Online:Chronicles of Ehtelar, Vol. 1
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The caravan tracked its way through the Hollow Wastes. Wheels creaked below the howling of the desert winds.
Mercenaries, swathed in chain and boiled leather, cursed the sweltering heat that broiled them under the unblinking sun.
Hearing their muttered oaths, Ehtelar was thankful for Rahad, her trusted contact in Sentinel. The burly Redguard was blessed with an unflappable practicality, born of his upbringing in the desert wastes.
She had taken his advice to heart, dressing only in linens and investing in an enchanted waistband that kept her cool despite the oppressive heat.
Trundling forward, the wagon train crested a windswept ridge and came to a rumbling halt.
Curious, Ehtelar dismounted. As she made her way toward the front of the train, merchants confused by the sudden stop peered out from the awnings that kept the sun from their backs.
"My friend," Rahad said as she passed the head carriage, "Your travels have taken you to many shores, but tell me: Have you ever encountered such a sight?"
As he spoke, he gestured out past the road to the valley below. There, amid burnt stone and winding trails, great alabaster spires protruded from the sand like arrows fallen into thick sod, stretching for miles in the space between the ridge and its twin across the span.
"What is it?" she asked, regaining her composure.
"I was hoping you could tell me," he replied, "This pass is normally home to nothing but sand heaped in dunes for miles. Who can say how long that was buried here?"
Realizing an opportunity to make a profit, Ehtelar insisted they camp among the ruins for the night. The mercenaries, glad for a reprieve from the noonday sun, were all too happy for a break from their grueling trek.
Night fell and their carousing was heard into the early hours of the morning. If there were anything untoward about the ruins around them, it went unnoticed in the din.
Dawn found Ehtelar and her companion picking a path through the spires in search of an entrance. It was almost noon before they found one.
"Here!" Rahad cried out, excitement barely concealed beneath the deep timbre of his voice, "I found a way through!"
Running now, to reach her friend and see what he had found, Ehtelar rounded a bend in the stone. As she did, she was greeted by a terrible sight.
Hanging limp from a great spear thrust out from the crack was Rahad. His scabbard was empty, the sword that filled it thrust into a nearby dune.
She stood there, gaping in horror, as Rahad was lifted into the air, a great scaly head emerging from the sand heaped in piles about the ruined doorway. With one fluid motion the creature shifted its weight, throwing Rahad to one side as it began to clean the gore from its weapon.
Ehtelar shook her head in disbelief. She thought to call out, but realized the creature would probably kill her before she issued a second syllable. Slowly, carefully, she took a step back, then another. For a moment it seemed she would escape, but as her third step met ground, the creature turned.
Dodging back from a thrust spearpoint, Ehtelar found her ears deafened by a sudden burst of shrill music. Clapping her hands over them defensively, she stumbled back as her adversary uncoiled before her.
Rising, expanding its ribs until it had nearly doubled in size, its multitonal voice joined itself in chorus. Its shrieking harmony resounded through the sand until tiny grains fell away from the ruins in sheets. As it shifted, the stone beneath her collapsed, spilling her out toward her foe.
It was all she could do to grab Rahad's sword, buried to the pommel in sand. Suddenly within striking distance, she thrust the sword through the fiend's blackened maw. As steel met skull, the terrible crescendo of its voice began to falter.
In that moment, her opponent realized a simple truth: It no longer hungered for blood and flesh. It no longer wanted much of anything at all. "How wonderful!" it thought as the ground rushed up to meet it. If its reptilian mouth allowed, it would have smiled.
As the lamia spiraled to the ground, its hooked spear caught Ehtelar in the calf. Feeling the cold bite of steel, she was thrown off balance. For a moment it seemed she would right herself, but the stone she stood upon suddenly gave way.
Down into the dark she fell, suspended within a cloud of sand that swept past the jutting stones and crenelated spires peering out from the shadows below.
As the bright, desert sky abandoned her, she found herself bathed in scintillating light. A field of stars sparkled around her—not stars, for they were far underground. They were the bright crystals of the Ayleidoon.
She fell for what seemed like days, her only company the flickering lights careening up at her from the darkness. "If I could only grasp one of those tiny stars," she thought, her hands reaching toward them, "I might become as ethereal as they are and leave this world behind."
From below, a whisper grew to a rustling, wind like sound. Looking down, it seemed her flight of stars came to a hard edge—rushing up at her in the dark.