Swordsinger walked away and Isluf just stared after him.


    He began clawing back on his feet, grabbing his clutch. “Wait! Have you seen a noble woman here? I have to know.”


    “I have not seen any no shira gurleht. She is lost. Netu anselim.”


    “I can’t turn back!” Isluf caught up with the Ansei and grabbed his arm. The Swordsinger sharply turned around and the captain stared into a point of shehai right in front of his eyes, blazing with blue fire. “I need to understand,” he raised his hands, gulping. “I have to understand,” he repeated faintly.


    The Ansei’s eyes blazed with intensity and the light then diminished a little as the shehai moved away from Isluf’s face. “Understand? Very well, then. I will educate you on our ogunatgi.”


    Ogunatgi. Hubris.

    The hunter reached the intersection, noticing outlines of rust on the ground, guessing this was where the metat’s party had been ambushed by the enemy. They still lurked around, he could hear them, but for now they hadn’t noticed him yet.


    He studied the footsteps in the dust, noticing two pairs of boots walking in one direction, and he narrowed his eyes. One pair was accompanied by a third mark, as if someone was limping and leaning on something, while the other seemed very light.


    But then there was a third trail, leading in a completely different direction, deeper into the palace. A trail of exquisite boots, those that no warrior would wear, no worker could afford.


    And so the hunter caught the scent of his prey.

    The metat ran and ran, constantly descending, the echoes of the screams following him even though the shouts have died a while ago. All the people, just killed and there was nothing he could do about it. His power… denied.


    He could feel it, whatever was in the deep, sucking his power away, slowly but steadily, and he could do nothing about it.


    It had something to do with the red mineral, he was sure about that. Because since the first day they had uncovered it, he could no longer tap into the magicka, becoming powerless. A simple commoner just as everyone.


    That damn Orc has figured it out sooner than him. That whatever was leeching away the magic, blocking it, was only around the excavation site and it was spreading. And when the nomads conjured the sandstorm? He knew it would protect them, absorb the storm’s magic, and he took advantage of that, pretended it was him who stopped it.


    But he couldn’t pretend that now, because he was nobody. Nothing without his magic.


    He couldn’t even protect himself.


    Toreif could hear the silent wails behind him and he gasped for breath, running and running. The red mineral around him was becoming more frequent, sometimes even blocking the whole hallway and so he had to find other ways around, doubling his efforts even though he was already out of breath.


    The hallway around him suddenly changed, the worked stone retreating, giving space to a naturally made cavern. The cavern’s walls were covered with the red mineral, glistening in the light of Toreif’s torch and-


    He froze, his eyes going wide.


    Right in front of him was the base of the tower, going up into the cavern’s ceiling, disappearing in the dirt and stone. The sheer size of it would have been enough to take his breath away but what had shocked him so much was right next to the tower.


    An enormous chunk of glass-like material, with a green tint and gold lining sculpted into it.


    It was malachite, a massive piece of malachite as large as Skaven’s palace and…


    Toreif began recognizing the shape of it.


    It was… a foot.


    A foot sculpted out of malachite. He gazed up, following the ankle, then the calf and knee up to the ceiling where it disappeared in the ground, just like the tower.


    A foot. A foot leads to a leg and a leg leads to… a body.


    He couldn’t believe his eyes. A statue sculpted out of pure malachite, so massive that if it had been standing outside it would have put the Dragontail Mountains to shame. What have the Yokudans done here?


    He heard the silent wails behind him and began running towards the tower with renewed determination. He would not let anyone take this moment away from him, not when he was so close. The discovery of a millenia. The power right in front of him. It was his. It was meant for him, he knew that.






    No shira - noble, honorific

    Metat - wizard

    M´kai - sorcerer, insult

    Hunding - High Desert

    Vizier - advisor, counsellor

    Gurleht - woman

    Netu anselim - turn back

    Batek - soul

    No Lo'igra - deceiver

    Made-up Words

    Ogunatgi - hubris

    Bharakasha - beast

    Orgun - Orc



4 Comments   |   Meli and 6 others like this.
  • Caladran
    Caladran   ·  July 17, 2018
    Long lost ruins are always interesting. I wonder if they get out of there. :)
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  July 8, 2018
    Lol, i think it's better than the Mummy and I liked that movie a lot. Really cool the description of the sleep demon among the Yokudans. I'm very curious about the corruption of metal and what all this does. Also, cool notion of a Dwemer compass. What doe...  more
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  July 7, 2018
    Long lost ruins, nomads warning excavation crew, workers dying, a giant sandstorm... Is it me or am I just getting The Mummy vibes from reading this story? Because I certainly do! :D
    • Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Long lost ruins, nomads warning excavation crew, workers dying, a giant sandstorm... Is it me or am I just getting The Mummy vibes from reading this story? Because I certainly do! :D
        ·  July 7, 2018
      The Mummy vibes. Yup, sounds about right :D And it has a mummy too! xD