|Current mood:|| contemplative|
I do not like the wind of this place. I do not like the way it howls through the red sandstone columns. I do not like the shapes of the dust devils.
S'drac sent me here, saying that this was a place of testing, a final initiation. It's just an initiation of nerves. It's being a boy again and daring to touch the skirt of the old woman with the evil eye. S'drac is too caught up in ritual. He is like this ruin. I will be a better priest.
Something glinted in the dust devil. I glimpsed brief eyes in its vortex.
Remember the chants, the mantras to block fear. Fear is failure. A priest must accept the unknowable nature of the universe and himself—as a part of the universe, mystery of mysteries. I'll sharpen my khopesh for a while.
The trip to Nalror was easy. The common perils of the Waste—thirst, ghuls, and mirages—were absent. At dawn yesterday—or was it today? S'drac is right, time's more than a little jumbled in the Waste. At dawn a cimet attacked. It floated over the white dune as a curtain of living jewels, each jewel a tiny thirsting mouth. The mantras began automatically, saving me from the fascination of the jewels. I struck swiftly and cleanly into the center of the cimet snagging it like a net.
I swung the khopesh round and around my head. Small cimet jewels flew into the white sand. Soon the centre of the beast hung from my khopesh. I let the bloody mess slide off and squashed it with my boots. I carefully tracked down each jewel and smashed them. Each jewel can grow into a full curtain.
The cimet have gained cunning in my lifetime. Everything tends toward sentience. S'drac says that it is the result of so much magic let loose in the world. The magic keeps forming—building. As even a novice knows, the best way to form is with symbols. The symbols come first. They slowly mold the reality. And for symbols you have to have intelligence. Damn! I'm back to S'drac and his philosophizing.
I miss my camel. Initiation rules say that the priest must turn his beast loose when he first spots the ruins of Nalror. Initiation rules say no fire. Initiation rules say do not leave the ruins in the night. I don't know why I'm obeying all of S'drac's rules. Maybe in my heart I believe (or fear) that he's right, the only way to deal with the gods is by very careful ceremony. One wrong step and they'll destroy you. Even the friendly ones.
Dusk will come soon. I must make my way through the labyrinth of falling walls and slanting columns to find the altar of Torsh and offer my evening prayers.
Oh, good. Company. In the first chamber is a pile of bones; bits and pieces of a ceremonial tunic remain. At least I'll have a fellow priest to spend the evening with. The bones are elongated and slightly melted—the work of ghuls. I'll be sure and ask Torsh for the gift of wakefulness.
A cool dry breeze blows in the inner chambers. The sacred paintings are still bright and the walls still stand, albeit at a slight angle.
The gold spiral of Torsh adorns the altar stone. Perhaps the ghuls fear her wrath too much to risk scratching off the gold leaf. I find the inner Silence and then I pray. The four ritual prayers connected with the directions come first, then the private personal prayer. At the end of my prayers I pull the circlet of mellar leaves from my forehead and lay it on the centre of the altar stone as a token of humility.
I bow deeply and turn to leave. At the doorway I look back at the altar. The circlet is gone. The initiation has begun.
Suddenly the wind humming through the roof tiles seems very loud.
I make my way to the outer chamber where I'll spend the night. From the nets hanging from my belt I remove the gourds containing the ritual meal.
By the time I've finished the dry cakes and honey and drained the last of my waterskin, dusk has fallen. The wind is stronger now, rising off the Waste as dreams are said to rise from the valleys at nightfall. I sit with my back against a wall and practice quick drawing my khopesh. The wind whispers half-words. I do not like it.
Through a hole in the roof I can see my first star of the evening. It is Aaaz, the demon star; not the best of omens. The beginning of fear calls up the mantras and my attention spirals inward.
The wind blows in a sudden gust. Something fell off the roof near my left foot. Before I can examine it, it scuttles over to my foot and bites through the boot leather. I pull the cimet jewel off, hoping I haven't absorbed any poison. I crush its thin, glassy carapace with the pommel of my sword.
The muscles of my left leg begin to relax. The poison. I've got to get up, pace around, stay awake. I think of the priest just beyond the wall whose bones were stretched and melted...ghuls can keep a victim alive for hours.
Pace to the eats wall, turn, pace to the west wall. Every left footstep leaves a drop of blood. The left leg is numb, but the effects seem localized there.
Pacing to the east wall, I hear someone clear his throat—in the doorway behind me. I turn. In the darkness I can make out the orange of a sacred tunic. The Waste gleams white behind him. Perhaps he too has come for initiation—riding from a further village, unable to reach Nalror by day.
I say, "Greetings in the name of Torsh."
He is silent.
He steps in. Even in the dark I can make out his features. He is I. He wears a glittering cloak of cimet jewels. They feast upon his back. All I can hear is their noisome sucking of his blood. He raises his khopesh in a gladiatorial stance.
I charge and thrust. He parries. We exchange blows for seconds, minutes, hours...as S'drac says, Time is lost here. He is my perfect equal at swordmanship. Neither of us has connected. Something glitters near my feet. It's a cimet jewel. I raise my right foot to crush it. As I shift my balance, he disarms me with a sharp twist. My khopesh flies out the temple door.
It is only four, maybe five feet from the entrance. Surely initiation rules could be bent for four or five feet. If I charge him I should be able to pass on through the door. His cloak is beginning to detach itself from his back. I charge. I glance away from his side, a wave of nausea welling up as I feel several tiny mouths brush my bare arm.
My momentum carries me two feet beyond my sword. I turn and snatch it.
And the Wind snatches me. It's been waiting all this time. As I'm hauled into the air I see the glint of a smile on my opponent's face.
I beat at the Wind with my Khopesh. It's taking me to a great height. It rushes all around me. It rushes inside me. I feel light, tenuous. I am spreading thin, blowing over the dunes of the Waste.
I do not like this place. I am the Wind.
Written by: Don Webb