The Mystic: Part 1
We waited, Danvir and I, but the door didn’t open. I looked at the Clansman and he shrugged. I pushed at the door and it swung open, slowly. Danvir danced back a step, his sword ready for anything. There was no sudden rush, not even a hint of movement from within the house. I stepped slowly through the doorway, shaking off Danvir’s hand as he tried to stop me. There was nothing to worry about, as far as I could tell, the house was empty.
Inside, the house looked careworn and comfortable. It was mostly clean, or rather had been when it had been abandoned. A few items of furniture were knocked over and several worn items of clothing were discarded near the door. Several plates sat on the table, with the mouldering remains of a past dinner, indicating that the owners had left in a hurry. I gestured to Danvir and he followed me inside, glancing left and right as he entered.
“Why is everything so small?” He whispered as he looked over the various bits of furniture.
I shrugged my shoulders. “Whoever lived here was smaller than us I guess.” I replied.
I made my way through the room that was the entirety of the ground floor of the house and started up the stairs, Danvir following closely behind.
Upstairs, the house was a little more disordered. There were two bedrooms, each with a large bed and a small locker. The beds were unmade, and several pieces of clothing were scattered around.
“It’ll do for now.” Danvir said, firmly. “We’ll put Lord Putcha in this room and you, Red and Rain can take the other room.”
“Fair enough.” I agreed, as I led Danvir back downstairs.
Rain and Red carried the litter with Lord Putcha upstairs and we transferred him to the bed. It was a little short for him, but there was nothing to be done about it, he’d be comfortable enough. I placed my hand on his chest again and Listened. I could feel his body fighting to rid itself of the toxin in his blood, but the fight was wearing down his reserves. I lent him some of my strength, but I dared not give him too much. We were deep inside the Bleakwood, and danger lurked around every corner.
“How is he?” Danvir asked, quietly, when I’d finished examining the Clan Lord.
“Weak.” I replied. “But he’ll survive, as I said he would. It’s a matter of when he’ll wake up, not if. The man should have been resting after being poisoned, not running around.”
“Any idea when he’ll wake up?”
I shook my head. “In a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days, maybe even a week from now. I’ve no idea. He’ll wake when his body is ready. Now that we’ve stopped moving, he should start to recover, but it will take time.”
Danvir sighed. “Alright. We’ll stay here tonight. We could all use the rest. Tomorrow I’ll want you to start searching for Sohan again.”
“There’s no way to be sure that he made it this far. The Gods know that we almost didn’t.” I pointed out.
“True enough, but you’ll search anyway. It’s what Lord Putcha paid you to do.”
“I didn’t say that I wouldn’t look.” I replied, annoyed. “But be prepared for me to find nothing.”
“Let’s hope that’s not the case.”
“I’ll be outside.” I replied, shortly.
Maybe I should have been more understanding of the pressures that Danvir was now under, but as the days passed, I regretted agreeing to this expedition more and more. I left the house and stood in what I guessed could be called a street. Rain was leaning against the wall of one of the other houses, and seeing me, he wandered over.
“What do you make of this place?” the young tribesman asked.
I shook my head. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Me either. Did you see that there are growing areas between the platforms?”
I hadn’t noticed, mostly because I’d been too absorbed in getting us to safety.
“No. Show me.”
We walked, Rain leading, along the street. Around where I judged the centre of the platform to be, there was a well.
“That’ll be handy.” I pointed out. “If there’s still fresh water in it.”
“There is.” Rain answered. “I tried it while you were working on Lord Putcha.”
I noted Rain’s sour tone when he mentioned the Clan Lord.
“Why did you agree to come?” I asked, curious.
Rain shrugged. “I was bored, and it seemed like something to do.”
“Where’s the rest of your tribe?”
“They should be somewhere in the Plains of Equo by now, unless they’ve been held up somewhere.”
I nodded, as we left the well, heading for the edge of the platform. “Will they be staying around Macin or will they turn East towards Oerigath?”
“East.” Rain replied. “There’s little for us around Macin. They went south a little later than usual this year, but if they move on, they’ll cross the border and get to Asal in time for the market.”
“Not the great market at Hien?”
Rain shook his head. “Too many traders. No, we stay at Asal and get a better price. Have you ever been to Asal?”
“No, I grew up between Jense and Ovil, I’ve never been that far south in Oerigath.”
“I’ve never been that far north.” Rain grinned. “What’s it like?”
I shrugged. “Same as anywhere else I’ve been in Oerigath. A little colder maybe.”
“Do your family still travel that route or have they moved?”
“They’re dead.” I replied, flatly.
Rain flushed, embarrassed. “Uh, I’m sorry.”
