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PostPosted: Tue May 3, '11, 4:17 pm
Na’il gazed into the awe-inspiring glare of the fairy’s eyes with more confidence than he had before. “Why are you doing this, Queen Layla? What is the purpose of all this?”

Dipping her fingers daintily in the pool of crystal-clear water, she looked up at Na’il and responded, “For your happiness and for peace.”

“Do we not have that already?” asked a confused Na’il.

Layla smiled and turned away, shaking her head. “It is fleeting. Even as we speak, there are evil forces at work, plotting and scheming to bring death and destruction to those that that don’t deserve it.”

“What can I do to stop it?”

“I cannot tell you. But the key to your happiness will be the key to saving innocent lives.” Layla got up and walked towards Na’il. “Prince Na’il, soon I will no longer be able to help you via your dreams. But fear not, I have prepared a way for you to continue your journey. You must travel to the east and then to the south. In a desert oasis you will find what you need to continue forward.”

Layla reached over and kissed Na’il on the cheek. “We are all counting on you.”


It was another two days’ journey before the three adventurers made it to the edge of the North Country. A string of mountains whose peaks gently poked the sky formed an unsurpassable barrier between them and the land of al-Qatif. There were no mountain trails or roads leading through the ridge, nor were there any passes. The only means of travel between the two countries was a tunnel that went under the mountain.

After hours of wandering through the dark corridors with only a couple of makeshift torches that Mah had prepared, the three emerged in al-Qatif. It was clear that what little land there was in al-Qatif was used for sustaining the population and, most likely, for trade with neighboring lands. Thick grasses filled in the spaces between the numerous orchards of apple and orange trees, giving away the region’s strong agricultural leaning.

Following a brief visit to a fishing village for food and supplies—and a good night’s sleep in a bed—Na’il and his companions headed southward. The southern end of the al-Qatifi coast offered to Na’il and Mah, although not so much Shahren, another source of awe and wonder. On their way to a mountain pass that would take them to the deserts of Aridia, they passed through the ancient ruins of several cities. The arquitecture of the derelict buildings was different from the domes and minarets of Landan and Satiri. He had never seen the pyramid-shaped buildings made of sun-baked brick—“ziggurats”, Shahren called them—nor had he ever seen the high walls with mosaic figures of winged bulls with the heads of women adorning them.

The mountain pass was a very narrow valley, not more than two hundred cubits in width, walled in on both sides by a pair of perfectly vertical basalt walls. It was discovered shortly after their entrance into the pass that perfectly silence was to be their best friend, as a sudden yelp by Mah when tripping over a stone almost left them buried under a half ton of rocks. Following the narrow escape, the group quickened their pace in order to avoid any other possible mishaps, and before the sun had set, was already setting foot into the endless sea of sand that was Aridia.

“Where do we go from here?” asked Mah, trying to find any sign of civilization, only to be disappointed.

“According to Layla,” replied Na’il, narrowing his eyes, also trying to find some sort of lead, “we continue south.”

“My lord Na’il,” mumbled Shahren. “If you consider me to be worthy servant, I might make a suggestion to you.”

Na’il glanced at his nurse with a cocked eyebrow and then back to the mud giant. “Please go on.”

“For centuries there have been legends of a ghost town in this desert. No human has lived there for almost a millennium, but it is said that the city does indeed have a population. I suggest we head in that direction.”

“May I ask the name of said city?” inquired Mah curiously.

“Hazatak,” Shahren answered in a dull monotone.

As the sun disappeared into the western horizon, the temperature began to drop sharply in that lonely arid wasteland. The cold, shrieking desert winds cut through Mah’s exposed body like a thousand daggers. Na’il too felt his morale shrink by the sudden, violent change in the climate. Only Shahren, the great golem of Landan, shuttered not at the weather. Although Mah didn’t complain, the look on her face made it evident that the biting breezes were too much for her. Na’il removed his white cape and, cutting it into two pieces, wrapped both strips of cloth around her legs. He then removed his turban and placed it on her head, ignoring her protests that his well-being was more important than hers.

It was an hour before sunrise that the three arrived at the walled city. As Shahren had said, the city was completely deserted. The high brass walls and towers made it look like a fortress, but even the most guarded cities were often noisy places, with great bazaars and their merchants filling the air with chatter. That was not present here. The air was now as still and as dead as Shahren had said the inhabitants were. Na’il made a few token shouts, but received no reply in return.

