I had to pickthe desert. Why the hell did I pick the desert?
Well, I suppose “pick” is a rather strong word for it. I’m still notentirely certain just how I got that console working, but it suddenly startedcycling through holographic images of different destinations far from theisland that I’d been living on. Of course, I just had to go and press anotherbutton while it was showing off one that contained miles and miles of bloodydesert, and here I am.
That’s just typical of me, isn’t it? Always leaping, never looking. Oh well,better make the best of it, and by that, I mean “better not die of heatexhaustion.”
My huntingskills are seriously out of practice. Not that I was ever spectacular, but Ifeel like I’d graduated from smashing bugs with a rock at some point.
At least I was thoroughly rewarded for my efforts. My hunch was spot on thesebig green bastards are carrying drinkable water on their backs, and thankgoodness for that! I may have never known if I’d killed a red one first, sincethose carry oil instead. Far less useful when you’re dying of thirst, let metell you.
I may be fighting the inevitable, though. I’m still on foot and still alone.Definitely miss Athena.
I’m on a roll.By sheer coincidence, I stumbled into another group of survivors today, andthey didn’t try to kill me or anything. If I didn’t know how probabilityactually worked, I’d say that this recent string of good luck is the universemaking up for sending me to the bloody desert in the first place.
The caravaners were welcoming, and the creatures they ride are fascinating.They seem like dinosaurs, but they also appear to share some biology withcamels. Bizarre! For all its oddities, the island never had anything like that.
I’ll have to study them… after a nap. All this desert survival’s left meknackered.
If I’d ended upin this place instead of on that island, I’d have never imagined the ecosystemwas natural. Not for two seconds.
Take these morellatops: they’re a cross between a ceratops, a morelladon and acamel, and the strangest part? There are places in its humps where you canstick a spigot and get clean drinking water. Tastes like piss, but not only isit safe, it doesn’t even harm the morellatops. It’s crackers.
Definitely the result of genetic engineering, but I knew that, didn’t I? It’stime to get to the “why.” Maybe studying the creatures here with my newperspective will yield some insight.
Today, I caughta glimpse of what the caravaners call the “Endless Dunes”. Thedesolate sea of sand that apparently surrounds the livable portion of thedesert on all sides.
Now those dunes can’t literally be endless, but it’s easy to see why one wouldthink that. Not only do they, stretch on to the horizon, but they’re home to getto… get this… giant sand “worms” that will devour anything thatsets foot in their domain.
I laughed that off at first. Then I saw a creature the size of a train burst upfrom the sand and devour a wild morellatops that had wandered into its territory.I suppose I’ll just have to learn to walk without rhythm…
As absurd as theDeath Worms are, I see their purpose. They are a natural barrier.
If this whole place is a space station posing as a real ecosystem, then itneeds to keep the wildlife and humans inside it contained in a way that appearsnatural. The island accomplished that by simply being an island, and the desertdoes it via the Death Worms.
Granted, a large population of predators with ludicrous kilocalorie needs wouldnever last long in a place as devoid of prey, but as this is an artificialenvironment, the station can feed or, replace the Death Worms as needed. It’s alittle convoluted, but it makes sense.
Time to go overthe facts.
Like the island, this desert is a space station posing as a naturalenvironment. It is inhabited by a large population of dangerous, geneticallyengineered creatures, and a small population of humans that are struggling tosurvive. This whole environment is then deliberately contained by a combinationof a holographic horizon and natural barriers.
Assuming the other space stations are at all similiar, then this whole thing isstarting to look like some kind of bizarre experiment on a grand scale. Yes,each station would represent an experimental group, and…
I’ll have to continue this later. One of the caravan’s scouts just returned ina panic. Something about rocks being alive, which is of course ridic.
I long for thedays when I thought a tyrannosaurus frolicking through the snow was the heightof absurdity. Compared to yesterday, that seems commonplace.
As the scout had so eloquently put, the rocks were indeed alive. Alive, in theshape of a massive, bipedal golem and exceedingly angry. I was too shocked toscatter like the others when it charged, and for a moment, I was certain that Iwould die.
Then something even more ludicrous happened – lightning crashed into the golem,but it didn’t come from the sky. It came from the mouth of a bloody dragon.
I don’t recall much else. Fear and instinct pretty much took over for the restof the day, and while that helped me survive, I’m once again on my own.