I sighed and waved away his apology. “Don’t worry about it. Life on the plains is harsh, I’m sure your tribe has lost families and friends over the years.”
Rain nodded. “The Gods know that’s true. My father swears that each year is harder than the last, but he says that life isn’t supposed to be easy, we wouldn’t appreciate it if it were.”
I smiled. “My father used to say something similar.”
We lapsed into a comfortable silence and walked until we reached the edge of the platform. A low wall separated the paved ground from the growing area. I counted several varieties of fruit trees, and vegetables were growing in a cleared area. Beneath the trees, there were several types of bushes, runners and other food bearing crops. Everything looked well maintained and planned. Weeds were starting to grow and would start to take over soon if left alone. Everything I’d seen so far suggested that the city wasn’t long abandoned, a few weeks at most.
“Do you think it’d be okay if we took some of the fruit?” Rain asked, eyeing some oranges in a nearby tree.
“As long as we don’t take everything, it should be fine.” I replied.
Rain started to climb over the wall, then hesitated.
“Where do you think whoever lived here went?” The young tribesman asked.
I shook my head. “I’ve no idea, but we shouldn’t wander too far from each other. Whatever drove the people out may still be here.”
Rain nodded and was over the wall like a greased rat. He picked almost a dozen large oranges and was back in short order. I took one from him as we walked back towards the house and started eating it slowly. We took our time walking back to the house, enjoying the warm evening. There was no mistaking that we were still in the middle of the Bleakwood, but we had a clear view of the sky, for the first time in days. I was determined to enjoy it. Eventually though, we found ourselves back at the house.
We found Red, sitting on a laughably small chair, outside the door. It seemed she, too, was determined to enjoy the evening.
“Where were you two?” She asked. “Danvir sounds like he’s going to strangle both of you.”
“I was showing Kenan a garden I found.” Rain replied, tossing Red an orange.
“I’m going to go get some rest.” I announced, as I pushed open the door. “Rain, you take the mid watch. I’ll relieve you a few hours before sunrise.”
“And don’t eat all those oranges. You’ll make yourself sick!” I added, with humour.
Danvir came down the stairs looking angry and tired as I closed the house door behind me.
I held up a hand to stop him before he started shouting. “I was checking around this platform with Rain, exactly the sort of thing Lord Putcha is paying me to do, so save your anger and frustration. Sit outside and get some sun, Rain has some oranges.”
“Yeah, he found a garden, so we took some oranges. I’m going to check on Lord Putcha and then get some rest.”
Danvir looked thoughtful and I left him downstairs. I pushed open the door to Lord Putcha’s room and checked him over. He seemed a little stronger than earlier. Maybe he was finally recovering. After that I went into the other room, glanced at the too small bed, and chose to instead sleep on the floor.
I awoke in the small hours of the morning and took my place outside the door to the house. The night was cool, the skies free of cloud and I could hear the Bleakwood throbbing with the sound of nocturnal animals and insects. It was peaceful, and easy to forget the dangers of where we were, at least for a little while.
Sometime just after dawn, the house door burst open and Danvir leapt out. His head whipped from right to left, before he spun around and spotted me.
“Ravi’s awake!” He exclaimed.
I rose to my feet from where I’d been sitting, with my back to the wall and let the Clansman lead me back inside. I followed him upstairs, passing the second bedroom. As we passed, Rain stuck his head out.
“What’s going on?” He asked groggily.
“Lord Putcha’s woken up.” I told him. “Go back to sleep.”
Rain grunted and pulled back into the room, closing the door behind him.
Danvir opened the door to Lord Putcha’s room and closed it behind me after I entered. Our party leader looked haggard and worn out. He was pale and sweating, his eyes unfocused and he was picking at the blanket that covered him.
“Danvir?” He called weakly.
The warrior rushed over to his Lord’s bedside.
“Here Ravi. I’ve brought Kenan to see how you’re doing.”
Lord Putcha coughed and spat a glob of phlegm onto the floor. He tried to sit up but was clearly too weak to do so unaided. I stood beside the bed and placed my hand on Lord Putcha’s forehead, Listening to the man’s lifesigns.
“Well?” Danvir demanded as soon as I removed my hand.
“You’re over the worst of it.” I told Lord Putcha. “But you’re far too weak to do anything other than lie here and rest.”
“Unacceptable.” Lord Putcha wheezed.
“I could help speed things up, now that you’re awake.” I continued. “But it’s risky, it may do more harm than good.”
“In what way?” The Clan Lord asked.
“If I help you now, you may not live as long as you might had I done nothing. I can’t say with certainty how much it might shorten it, only that it might.”
