|Cara, Undercroft, Kannat Raider|
|Series||Beyond the Veil by Enodoc|
|Previous||Caracals of Falconscrag|
|Next||The Flower of Aurora|
|← Caracals of Falconscrag||Chapter Chronology||The Flower of Aurora →|
Cara, Undercroft, Kannat RaiderEdit
"Hold it right there! Put your hands in the.....?
Your Majesty? Is that you? My most sincere apologies, Sire. But how did you end up here? I had been informed you had gone on an expedition to the south."
The King looked around, puzzled. In front of him stood one of his own guards, rifle pointing at him.
"At ease, soldier," he said. The guard lowered his rifle. "Could you perhaps tell me where I am?"
"Umm, of course Sire. Shifting Sands Desert Outpost, Crown Protectorate of Aurora."
"Interesting..." The King glanced behind the soldier, and could indeed see the rooves of the outpost nestled in the shade of the great rock arch.
"I was just passing on my patrol when I saw a strange green light coming from this ruin. I thought I'd come and have a look, and here you all were. I thought maybe you were some sort of advance raiding party. Did you know the Sand Furies have been raiding the city's water?"
The soldier was beginning to ramble. The King held up his hand. "Not to worry, you did the right thing. Hold on, did you say "all"?"
The King turned around, and there was Sam, sitting right behind him. Melisi was gingerly picking the two seals out of the sand beside an old Auroran ruin.
"Everything okay, Your Majesty?" asked Orin's voice. "I thought I lost you for a moment."
"Oh, yes, Orin. Although I think we might be back sooner than anticipated."
" Ah, lovely. I shall prepare Sandsky for your arrival."
The voice echoed in Melisi's head as she picked up the seals.
"She mentioned Telysian..."
"Who did?" asked the King.
"The voice... Didn't you hear it?"
The King shook his head.
"When I touched the seal, there was this bright light, and a voice started talking to me."
"Really? What did she say?"
"She said my journey was just beginning, and only Telysian holds the answer."
"'Only Telysian holds the answer'? That's exactly what the hermit said. Anything else?"
"Umm, not that I remember... Oh wait, Cara... 'Cara will be with you from now on.' Who's Cara?"
The King shook his head again.
Coo! Coo! From around the back of the dais emerged the caracal. The guard raised his rifle.
The King held out his arm. "Hold on, soldier. We can't be certain with these creatures." He turned to Melisi. "Be careful."
She waved him off. "Cara?" she asked.
The caracal bounded over to Melisi.
"Looks like you have a new friend," said the guard.
"It certainly seems that way," agreed the King.
Cara purred as Melisi stroked her golden coat. "So you'll be coming with us now then," she said, cheerily. Cara flickered her ears in agreement.
"You certainly put us through a bit of bother," said the King, heading over to them. "We're worn out!"
The caracal tilted her head and mewed at him.
"You're welcome to stay with us at the outpost and head back to the city in the morning," offered the guard.
The King looked around at his tired companions. "We may just take you up on that offer. What's your name, soldier?"
"Richard, sir. I'll also request an extra patrol to guard this ruin. We don't want the citizens or the Sand Furies stumbling across it accidentally."
"Indeed not," agreed the King.
* * *
They found Richard waiting for them at the canyon entrance to the outpost with a few other guards.
"I took the liberty of arranging an escort back to the city for you, Your Majesty. With an increase in Fury activity, it is wise to be cautious. I also need to report to Captain Domin, as some of the soldiers seem to be suffering from heat stroke."
"Heat stroke?" asked Melisi. "The outpost has been here for over six months, and only now there are reported problems of heat stroke? Something doesn't add up."
"It is strange, but what else could it be? Over the last few days we've had a marked increase in the number of sightings of mirages, from pools and puddles to flickering lights. One soldier even suggested he'd seen a lake out in the desert. But of course, Shifting Sands has no water. It's just heat haze and reflections of the sun, exaggerated by being out in this heat for too long." "Hmmm, perhaps you're right," she agreed, "Although I would have expected there to have been some signs of heat stroke a few months ago if it was going to ever be a problem."
The party left the outpost and made their way towards the city. Soon, they passed the ancient ruin they had appeared at the night before, now being carefully examined by a detachment of guards and a few Temple investigators.
"An armed escort?" said Melisi quietly to the King, "Surely they don't believe you need one?" "Oh I doubt it," replied the King. "If Richard needed to go to the city anyway, this presents a convenient excuse for him to travel with more backup. And, as the King, I've learnt to just go along with suggestions that are 'politically correct', as it were. It is only proper for the King to be escorted everywhere, apparently. It makes things really dull, though, so I try to drop such formalities whenever possible."
After an uneventful and decidedly dull journey, they arrived at the gates to the City of Aurora. "Well I didn't expect to be back here so soon," mused the King. "And with a new friend, too."
Cara brushed between his legs and happily bounded around the group. Sam was not impressed, and snapped at her heels. She rounded on him, hissing.
"Hey hey, play nice," said the King. Sam whined, while Cara strutted off, mewing, through the gates.