I remember now,the dragon had a rider. Rather, the wyvern did. Two legs means its a wyvern.Strewth, listen to me, fighting to survive and still finding time forsemantics.
The rider was covered up too well to get a good look at them. Could it havebeen Mei Yin? No, that’s stupid. I don’t know if she’s even alive, much less inthis desert with me. It would be just like her though, to have tamed themeanest thing here so quickly.
It’s nice to pretend that a friend might be looking out for me, at least. Wewere sort of mates, right? Sort of.
I could really use one right now. A friend, I mean.
Well, I found anew best mate. The little fuzzball isn’t exactly what I meant, but I’ll takeher.
I’ve dubbed her species Renopila Amplexus. They’re small, cuddly littleherbivores, and as far as I can tell, taming one has no practical use. I justcouldn’t let the her starve to death, though. I guess all this rubbish withgolems and wyverns has quelched what was left of my scientific instinct toleave nature to nature.
At least we provide each other with a little warmth at night, and her anticshave helped to keep my spirits up. I suppose I’ll need to give her a name.
I may have been wrong about Renopila not having a practical use. Earlier today,my furry new companion started bouncing around so excitedly that I couldn’tcalm her down, and then soon enough it started raining.
I brushed that off as a coincidence, but soon after filling my waterskins andsetting off once more, she started acting skittish. I decided to find shelterjust in case, and within minutes light rainfall had turned into an electricalstorm.
I’ll need more evidence to draw any firm conclusions of course, but I wouldn’tmind having a fuzzy little weather radar with me.
You know… It’s a little on the nose, but Radar’s not a bad name.
Thank goodnessthat I decided to find some high ground two days ago, or I’d have never spottedthis settlement. That’s twice now that I’ve stumbled into my own salvation. Ican’t count on that happening again. I’ll need to stay here for a while andprepare before setting out once more.
Fortunately, the villagers are willing to let me trade work for supplies andshelter. Another stroke of luck, and another factor I can’t rely on. On theIsland, Rockwell’s name got me far, but here I’m just another stranger. Noteveryone will trust or help me. I need to be prepared to survive on my own.
In some ways,surviving on my own was less work. At least then I wasn’t conscripted intomanual labor. Ugh, my whole body feels sore!
I bet I wouldn’t have to work if I were as adorable as Radar. The whole villageis in love with her. I swear, they spoil her like a furry little princess.
Rockwell would be livid about this arrangement. I can just hear him rantingabout treating scholars with propriety. I hope the old Brit is doing well.Maybe when I’ve broken this mystery wide open, I’ll figure out a way to get himoff the Island and we can discuss it all over tea like old times.
While my mindstill can’t recall the last time I fired a gun, my muscle memory is muchbetter. According to my would be instructor, I wasn’t a complete disaster onthe firing range.
I’m no pacifist. Death and violence are a part of life, that’s just nature. Yeta gun still makes me a little uncomfortable. The idea of shooting at anotherhuman just seems instinctively wrong to me. I couldn’t even fire at the NewLegion back on the island.
But I need to pull my weight. The villagers have been welcoming and patientwith me. For their sakes, I need to practice.
I may have toput my freshly polished marksmanship skills to the test sooner than I thought.A hunting party spotted a swarm of giant mantises heading in our direction.
Yes, giant mantises. I haven’t spotted them with my own eyes, but the villagershave spoken of them every now and again. They say the insects have these littlehands that can actually grip and wield weapons or tools. Sounds absolutelyloony, but so is the idea of a mantis swarm at all. They must share GhostMantis’ distaste for cannibalism.
No one seems keen on fighting them, but they’re too close to outrun. Hopefullythey’ll just pass us by.
My hopes thatthe Mantises would ignore the village were unfounded, and I think we were allwondering if this morning’s sunrise would be our last. Despite all my practice,my rifle felt heavy and foreign in my shaking hands as the swarm advanced.Fortunately, they weren’t our only visitors.
The villagers erupted in cheers as lightning and fire tore through theadvancing insects from above. Some chanted a name: Wali al Aswad. The rider,still hidden behind black robes, didn’t acknowledge the ovation. With swiftefficiency, their small flight of Wyverns decimated the Mantis swarm and madefor the horizon.