“Do it.” Lord Putcha demanded.
“Ravi!” Danvir protested.
“No time to argue.” The Clan Lord replied, as he gasped for breath. “I need to be moving, we need to find Sohan or this has all been for nothing.”
“But think of what it’ll mean.”
“Enough!” Lord Putcha shouted, before coughing up another glob of phlegm.
Danvir glared at me and sat against the wall at the other end of the room.
“This will take several hours.” I advised the Clansman. “At least. You might be best making sure that the others are either resting or keeping watch.”
“In a minute.” Danvir replied. “I want to see what you’re doing before I leave you alone with Ravi.”
I rolled my eyes. “You can help by fetching a chair.”
Danvir didn’t look happy, but he left the room to bring one up from the room below us. As soon as he left, I looked Lord Putcha in the eyes.
“Are you certain about this?” I asked. “As I said, this could end up shortening your life.”
“I feel certain that the poison has done that regardless.” Lord Putcha wheezed.
“Most likely.” I allowed.
“How long do I have?”
“If I do nothing?” I shrugged. “It’s hard to say for certain, but no more than ten years.”
The Clan Lord slumped back in the bed. “Ten years.” He sighed.
“At most. Probably less.”
“Gods damn it. I’ve so much more to do. For all his training, Sohan isn’t ready yet.”
I stayed silent. I had no words to offer, but I suspected that Lord Putcha wasn’t one for well meaning platitudes anyway.
Danvir returned moments later with a chair. I took the chair and slid it to the head of the bed, near the Clan Lord’s head. I sat down and made myself comfortable. I looked over my shoulder to where Danvir was hovering.
“If you’re going to watch, then be silent. No interruptions. When this is done, I will be hungry and thirsty, so have a warm meal and water waiting. Understood?”
Danvir clenched his teeth and nodded.
I waited for a beat, then I leant forward and took Lord Putcha’s hand in mine.
“I want you to relax.” I told him. “Don’t resist me and this will go much easier. There will be pain and you will want to resist it. Don’t. Just let it happen.”
The Clan Lord coughed and nodded, closing his eyes. “Do it.” He said, simply.
So I began.
The process of the healing is hard to describe. It’s easier to say that I was realigning Lord Putcha’s energy, helping to bring it back to its natural state. It couldn’t be done all at once, it’d tear his body apart, it had to be gradual. I wasn’t doing anything his body wasn’t capable of doing on its own, I was just doing it faster. I could already see areas that had sustained far too much damage to ever heal properly, and others that could be repaired for now, but would eventually fail. I pulled bad energy out of the dead and damaged areas. I bent my mind to the task and took all that poison into my own body. Once that was done, I could start the healing properly.
Sometime later, I wasn’t sure how long, I felt a hand on my shoulder, shaking me awake. I raised my head up from the bed sheets and opened my eyes, groggily. It took me a moment to remember what I had been doing. A second later I bolted out of the chair to the small room’s single window. I pushed it open and emptied my stomach out on to the ground below, belatedly hoping that nobody had chosen that place to keep watch.
I wiped my mouth and closed the window.
“Is it done?” Danvir demanded.
I shook my head to clear it and looked to the bed.
Lord Putcha looked to be soundly asleep. His colour had returned, and his breathing was stronger and more regular.
“I think so.” I replied. “We’ll let him sleep for now, he needs it. I’ll check him when he wakes up.”
We left the room and closed the door quietly behind us, before making our way downstairs. Danvir pointed to the table where a bowl of stew, some of our bread, surely the last of it, and a large jug of water waited. An orange rested beside the jug. My stomach growled, loudly. I sat at the table and dug in.
“He looked much better.” Danvir offered.
“He did.” I replied as I started peeling the orange. “With a little luck, by tonight he should be up and about.”
Red strode into the room, interrupting us, and looking annoyed.
“Rain is missing.”
“What?” Danvir barked. “Again?”
“I haven’t seen him in about an hour, and he’s not anywhere around the house that I can see.”
“Equola give me strength!” Danvir growled.
I sighed and put down the orange. “I’ll find him.”
“Maybe, when you find him, kick his legs out from under him a few times.” Danvir grunted.
I stood up and stretched. All I wanted to do was lie down and sleep, but it seemed that the day had other plans for me. I left the house and walked towards the well. With everything being paved, and mostly clear of dirt and debris, there was little to say where the young Tribesman had gone. I felt groggy and tired, and my eyes felt like they were full of grit. The healing had taken a lot out of me. I reached into a pouch at my waist and pulled out a small, stoppered glass vial. I pulled the cork out of it and drank the contents. It tasted bitter to the tongue, but I could feel its effects not long after. My mind cleared and I felt energised. It wouldn’t last, of course, but it was enough to keep me going for now. I put the stopper back in and put the vial back in the small pouch.