They heard gasps from the other side.
"Whoops," said Melisi, "Better get in there. I don't expect many of them have seen a caracal before."
They hurried after Cara.
A loud cheer erupted as they came through the gate, the onlookers forgetting about the strange creature they had just seen.
"Were you expecting a welcome party?" asked Richard.
"No, not at all. I come and go through here all the time," replied the King. He looked around. "Although I think I can guess who's responsible."
At the bottom of the hill by a small shrine, Orin stood knowingly amongst the crowd of villagers. He waved at the King, and indicated the gathering, beaming.
"Looks like Orin told everyone we were coming."
The villagers milled around the sides of the street, the way lined by a number of Captain Domin's men.
"We seem to be taking the long way around," commented Melisi. The guards were stationed all the way up the hill to the shrine, back down to the market square, and up the steps to the temple.
"This could take a while," agreed the King.
After bidding farewell to Richard and the 'escort' at the guard house, the adventurers finally made their way to the temple, where Kalin and Priestess Mara were waiting.
"Ah, welcome back, Your Majesty," said Priestess Mara. "I hope the day finds you well."
"Excuse me... EXCUSE ME!" Orin forced his way through the crowd in the market square to join them. "I hope you enjoyed my little gathering, Your Majesty."
"Of course, Orin. It was very... um... thoughtful of you."
"Your Majesty," began Kalin, "May we get down to business?"
"Yes, yes indeed."
Kalin led the way into the temple.
"I'm sorry to have to drag you away from your expedition, but a matter of utmost importance to the security of Aurora has arisen while you were away."
"Yes, Orin mentioned the Sand Furies."
"Quite. A threat not to be taken lightly. But we will come on to them later; I also wanted to inform you that we have had reports from the Prophetic Hermit's camp suggesting that the Great Gate has opened."
"Ah, excellent," cried the King. "That means we won't have to traverse that blasted Crux cave again on our way back."
"No no, I'm afraid you misunderstand, Sire. The Gate being open cannot be a good thing," Priestess Mara interjected. "I went to great lengths to tell you the history of the gate in an effort to help you understand how important keeping it closed was on your journey to Zorya. With it being open, the threat that Zorya posed to Aurora, if indeed there was one, is now no longer contained." The King exchanged glances with Melisi.
"Priestess," she started, "I was under the impression that you were telling us how we should open the gate."
"Oh no, my child. That was never my intention."
"We never found a mechanism to open the gate anyway," the King said, hurriedly. "Unless of course it happened as a by-product of one of those puzzles."
"Not to worry," said Priestess Mara, "As far as we can tell, nothing has yet come through the gate. And as soon as we heard word it was open, Kalin ordered the Veiled Path to be closed off to everyone but approved investigators."
"Yes," confirmed Kalin, "And they have yet to find anything. But that just makes me more nervous. It's been a few days now, and nothing. I hope we haven't missed anything."
"Well we have yet to find anything out from Zorya," said the King. "Although our exploration is currently hindered by the fact that we are unable to get into the Zoryan temple's library. The door is sealed."
"The Zoryans have a temple?" asked Priestess Mara.
"Oh yes, Priestess," answered Melisi. "It is remarkably similar to this one. In fact, the whole city bears much more similarity to Aurora than I would ever have imagined."
"Interesting indeed," said Priestess Mara. "But yet I fear we have deviated from the main purpose of this meeting. My apologies, Kalin."
Kalin looked sternly around the room.
"Sand Furies," she stated, bluntly. "Never before have they been seen within the city, much less raided our water supply."
"It's unprecedented," agreed Priestess Mara.
"It's just so unlike them," Melisi said, seemingly more to herself than the others.
"It was most disconcerting when we heard their battle cries coming from the kannats the other night," said Orin.
"How many times had this happened?"
"Just the once, as far as we know, Your Majesty," replied the steward.
"But it may happen again at any time!" cried Kalin. "We can't just sit by and do nothing!"
The King was about to respond when Melisi stepped in. Her voice was calm, yet determined.
"With respect, Kalin," she began, "Perhaps this was an isolated incident. A last-ditch response in a time of great need. The desert outpost has been reporting heat stroke, something which has never been seen before either. That, coupled with this sudden need for water, which they have not needed to steal before, may just suggest a severe increase in temperature in the desert over the last few days."
"Um, I also just wanted to point out," began Orin, "that the Sand Furies only took water. They didn't steal anything else, nor come into conflict with any citizens."
The King had to decide quickly whether to take on this new quest to investigate the Sand Furies, or to continue working towards getting into the Zoryan library and deciphering the Hermit's prophecy. He noticed that Kalin did not appear too happy about being confronted by the Temple apprentice and dismissed by her own steward. However, he spoke up before she could say anything.
"Orin has said the kannat raiders were not hostile. Besides, if we were to do anything, we wouldn't know where to start. The Sand Furies are all over the desert, and are really hard to track down. I'm sorry, but with the uncertainty of Zorya looming over us, I can't spend time to investigate the Sand Furies right now."