Wali al Aswad… I need to meet this person, if only to thank them.
Just who or whatWali al Aswad is depends on who you ask. Some of the villagers have attached areligious connotation to the figure, believing it to be some sort of heavenlyguardian who appears to worthy in their time of need, One villager is evenconvinced Wali is an extraterrestrial.
I don’t deal in beliefs. I deal in empirical evidence, and that means nothingabout Wali is certain until I can meet them. I won’t forget this village’skindness, especially after granting me a morellatops and supplies for myjourney, but this is why I’m here – to find answers.
I’m definitelymore prepared for this desert than before, and better equipped. With mymorellatops offering a large, mobile supply of water and Radar looking out forthe weather, the only threat I really have to worry about is major predators.Also giant golems.
I’m actually impressed with the shape I’m in, if I do say so myself. I think Ieven saw some ab definition the other day. Took me long enough. I’ve beenliving without sweets for ages, after all, You’d think I’d get fit muchquicker.
Great, now I miss sweets. The things I’d to do taste chocolate again…
It took weeks ofsearching, but I finally caught a glimpse of Wali al Aswad. I knew I wasgetting close when I found a series of fulgurite formations this morning, andsure enough, I spotted several wyverns later in the afternoon with a lone rideramong them.
The rider clearly saw me too, because soon enough the wyverns were circlingoverhead. I waved and yelled in greeting, even calling out Mei Yin’s name justin case. Yet without so much as a nod, the wyverns regrouped and flew off.
Wali’s not a social butterfly it seems, but I’m not letting them off the hookthat easily.
Of course Walilives on a bloody mountain. Of course they do. I saw their wyverns land at thesummit yesterday, and they haven’t left. This has to be theirhome…unfortunately.
The paths were too narrow for my morellatops, so I had to leave it behind. Itshould know to wander off if I don’t return for it, not that I can reallyafford to worry about it. The climb’s doing a fine job of kicking my ass evenwithout distractions.
I swear, if I don’t have a six pack after climbing a mountain in the bloodydesert, I’m going to be awfully cross.
I don’t knowwhat kind of reception I expected when I reached the summit, but laughterwasn’t one of them. Yet that was exactly what I heard when I finally let myselfcollapse and started flinging every obscenity I could think of at this damnedmountain – the bemused laughter of an old woman.
Wali al Aswad is definitely no guardian angel. She was quick to dismiss thoseparticular rumors with remarks about how the gods have abandoned this wretchedplace.
As long I avoided that subject though, she’s welcomed my questions withsurprising warmth, though often enigmatically. I have a feeling that I’ll needto be patient with her.
It turns outthat I didn’t find Wali al Aswad. She found me.
While the portal I used to get here opened with little fanfare on my end,apparently the other side created quite the spectacle. According to Wali, itwas easy for her to spot from atop her wyvern, and she started tailing me soonafterwards. I guess her timely interventions were no coincidence.
She didn’t seem very surprised when I told her about the obelisks, theirguardians or even that this desert is actually a space station. Either sheknows more than she’s saying, or experience has grinded the surprise right outof her.
I really missedflying. There’s no replicating the feeling, and no replacement for seeing asunrise amongst the clouds.
Wali probably started these wyvern riding sessions just to give herself anescape hatch when our conversations get too personal, but I can’t say I mind.Despite their appearance, riding a wyvern is just as pleasant as riding anargentavis, even without a saddle. By design, perhaps?
No matter. Genetically engineered or not, they are magnificent creatures. It’sa risky proposition, but I absolutely must observe them in the wild sometime. Ican’t pass up an opportunity like that.
Now that Walihas deemed by wyvern riding skills acceptable, she’s finally agreed to show mearound the region.
From what I can gather, Wali has been here for a very long time, maybe longerthan Rockwell was on the island. She knows the history of every village andruin. Apparently there was once a great city to the southeast, but it was wipedout at some point.
She’s still mum on a lot of details, but I’ll just have to keep prying. Radar’sbeen helpful in that regard. Wali definitely seems to be in a better mood whenthe fuzzball’s around. That little charmer’s certainly earned her keep.
I’m gratefulthat Wali allows me time to study the local wildlife, but I suspect she onlydoes so out of amusement. She always says something like, “Why do youspend so much time on these scribbles that no one will read?”