Fate was smiling upon them, though, and the main gate to the city had been left open. The three explorers were greeted with the sight of a dozens of perfectly-preserved buildings standing in neat, perfectly geometric patterns. Every building had been built the same way: hexagonal bases, roofs made of isosceles triangles of the same height inclined at the same angle, the doors of which houses being the same distance from the sidewalk. It was a mathematician’s dream.

“By god’s—“said Na’il in amazement, “—what a strange city indeed.”

“Indeed,” rejoined Shahren. “The city was built using the most precise of mathematical calculations. Even the main gate was built at an angle which the builders had calculated so that the wind would never against it, thus obscuring the outpost of civilization with the sands of Aridia.”

Entering the city, they noticed a number of peculiar brass statues standing about in odd places. Some looked as if the sculptor had left them on the sidewalk, others stood near the gate, although not on any pedestal. It was almost as if their creator had simply littered them about for no reason whatsoever.

“My lord Na’il,” pointed out Mah. “I think this place may be haunted. Let us not tarry here too long. I fear that evil spirits may roam within these walls after nightfall.”

Her words fell on deaf ears, however. Na’il was already standing next to a statue, inspecting its curious design. It looked exactly like a normal, clothed human, except that it was made of bronze. However, there was an odd dial sticking out of the man’s back. Na’il reached over and turned it. Suddenly, the bronze man came to life, pacing back and forth.

“Welcome to Hazatak. We haven’t seen a human in years.” His voice was so eerily hollow that it made Shahren’s voice seem human by comparison.

After pacing around the sidewalk for a few more minutes, the bronze man froze in his tracks. Na’il and Mah stared at each in confusion.

“What sort of devilry is this,” thought Mah aloud.

“An automaton,” said Shahren, who lumbered over to the artificial human and wound him up again.

Once again, the automaton started walking around, saying, “Welcome to Hazatak. “ Before he could finish talking, Na’il and his companions turned their attention to the other bronze men.

“We have been lonely here for many years,” lamented one hollowly.

“A strange cave can be found immediately south of here,” informed a second one.

“The old inhabitants of Hazatak were afraid of the cave to the south,” warned a third.

Mah and Na’il spent the rest of the day sleeping in an abandoned inn—the beds were surprisingly still fit to sleep in after so many generations—while Shahren stood sentinel in the hallway. After a dreamless, but comfortable sleep—the first time since the night they had fled the tower that Layla failed to appear to him—they woke up and left the automated sepulcher of Aridia.

The sun had already began its faithful descent, blessing Na’il and his companions with a less oppressive climate as they descended the banks of the small, but constant stream that whose flow ceased at the fountains of Hazatak. Not more than five miles south of the city of automatons did they come across a strange cavern, whose mouth opened almost directly to the heavens. Two huge doors made of wrought iron, each about five cubits in width and ten in length, closed the cave to any and all outsiders—or prevented whatever dwelled within from coming to the surface.

“The gods be thanked, I believe this is the place Layla wanted us to find,” exclaimed Na’il as he inspected the giant doors and their environs.

“What do you suppose dwells within?” asked Mah, kneeling and running her hands across the metal surface. “What if Layla has sent us to the very gates of hell itself?”

“The automata of Hazatak did suggest that whatever was in the cave was a source of fear to the inhabitants of the city,” observed Shahren in his usual monotone.

“Bah!” retorted Na’il, brushing aside his nurse’s worries with his hand. “I doubt that the perished people even entered the cave. Besides, it is written: He who fears the unknown will one day be afraid of his own backside.”

Mah blushed in embarrassment. “Sorry, my lord.”

Ignoring her apologies, Na’il turned to the golem. “Shahren, do you think you can pull one of these doors open?”

The mud giant nodded. “I will try, my master. I will try.”

The golem walked lazily over to one of the doors, and grasping the iron ring that protruded from it with its misshapen hands, began to pull. A loud creak and the sound of metal grinding against metal echoed for miles through the sands of Aridia, sending a chill down the prince of Landani’s spine. A blast of hot air shot out of the opening, knocking both Na’il and Mah over. In a few moments, the door had been lifted open enough for the three enter.

