VII – Sanctuary
“Ah Gods help me, please save me, I don’t want to die.”
“Dakar, it’s just a shell backed snake” said Dasha as they all turned back to see him cowering as the slithering snake, with a dark yellow-shell that ran down from his eyes down to the point of his tail, rustled through the brown leaves that littered the path up the rocky mountains “They’re harmless, don’t you ever listen to anything you’re taught?”
“Harmless? That thing was two meters long, it didn’t look harmless to me” he said as he dug his walking stick into the ground with some force, hitting the rock which caused his to bounce back and fall on his backside “Those twenty gold pieces aren’t looking like they’re worth it, not for this.”
“Quit complaining, we’re not far now” said Dasha as she turned back round and continued walking up the path.
The trees of the mountain shielded them from the heat of the afternoon as they neared the mountain top. Akello had told Dasha that in the past, when Nephlin still walked the lands, this path was tended for and along it, during the night, would run burning candles placed upon the balls of rock that ran along the path so if you looked up to the mountain, it seemed to glow, hence the nickname of the Lighthouse Mountain.
Now though, the path was broken, roots had cracked the slabs of stone and the balls of rock had either rolled down the mountain or had been overrun by the forest which had started to reclaim the path.
‘To think Sailem used to to do this every week’ she thought to herself as she looked on ahead as the path kept rising before turning right and disappearing behind the mountain side.
“Hey, can we take a break?” called out Manny as he lift Dakar up like a doll with one arm to his feet though Dakar didn’t appreciate it.
“Sure, let’s take a small break, hey Isa” called out Dasha ahead of her “We’re taking a break.”
“Fine” said Isa as she backtracked and joined them as they opened their pouches of water and opened up their bags with their lunch. Several pieces of fruit and vegetables, a loaf of bread and cooked pork. Dakar watched in disgust as Manny wolfed down his food, stuffing more than he could chew in his mouth at once which made Isa giggle and Wex look down at his food with disgust.
“So, who are you Manny? I’ve never seen you about until today and how did you get this task given to you?” said Dakar as Manny took long gulps of water before burping loudly in relief.
“Oh, well, Dasha saw me carrying a few things about so she figured she could use someone like me” he said as he bit into an apple.
‘The nerve’ she thought to herself as Dakar remained unconvinced.
“What about you guys? Are you all Dasha’s Magi friends?” he asked
“Oh, she’s been showing off again has she?” said Dakar looking at Dasha who chucked a peanut at his head.
“I don’t show off and no, I’m the only one” she said as she resumed eating.
“Not many Magi left are there?” he said “They say the Magi have some Demon blood in them, did you know that? Is there something you’re not telling us Dasha?”
“Don’t be stupid” said Isa “That’s not true, it’s just some stupid rumour they started to scare people and there’s no such things as Demons. They’re just a story, a five thousand year old story let me add, to keep dumb people like you scared.”
“I don’t know” said Wex as he chewed and looked through the foliage to the sky before turning his gaze back to the group “The Nephlin texts I’ve read mentioned that they started out as a group to hunt down any demons across the lands. And there are many stories about these Demons.”
“It’s all flibalbabble” said Dakar.
“Flibalbabble?” they all said in unison.
“It’s a word” said Dakar defensively “And let’s say these ‘Demons’ existed why ain’t I seen one? Why has no one seen one one in hundreds, thousands of years? Besides the occasional drunk’s story or abduction, no one has seen one.
“I hate to say it” he continued “I agree with Isa on this one and Dasha you’ve just got a gift, misunderstood for sure but a gift. Gods know why, you just do. Now let’s stop this talk of Demons.”
“There’s something in the trees” said Manny with a serious face looking behind Dakar and the rest of the group looked towards the trees, Dakar looking over his shoulder before turning back to his meal.
“Ha, ha. Very funny Manniro. ‘You got me’” he said.
“I’m serious, I saw something move…or someone” said Manny as he stood up and looked intently at the trees.
“Maybe it was the ghost of the Candle Lighter popping by for a bite” said Dakar as he kept eating but Manny only sat down after a couple of minutes, eating his food slower this time.
They finished off their meal in silence before packing up their things and picking up on their walk. To keep up the pace and defeat boredom, they started singing songs, the slow sung Merchants of Lemekia, the swinging tale of the Pig and Bear and the chants of The Dragon’s Wife.
Time seemed to fly by and finally the path started to level and turned inside the mountain, to a large flat area of land filled with trees.
They started walking through them following the path when they spotted the tiled roof above the trees and the path now tightened as the trees closed in, so they had to walk in single file. The trees were thinner here, you could easily wrap your hands round them and ponds filled with fish stood by the path and Dasha gasped as she saw a deer and it’s mother through the trees, observing in silence the strangers, only for them to flee as they got to close.