I never have a good retort. It’s true that no one else may ever read mydossiers, as I have no way to reproduce or distribute them as long as I’mtrapped on one of these space stations. When I started them, they were apassion project, created out of my love for nature and its creatures.
Now? I guess they’re just part of my identity. Writing them helps remind me whoI am.
I can’t believeit! Wali spotted someone wandering in the desert the other day, and it turnedout to be none other than Edmund Rockwell! I just about burst into tears when Irecognized him.
Apparently, he heard that Nerva was holding me captive and sought to negotiatemy release. That lead him to the cave, and eventually he wound up here. Awfullysweet of him to go through all that trouble for my sake!
Strangely, Wali claims that she saw a portal open up far away from herterritory shortly before mine did. I guess that was Rockwell’s, though Waliarrived at the scene too late to track him. Rockwell theorized that the portalsmay have taken us through time as well as space. Considering my present company,I’m inclined to agree with him.
Wali has beenmuch quieter since we found Rockwell. I guess she’s just letting us catch up.However, she did say something interesting when we were recounting Nerva’sambitions for the Island.
“This place would never allow anyone to master it,” she said, andwhen I asked her to explain, she told me that the great city to the southeastwas destroyed by the obelisk itself.
Now it’s just conjecture, but it’s interesting to think about. Could the curatorsof these stations be monitoring human behavior and clipping its wings shouldthe survivors ever band together and fly too close to the sun? If each stationrepresents a different group in a larger experiment, “resetting”human progress would make a lot of sense.
It’s a bit grim though, isn’t it? Yikes.
I don’t thinkRockwell’s been sleeping much. I awoke last night to find him studying astrange piece of metal by firelight. I guess some tribe gave it to him as .jpgt, along with a very familiar looking artifact.
I insisted that we show those items to Wali, and she recognized them as theproperty of this station’s lone guardian. With all that she knows, I’m notsurprised that she’s activated the obelisks before. Hell, it sounds like theold battle ax has even slain the beast herself!
Since we have said guardian’s artifact, Wali says that we can leave thisstation at any time. I suppose we may as well. Rockwell’s eager to depart, andas much as I like Wali, I’ve had my fill of sand.
The transporterthat can take us back to the “control center” station is in the ruinsof another city, south of the mountains. Wali believes that it was destroyed bythe obelisks, just like the city in the southeast.
I didn’t press her for details, not that I’d have gotten any. Wali’s more tightlipped about those ruins than anything. I had to practically beg her to take meto the southeastern city, and while we were there, she spent most of her timejust gazing out into the distance.
No sense in bringing her mood down with that rubbish now. After all that she’sdone for me, I’d like give her a nice, proper farewell.
Having seen usthrough the ruins and safely to the platform, Wali has taken her leave. Afterdoing so much for me, I was sad to see her go, but at least I got her to smilebefore she left. Well, me and Radar. I can’t very well take the little critterwith me, so I officially gave Wali ownership of her. They’ll be good for eachother, I think.
Gah, I wrote “Wali” up there. Twice! I suppose old habits die hard,but it’s not really her name, is it? I always knew that was the case, but she’dnever told me to call her anything else. At least not until now.
Well at any rate – cheers, Raia. It was a pleasure to have known you.
Confound thoseconfused contraptions! Despite my best efforts, I could make neither heads nortails of the mysterious machine that brought me here.
If only I still had that jittery bespectacled assistant of mine from all thoseyears ago. What was his name? Gerald? Gerande? The one that loved tinkeringwith the devices we’d salvage from the arms of the Island’s less fortunateinhabitants. Good lad. The inscriptions he found on the inside of those littletrinkets were where I first saw the word “ARK” as I recall.
Shame about the incident with the Compsognathus. If I still had his services,perhaps I’d never be in this God forsaken desert. Ah well. Stiff upper lip,Rockwell. Make the best of it.
Right then! Nowthat I have found a shady spot where I can enjoy a brief respite from thisdesert’s dreadful heat, it’s high time that I set some goals for thisexpedition. If I wander about aimlessly then I’m sure to meet the same fate aspoor Gerald.
First, I shall find a local tribe if for no other reason than to obtain aproper mount and supplies.
Second, I simply must learn more about that strange metal that lined the wallsof the sanctuary. Even with a cursory study I could tell that it possesseswondrous properties. But where could I find more of it?