There was a staircase that led down into the depths of earth. At first, all was dark, but soon the walls began to glitter and shine. Suddenly, small yellow flames began to flicker on the walls: torches which had been placed there by the denizens of this small underworld had lit themselves. The now-exposed walls reduced Na’il and Mah to a state of sheer awe: The walls were made of pure rose quartz crystal. The light that shined from the torched passed through the walls and bathed the prince, his nurse, and the golem in a pure pink light. The steps veered to the west, leading them away from the river and further into the bowels of their world.

The final step was soon reached and the heroes stepped into a great hall, greater than anything they had ever seen in Satiri or Landan. The hall was filled to the ceiling, more than fifty cubits high, with gold meseta coins. Shahren suggested to Na’il and his companion that the touch nothing until finding some inhabitant of the cave who might explain to them where exactly they were. A small corridor led them into a second hall, whose roof stood sixty cubits high was filled to the ceiling with more gold bars than existed from Satiri to Agha. At the end of the hall was another small corridor with a plaque on the wall next to it. It was written in an ancient language, which thankfully Shahren was able to read:

Let the traveller who finds this place do so with the blessing of Layla, the Queen of the Fairies. In the next hall lieth her greatest treasure. To take the treasure will bring the blessed seeker great riches and prosperity. But beware, to the accursed one, that is, he who is not stripped of greed and avarice, they shall discover that death is a merciful alternative to incurring the wrath of the fairies.

Mah took a deep breath. “To life or death,” she announced determinedly.

Na’il nodded and smiled. “To life!”

They entered into the corridor, which was long and dark. For more than twenty minutes, Na’il and the others moved slowly through the narrow hall, feeling their way for sudden bends in the hall, of which there were many. The air was stale and soon Na’il and Mah began to feel nauseous. However, their persistence was seen and rewarded from on high as they eventually stepped out of hallway into a small chamber lit by a strange blue luminescence that wall emitted.

The walls were adorned with dozens upon dozens of shelves. Each shelf had somewhere between three and five glass jars on it, each jar containing some sort of severed limb or head, or maybe even an animal of sorts. It was what was in the center of the room, however, that earned the stares of Na’il and his friends. A structure resembling of a bathtub made of black, polished glass stood in their midst, filled with some bubbling blue liquid. Another small object that looked like a small crystal sarcophagus floated inside the liquid.

Na’il stood over the glass tub and gazed into the crystal coffin. He saw something inside, something that looked rather human, despite being less than a cubit in length. He closed his eyes and muttered a prayer to himself, after which he removed the coffin from the unknown liquid. Opening the translucent structure, he gasped aloud at what he saw inside.

The creature inside the coffin was a miniature human! It was a young woman, with blonde hair that ran down almost a two full spans until it touched the small of her back. There was a tiny ruby adorning her pearly-white forehead. Her body gave off a faint blue glow. She wore a familiar red robe and in one hand secured a bow. The more Na’il stared at her, the more familiar the tiny young woman looked.

“Layla?” he exclaimed, prompting Mah to bow her head forward for a closer look.

“This is Layla? This is the fairy from your dreams, my lord?” asked Mah.

The little woman opened her large obsidian eyes and stared at Na’il before smiling.
“Hello, Na’il. So we meet at last,” said the creature a feminine voice similar to Layla’s, although not quite as penetrating as that of the woman who had appeared in Na’il’s dreams.

“Is that you, Layla?”

“In part, yes. I am a creation of Layla’s. I am a homunculus.”

“An artificial human being?” cried a surprised Mah. “I thought those only existed in legend.”

The homunculus stood up. “We are a rare breed, my dear Mah. Yes, I am artificial. The greatest alchemists in the world created me centuries ago. However, I am not bereft of a soul. Layla, who ordered my creation, imparted unto me a portion of her soul.” Turning to Na’il, “if you wish, you may call me Layla al-Saghira, since I possess a piece of her spirit. I shall help you for the remainder of your quest and however long you may need me afterward.”

“May Layla and the gods be praised for sending us to you,” said a grateful Na’il, nearly bowing before the diminutive Layla.

“Please get up, my lord, Na’il.”

The prince stood up.

“Very good. We now have an important mission ahead of us. The sky princess, sister of one of the most powerful sorcerors in the land, has been captured and imprisoned by some wicked men. We must rescue her soon. If we don’t, her brother Ahun will wage a war against all peoples of this world. Come, we have a long journey to make to Elesvaram.”

Nobody said anyhing else. Na’il simply nodded, placed the tiny young lady on his shoulder. “Let us go then. Our destiny awaits us.”

Last edited by H-Man on Wed May 4, '11, 12:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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