A Story for an Age Distant and Past (Part 5)


  • Baron

    Interlude

    “Though the Kazeyish were not
    The designers of the violence
    That they helped wrought.
    For it was the Old Things
    Who, in the days before people and God,
    Made the sandstorms with their stories.
    Yongit told them to use
    That power to create
    And for a time they listened.
    But only for a time.”
    Siefay Mi Mayabamit (The Progress of Civilization)

    Year 4 SC (1512 Stayatam), in the sands just north of Sha-Mikat

    Qela deeply wished the old man hadn’t insisted on coming. Abilel Kazeyish, despite his obligations as the chieftain of his clan, demanded that he would be there to see the gate opened, and Qela further suspected that he didn’t want to part with his precious book either. She couldn’t blame him; he knew how she got her power.

    The weather had died down during the weeks she had stayed with her family in the place she had grown up, just up the river from Abilel’s town. It was relaxing, and she was glad to not have to worry about her mission for a few weeks as she spent the New Year’s holiday playing with her nieces and nephews and sharing meals with her aging parents. But the winds soon came back, and when she and Abilel started back south the cool, cutting rain was falling again. Her Aq’s feathers were plastered down, and she had to cover her face with her cloak every time it shook its head aggressively as droplets flew out in every direction. The sun had begun to shine again through the heavy clouds, but the wind kept up, keeping the air just as cold and filled with dust.

    She heard Abilel shout something behind her, but it was lost in the blowing sand. The wind must have been stronger than she thought, and she stopped and turned to look at the chieftain, who sat on his own Aq. He had stopped, and was staring into the sand clouds behind them.

    “What’s wrong?” Qela shouted to him.

    He turned back to look at her, a confused expression on his face. He snapped the reigns and rode his Aq up to right beside Qela. “There’s something behind us,” he hissed into her ear, glancing back into the dust. The wind picked up, whistling and buffeting against their clothes. Qela’s Aq squawked in protest, but she patted the side of its head to calm it. More and more sand was picked up by the gale, and the whistling turned into a full howl, echoing and originless.

    Qela put her hand on her sheathed sword and shouted “Don’t move!” to Abilel but she couldn’t even hear her own voice over the wind. Behind them the picked up sand was churning and shifting in the wind, grinding against itself and the wind, and within seconds the air was completely opaque. She drew her sword and held it high, her Aq stepping back nervously as she turned to face the throbbing mass of sand.

    “Through the blindness of life, I hold the light of truth.” Qela heard Abilel begin to pray, the sound of the holy words cutting through the shrill wind’s cries. As soon as the prayer left his lips, the sand spasmed, moving faster and angrier, the wind growing faster and more erratic, shrieking in their ears. Abilel’s voice grew too faint for Qela to hear, but she could still see his mouth moving. The sun was obscured by the dust clouds and as the light faded, Qela thought she saw, deep in the sand and barely visible, a humanoid silhouette. It strode forward, outline uncertain in the rapidly moving sand, and lifted a hand, pointing towards Abilel. Qela leveled her sword at it.

    “Stay back!” She shouted, feeling the sand fly into her mouth and grind painfully against her teeth. It continued to approach. The Aqin bucked, shaking Qela and Abilel onto the ground, and the birds dashed off, away from the thing in the sand. Abilel’s prayer faltered as he fell, but he quickly stood back up on his feet, cloak pulled over his face against the sand, and the chant resumed. Qela kept her sword pointed at the figure. The wind shook her, but she stood steady. She could see in the way the figure stood, in the way it approached, that it was angry at Abilel. It didn’t mind her sword at all.

    Grinding her teeth, feeling the sand between them, Qela told the thing a Story.

    “In the beginning of days, before the time of people and God, there were things of the desert and cave.” She tried to keep her voice steady and clear, but it wavered as she fought against the pushing wind and more sand blew into her mouth. “When Yongit came up from the depths and brought civilization to the world, they bowed to him and his wisdom. With him, they built a world together. They created the OnKitabie, they made a beautiful place in the world!” The whipping sand stung against her face, and as it rubbed against the bare skin of her cheeks and lips, she began to feel blood trickling out.

    “In those days, they were creators! They built things out of the desert, rather than just destroying with the sands of it! Without Yongit, after they betrayed him, they returned to their angry destruction and wanton hatred for all things pure!” She could see, deep in the sand in front of her, the silhouette staring at her, unmoving amongst the chaos. She felt eyes, and not just from it, but from all around her, piercing into her and the Story she told. “Why should they forget the times when they begot their children, and made beautiful things from the harshest desert?”

    She felt the power, the persuasion of her Story, pulse through the storm as she shouted out its last few syllables, and she turned back to see Abilel standing straight and tall, still in prayer. The winds shifted and the sand rushed away, losing energy and returning stationary to the ground. As the clouds above parted slightly, the afternoon sun warmed the air around them once more.

    Before them, thirty paces off, the figure stood. It was still dark, shadows bending around its form in defiance of the returning light, and as Qela turned she saw more further off, all unmoving, starkly black against the white sand.

    Abilel balked at the sight of them. He clicked his tongue, calling the Aqin back, and as the birds trotted back to them wearily, he turned to Qela. “This is an unholy place we have stumbled upon.”

    She nodded, not breaking her gaze on the figure. She felt that if she turned her back to it, she would be capitulating somehow. “The Old Things know what we are doing. They fear the result.”

    “They fear justice being brought to them, for the destruction they’ve wrought.” Abilel pulled himself up onto his mount, patting the side of its head.

    Qela grabbed her own Aq’s reigns, and finally turned her eyes south once again. “And I doubt this will be the last time they make themselves known, before our story here ends.”

    Abilel nodded. “As a Kazeyish, I am very tired of hearing that.”

    Qela felt a gaze on the back of her head.

    Part 6


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