I must saynothing reminds a man of his own mortality quite like a desolate wasteland. Asa strapping young lad, I could have survived alone in this desert for years!Why on one occasion, I fought off a Bengal tiger with nought but an empty flashand my favourite pipe. With this makeshift spear, the beasts of this land wouldnever have a prayer!
Yet in my old age, I can feel this damnable sun sapping my strength with everyminute I spend under its unforgiving gaze. Each day I cover less ground thanthe day before.
I must find civilization soon, no matter how primitive. Without the right toolsand supplies, I fear that this expedition will be incredibly short lived.
Eureka! At last,I have found signs of human life!
This afternoon, I came across a fresh series of footprints, some from humansand some from what I assume are large beasts of burden. I cannot be sure whomade them or how civilized they may be, but neither can I afford to be tooparticular in my choice of saviors.
Whoever they are, I must track them down immediately. As soon as I gather mystrength I shall pursue my quarry with the utmost haste and vigor. The tale ofthe brilliant and impeccably groomed Sir Edmund Rockwell shall not end thisday!
Salvation, thyname is Prophet’s Rest.
After a proper meal and some time out of the sun, the makeshift fortressdoesn’t look half as grand as its name might imply. Yet when I first sightedits walls from across the dunes, it may as well have been El Dorado itself, sograteful was I to find it.
Thus far, I have seen little of the inhabitants, but they seem a hospitablesort. I’ve been given food, shelter, and even a wet cloth to clean myself with.Quite generous of them, considering how scarce water is in these lands.
Their clothing is a curiosity, however. Those robes seem more ceremonial thanfunctional.
It seems thatProphet’s Rest is less a fortress and more an enclave or monastery. I supposethat would explain the name, now wouldn’t it?
Yes as strange as it may sound, the natives have created a primitive religioncentered around the ARK’s obelisks. They pray three times a day, each timefacing a different obelisk, and their robes bear a unique symbol – a threepointed star coloured red, green and blue. The blue obelisk appears to receiveparticular reverence due to is proximity.
As charmingly ignorant as their superstitions may be, it’s far from the mostsavage religion I’ve encountered. Besides, Prophet’s Rest is in need of adoctor, and I am in need of supplies.
I havediscovered why Prophet’s Rest is so generous with their water. The well at theedge of the compound is built directly on top of what the locals call a ‘watervein’ – an endless supply water bubbles up from beneath the earth.
It’s existence is a minor miracle, though compared to what I saw in the starlitsanctuary, minor is the operative word. I suppose this ARK must be floatingamong the stars just as the Island was. What an extraordinary thought! I cannotfathom how such a thing is possible, but that remarkable metal must be at theheart of it. I am certain.
Most of my workwork at the monastery’s doctor has been trivial. Every now and then one of theguards gets injured by the local wildlife, but I usually find myself treatingheat stroke and common illnesses. As such, I have had plenty of time to learnall the priests know about the obelisks.
All told, they are stunningly ill informed about the literal pillars of theirfaith. They are unaware that the obelisks are actually devices that can beactivated, and needless to say they have never activated one themselves.
They showed a flicker of understanding when I described the artifacts I foundon the island, however. I shall have to keep digging.
Unbelievable.Have these idol worshipping ninnies replaced all their common sense with blinddevotion? Have years of oppressive heat completely addled their brains?
I was finally allowed to see the monastery’s inner sanctum, and lo and behold,there they were. Sitting upon an altar before a flock of protesting primitiveswere these glowing artifacts, just like the ones I had found in the cavernsbeneath the island. Yet instead of making use of them or even studying them,these halfwits are praying to them!
The true value of those artifacts is completely lost on these simpletons.Sacred relics, indeed!
It took time,but I finally pilfered enough supplies and tools to survive on my own. Loadingthem onto these camel-like beasts of burden was laborious, but the real trialwas absconding with the artifacts.
There is always someone watching the inner sanctum, so I carefully studied theguard’s shifts until I identified whose drink I had to spoil with my knockoutserum. Even then I acted with great haste and guile, for my heist will surelybe discovered when the priests convene for their morning prayers.
Alas, they will be too late! Sir Edmund Rockwell is always ahead of his foes,but not by a mere step. No, I am miles and miles beyond their reach!