Now, if I were a curious, young tribesman, where would I go?
I didn’t have to look far. The pyramid that sat at the heart of the city constantly drew the eye and I was sure would be irresistible to the young man. It was a place to start, and if I was wrong, well at least I’d get a closer look at it myself.
It wasn’t a long walk. From what I had seen so far, the city was built to a plan, although it was impossible to be sure without seeing all of it, but it was a fair guess. A wide set of steps led up to another platform and I started climbing. The building of the city had to have been a monumental affair. I set foot on the higher platform and found it much larger than the previous. I was going to have to stop thinking of them as platforms, it did not do their size justice, they were more like precincts or maybe quarters.
I paused as I left the steps. The pyramid completely and utterly dominated this precinct. There was nothing else built on this level, just the pyramid, right at the centre. I walked around the base, declining the challenge of trying to climb its stepped sides. I could see no mortar between the giant blocks used to build the structure, not even a hint of any. The stones were joined so closely together that I doubted if I could get even a knife blade between them. Its construction was far more advanced than anything I’d ever seen. I continued my walk around the base and finally found our missing tribesman.
“I was on my way back.” Rain blurted, before I could even open my mouth. “I think I found where the Clan Lord’s son went.”
“Gods damn it, Rain!” I barked. “I thought we agreed that it would be smart if we all stayed together and not wander off.”
“Uh, well, yeah.” Rain stammered. “But I was just trying to help. Danvir was busy with you and Lord Putcha, and Red was on watch. I thought I could help you a little.”
“Show me.” I ordered through gritted teeth.
Rain turned around. “It’s around the corner, on the next side. I found a door.”
I caught up to the young man and followed him. “A door?” I repeated.
“Yes. Well, it was a door. I think someone sealed it up at some point.”
“So, it’s not a door.”
“No, it is. It’s been broken in.”
We turned the corner and kept walking until, about halfway along the base, I found what Rain was on about.
He was right. It was a doorway that had been sealed up, centuries ago by the look of it. Someone had recently broken through the seal, scattering rubble all over. Standing outside, all we could see inside was the start of what appeared to be a long, dark corridor.
“Wait here.” I ordered. “Don’t walk off, don’t follow me. Just stay here and keep watch. If you see anything, shout.”
I climbed over a few small blocks and kicked aside large lumps of mortar, a sure sign that whoever had sealed the door hadn’t built the structure. Beyond the rubble, built into the wall, I saw the remnants of a wooden door frame. I touched the wood and it crumbled to dust beneath my fingers. I had no idea how old this place was, but I didn’t doubt that it was centuries old. I stepped into the dark corridor. It was as cold as a grave and darker than the void. I raised my hand and with a little mental effort, created a small ball of light. I let it float in the air, above my head, and looked around.
The corridor was featureless and straight. Unadorned walls extended off into the darkness. The ceiling was maybe another four feet above my head, barely visible, and as with the walls, featureless. The floor was a different matter. Faded mosaic of an intricate design. It was coated in centuries worth of dust. There were boot prints, fairly recent, several different sizes, and many strange footprints. The footprints were oddly spaced and seemed like whatever made them had claws. For an abandoned city, this corridor had been very busy lately. Chances were excellent then that Sohan had made it this far. I felt a strong urge to explore further, deeper inside the pyramid, but it was getting late. We had to go back to the rest of the party, or they’d assume we’d disappeared. I snapped my fingers and my ball of light faded away.
“Well?” Rain demanded, when I climbed out over the rubble.
“Someone’s been in there recently.” I admitted.
“Are we going to go in?”
I shook my head. “No. It’s getting late. We’ll go back to the house and come back tomorrow morning.”
“But if we found Sohan now, we could leave tomorrow.”
I glanced sideways at the tribesman. “You don’t like it here?”
Rain looked around. “It feels … strange.”
“Strange?” I asked him, carefully. “How so?”
“I don’t know, just, strange.”
“I don’t think we’ll be here much longer. If we find Sohan tomorrow, then we’ll be gone the day after, Gods willing.”
Rain shrugged. “Hopefully.”
I put Rain’s feelings down to his inexperience with large cities and being away for too long from the plains. I’d spent most of seven years in Elar-i-Um, up north in Penartas, learning my trade. Large cities were not unknown to me, but I doubted that Rain had seen anywhere so big. We made the walk back to the house in silence. I was sure that the young tribesman was not looking forward to what Danvir was going to say.