"I understand, Your Majesty. I will await the time when you deem it appropriate to focus on a clear and present danger to the Auroran people."
Kalin turned on her heel and strode out of the temple.
"Thank you, Sire!" said Melisi, running up to him and kissing him on the cheek.
"Um... it was purely an issue of practicality. Without anything to go on, there was really nothing I could do."
She blushed. "Still, I'm grateful."
"My child, Your care for other living creatures is commendable. I wonder if that is also why we see you return with an extra member in your party." She indicated Cara.
"Oh yes, Priestess. I must say, that was quite an experience!"
"I would love to hear about it. You must also tell me about this Zoryan Temple and its mysterious library."
As Melisi began to recall the events of the last few days to Priestess Mara, the King sat down with Sam and pulled out the wad of documents from the Zoryan gatehouse.
"We've already found two of the three seals we need to get into the library. Thanks in no small part of course to Cara." The caracal pricked up her ears at the mention of her name and came to sit on the other side of the King to Sam. They glared at each other behind the King's back. "Let's see if we can work out where the last one is."
The Library is sealed with three metal seals, each one to be kept in the custody of its nominated guardian until such a time as they are needed.
"Oh, look at this one!
Seal of Aurora: Granted to Saler the Righteous, long-time friend to the Zoryan people.
Didn't Mara say that Saler and his men patrolled the Veiled Path for years after the Great Gate was sealed?"
Uff! agreed Sam.
"It's likely then that his seal remained on this side of the gate, so hopefully someone should know what happened to it."
Prr! agreed Cara.
Melisi was showing Priestess Mara the two seals they had found already.
"And you say you heard a woman's voice when you picked this one up?"
"Come with me, child."
Priestess Mara led her bewildered apprentice out of the temple, the King, Sam and Cara tagging along behind.
"Look across the city, my dear. What do you see?"
"Hmmm, only the market, the houses, and the statue of the Goddess."
"Yes. And?" The Priestess held up the smaller seal in front of Melisi, so that it appeared beside the statue on the opposite side of the city.
"I don't know what you... Oh my!" exclaimed Melisi.
"What? What is it?" asked the King, hurrying over.
"Look, Sire! The engraving on the seal is identical to the design of the Goddess's headpiece!" She turned to Mara.
"Does that mean..." She faltered, twiddling her hair nervously. " Does that mean it was the Goddess who was talking to me?"
"I cannot say, my child. Perhaps, if that is what you believe."
Cara padded over and sat beside Melisi.
"Come, Your Majesty. Let us leave them to contemplate for a while. I sense you have more questions for me."
The King and Priestess Mara returned to the temple, leaving Melisi and Cara alone on the steps. Sam sat on guard in the doorway.
"I think this trip has been hard on Melisi," said Mara, "and yet it is something she must see through to the end. You must realise I did not let her travel with you just because of your request.... Now, how can I help? You seek the way into the Zoryan temple, I believe?"
"Yes. We have two of the seals, but I believe the third lies somewhere within Aurora. Do you happen to know whether any item, besides Aurora's Shield, is associated with Saler the Righteous?" "Why yes, the Flower of Aurora, also known as Aurora's Light. It was an ancient artefact which I believe he took to his grave."
"Do you know what it looked like?"
"I believe..." she shuffled over to the corner of the temple, "it is depicted in this statue, just here."
The statue was holding a small item engraved with an intricate spiral pattern. The King looked at it and nodded.
"Do you believe the Flower is important?" Mara looked at the statue again. She was still holding the library seals Melisi had shown her.
"Ah, I think I understand." She handed the seals back to the King.
"Indeed. As you can see, this 'Flower of Aurora', as you call it, may itself be the third and final seal. Its size and design closely matches the style of those we have already found."
"This presents a problem. As I said, it is understood that the Flower went with Saler to his grave."
"And you don't know where the grave is?"
"On the contrary, Saler is buried right here, in the most hallowed tomb of the Temple Undercroft. But Aurora's Light is a sacred symbol of the city, and while I give you my blessing to retrieve it, I'm afraid the blessings of a priestess will not sate those who are also buried in the undercroft."
"Oh, not to worry. I had a run-in with Ancient Hollow Men over at the Godwin Estate not that long ago. How many more things can the undead throw at me?"
"Well if you believe it will not be a problem, you may go with my blessing to retrieve the Flower. I must say, I am excited at the prospect of seeing it with my own eyes. The entrance to the Undercroft is just under the temple, behind the steps. You may have to climb over some rubble to get to it."
"Thank you, Priestess."
The King made for the door.
"Oh, Your Majesty? Please leave Melisi to her thoughts. She doesn't need to face the spirits of her ancestors at this time."
"As you wish. Let's go, Sam!"
The King and his faithful friend bounded down the steps and made their way to the undercroft door. As they approached, they heard something bounding down behind them.
Coo! said Cara.
"Oh, did you want to come too? Well I'm sure Melisi won't miss you for a little while."
Cara jumped down beside them, and hissed at Sam. He growled in return. "Maybe this quest will help you two to get along..."