It has beenseveral days since I left Prophet’s Rest, and I have seen no sign of pursuit. Iam unsurprised. They probably assumed that I would make for the blue obelisk,as it was nearest. By setting out for the green obelisk instead, I alreadyoutwitted those simple minded zealots. As I said – miles ahead! Miles!
With those fools out of the way, I can slow my pace and take some time toproperly study these so called sacred relics of theirs. I am curious to see ifthe materials they are made of bear any similarity to the metal in the starlitsanctuary.
The obelisk isreacting to the presence of the artifacts with even more intensity than Iexpected. Each obelisk on the Island required eight artifacts to generate thatsort of response, not three. In other words, I may not need to do anyspelunking before summoning whatever terrifying beast this ARK has in store forme.
Ah, the beast. Now that poses entirely different conundrum. Even with my youthand my favorite pipe, I doubt that I could slay a monster such as that dragonMister Nerva fought. Not alone, anyway. I shall need to find a partner for thisventure, but who?
I have turnedback north in hope of making contact with some of the natives. It is a risk, asI cannot be sure how many bumbling savages are under the sway of thatludicrous, obelisk worshipping cult, but it is also the only region that Idefinitively know is occupied.
I do not have much to offer in exchange for their aid, but I am sure that I cannegotiate an alliance with at least one of this ARK’s tribes. I was at thecenter of the Island’s diplomatic disputes for years, after all. Why I am aseasoned, silver tongued negotiator! Surely I can coax a partnership out ofthese primitive desert dwellers.
What terriblemisfortune! My keen sense of direction finally led me to a local settlement,but as it happened, I was not the first party to visit it that day. That honorbelonged to the Burning Phoenix Clan, a band of raiders that were plunderingits storehouses and enslaving its surviving residents as I arrived.
Naturally, the hoodlums fell upon me and stripped me of my valuables withinminutes of my arrival. Ruffians! I managed to keep hold of my journal, butlittle else. This won’t do, not at all!
Then again, I was seeking out a tribe skilled in the art of violence. Perhaps Ican turn this to my advantage.
Curse thesestubborn brutes! Despite a litany of polite, gentlemanly requests, they refuseto allow me to parlay with their leader. Surely any leader of men is not halfthe imbecile that these barbarians are. I am positive that we could come tosome sort of…
Damn this noise! It is impossible to concentrate with all this insufferablewhingeing! Half of these prisoners won’t stop moaning about one injury oranother and the other half are in constant hysterics.
Very well. Perhaps if I tend to some of the wounded, it will dim thisdistracting cacophony.
At last, I canhear myself think! The guards have moved me to a private cell, and while theyhave not divulged the reason for my transfer, I suspect that they took noticeof my medical expertise. I caught them staring in my direction on severaloccasions as I worked.
It seems that doctors are in high demand in these lands. I suppose that’s nogreat surprise. The Island was no different. No matter. While my skills in therealm of medicine are more in line with a field medic than a true physician, Ishall continue to play the role as long as it serves me.
After days oftravel, we finally arrived at the Burning Phoenix Clan’s compound, and while myformer peers were shuffled to the slave pens, I stood before the clan’s leader.
I’d heard tales of the once great Tatar empires, thought I had never travelledto their lands. By all appearances, Timur is cut from the same cloth as theirfabled Khans. He was at once imperious and casual, questioning me withimpatience from a throne of hide and bone.
Naturally, he was impressed by my intellect and gentlemanly demeanor. Grantedhe did not say so aloud, but I was escorted to a small, private chamber insteadof a cell. Surely that says as much.
I had beenpondering why Timur required the services of a doctor. He seemed to be inexcellent health and I had seen no patients since I arrived. Well now I shallponder no longer!
Timur has a wife, and she’s with child.
I suppose that even bloodthirsty raiders can fall in love, or at the veryleast, desire a family. The whole affair would be rather quaint were I notexpected to care for the woman and deliver the child. Should either the childor the woman die during the birth, I fear that I will follow them in shortorder.
Nasrin is quitedifferent from her husband. She is a timid little flower of a woman, or rather,she would be if she were not many months pregnant.
I am still undecided as to whether my timing is impeccable or unfortunate. Afew weeks from now, Timur may have had no need of a doctor, but as it stands Ihave been thrust into an unfamiliar scenario with scant time to prepare.