Finally the path ended and they stood in awe at the sight of the sanctuary.
The sanctuary was huge, with a west and east wing made of white stone and pillars held up the roof of the complex, atop of it were perched stone gargoyles, twisted and hideous things but excellently crafted.
To their left, was a sand pit where there stood many wooden dummies, many had been hacked and sliced at several times, leaving chips of wood littered in the sand and surrounding the house were a wide variety of flowers and plants of many colours, sizes and shapes. Two large patios built out of bricks stood at the opposite ends of the sanctuary, each with a large round table and chairs and surrounding the patios were open cages were seeds filled the containers and dropping littered the bottom of them but no birds were to be seen.
And hanging over the two front doors was the ancient seal of the Nephlin made of brass, hanging above the entrance, though it had been rusted and the seven symbols had been worn.
“Whoa” said Manny.
“Amazing isn’t it?” said Wex looking at him “To think some of these Nephlin buildings were built hundreds, if not thousands of years ago.”
“I wasn’t surprised about that, I was surprised about that” said Manny pointing to their right and the group followed his pointed finger to see a line of stables, all were empty besides for one.
Pacing round and round in a continuous circle was the biggest warthog they had ever seen in their life, it’s header bigger than all their torso’s, it’s shoulder height reached their full height. It’s horns sprouted either side of it’s lips, curling in a loop and it had been fitted a thin sheet of armour from it’s tail to in between it’s ears and heavier looking plates had been tied around it’s legs.
“It’s a Titan Warthog” said Wex with astonishment as they got as close as they dared. The warthog seemed to have not noticed them as it called out, a roar that sounded like a pig’s but was deeper and shook more in the air, looking towards the sanctuary, jumping up and down in its pen
“How did it get so big?” said Isa.
“These creatures used to roam these lands before the droughts and before they became deserts. They say that the plains used to be filled with their calls which are unique to each individual. Baruto must somehow know someone who knows way up north, that’s where the last few remain, they’re supposed to be extinct in this land” said Wex.
“What would we do without you Wex?” said Isa punching his shoulder with a smile.
“They’re also supposed to be the one of the friendliest beasts of the lands, sort of the reason for their downfall. They’re supposed to be loyal and intelligent creatures” said Wex as he started walking towards the gate of the warthog but as he got closer the Titan roared and charged against the fence, bashing it, causing the wood and chains that ran through them to rattle as it paced around in it pen.
“Get away from there” said Dasha “It must not be used to strangers or something.”
“Well Manny” said Dakar slapping his back “I hope you’re as strong as you say you are cos that thing looks like it weighs a ton.”
“Get out of here, the old man won’t expect me to carry down that beast. Would he?” said Manny as Wex joined up with the group.
“I don’t know let’s go ask the old coot ourselves” said Dakar as they walked up the stone slabbed pathway which lead directly to the front doors. Built from an orange tree not native to this land and along the sides were carved images. It must have been a long lost language or decoration for they had never seen such a thing.
They stood at the doors, when Dasha realised they were waiting on her and she stepped forward.
She started knocking as hard as she could on the doors “Elder Baruto, it’s Dasha, sister of Akello, we’ve come to…” and that’s when the door started opening by itself and she realised it had been slightly ajar this whole time, creaking open as dust escaped from inside.
“Ladies first” said Dakar as he peeked into the darkness of the front room of the house and she stepped into it as the others pushed opened the doors wider, streaming the light inside. The place smelt as if it had been closed for a long time and there was not one candle burning in the entire house, the window’s blinds seemed to have been pulled down, plunging the house into darkness.
“I already like this man, he did one part of the job already for us” said Manny as they all walked in and Dasha picked up a few candles resting on a desk pushed against the wall right by the doors and light them up, passing them one by one to the others.
The main room was large and ahead of them was a staircase which rose and split to the east and west wings. The corridors had been built with arched ceiling’s and to their immediate right and left were two corridors which led to the lower eastern and western wings.
“Elder Baruto?” she called out again and she repeated it again after an entire minute but still there was no reply.
“Maybe he’s out” said Isa “The front door was open maybe he went to get something.”
“Or maybe he’s on his way but he’s just taking his time” said Manny “this Baruto, he’s supposed to be old right? Ancient.”
“He’s not that old” said Dasha though she couldn’t be certain. Maybe he needed help with walking and in a place this big, might be he hadn’t even heard them.
“Fine, we’ll do this” said Dasha as she turned to the group “Me and Isa will check the upstairs, I’ll take the western wing, you go the eastern. Wex and Dakar, you two check the east and west down here. Manny, stay outside and check to see if he’s not gone outside. If anyone finds him, give a shout.”
They all muttered in agreement as they split up in search of Baruto.