Despite my unpleasant circumstances, this whole affair is rather intriguing. Inever considered the possibility of new generations being born on the ARK, yetclearly it was inevitable. Like any common animal, humans have the urge toprocreate. How else could the species endure?
Rockwell, oldbean, you’ve done it again! Both mother and child made it through, Timur is aproud father, and your head is still attached to its shoulders. Why I was evena guest of honor at Timur’s celebratory feast! I cannot say I enjoyed the bloodsport that serves as the Burning Phoenix’s entertainment, but the food wasdelectable.
I was also sure to seize upon Timur’s momentary goodwill by filling his earswith whispers of obelisks, artifacts and the untold power they grant to mortalmen. It may take time for those thoughts to turn to action, but with constantcare, I may yet turn him into my unwitting general.
The silvertongue of Sir Edmund Rockwell has prevailed once again! After spending far toolong watching the Burning Phoenix enslave and decimate hapless caravans andvillages, I have convinced Timur to test his might against the guardian of theobelisk.
I admit, I am somewhat anxious. Timur is not the commander that Mister Nervawas, and should he fall, I shall fall with him. Yet I have little choice, andthe rewards of success are worth the risk. The obelisks, the starlit sanctuaryand that precious ore shall be the foundation of my legacy as a scientist,gentleman and explorer. I am sure of it.
I found it! Ireally found it! Raw, untainted samples of that same, mysterious ore from thesanctuary!
That fearsome beast must have been guarding it. Thank the heavens for Timur andhis berserk savagery! When he leapt from the back of his wyvern, I thought hewas surely doomed, but the madman actually managed to grab hold of thatmonster’s horns and turn its eyes into a bloody mess. I have never seen suchbrutally effective barbarism.
Many of his band did not survive the encounter of course, but that was to beexpected. Progress requires sacrifice, and whether those brutes knew it or not,their deaths have helped humanity leap into the future.
This ore issimply extraordinary! It is warm to the touch, even during these cold desertnights, and it pulses as though it has its own heartbeat. It is at once lightand more sturdy than any natural material I have encountered. The uses onecould find for such a substance…
I shall have to name it at some point. What would do? Rockwellium? Edmunium?
A dilemma for another time. For now I have more pressing matters. Timur and hisBurning Phoenix savages have played their part, and I cannot remain in theircustody. It is time for the great warrior chief to receive his just reward.
Alas, poorTimur. He was so focused on celebrating his victory over one foe, that he neversaw his greatest threat. Now he lies beneath the severed head of the beast hevanquished, eyes bulging and blood seeping from his open mouth.
At least, that is how I imagine him. I did not stay to admire my handiwork. Assoon as the first group of Burning Phoenix warriors succumbed to their poisonedfeast, I stole away into the night, Edmunium and artifact in tow.
Serves those ruffians right, I say! They never did treat me with the proprietythat a gentleman and scholar of my caliber deserves. This desert is better offwithout them.
As my withdrawalfrom the Burning Phoenix’s camp demanded haste, I did not have the time todouble check my supplies. It appears that I shall have to do some hunting.
No matter! I may not be as spry as I was when felled a charging rhino on theplains of the Serengeti, but with all the small armory I managed to abscondwith, I can surely manage. I had planned on trading those weapons forinformation as soon as I encountered a peaceful tribe, but I can spare a fewrounds of ammunition.
Despite mylimited equipment, I have managed to run some initial tests on the Edmunium.Based on my observations, a typical forge may not be enough to smelt a sampleof Edmunium ore into any sort of useable ingot. I suspect that it has extremelystrong metallic bonds and therefore a much higher melting point than anyconventional metallic element.
I must find a proper base of operations where I can run more extensiveexperiments. I mustn’t be overeager, however. I have limited samples and…
Drat! I shall have to ruminate on this later. A sandstorm may be brewing and Ihave no desire to be caught in it.
Confoundedweather! Not only did that sandstorm separate me from my steed, but when itcleared I was beset upon by none other than the traitorous Miss Walker herself!Oh she put on quite the act, spouting all sorts of nonsense about how good itwas to see me. Rubbish! I see right through her ruse.
I am certain that she is after my Edmunium. The only reason she has not simplylooted it from my corpse is that she requires my superior intellect tounderstand it. Well two can play this game, Miss Walker! I can fill the role ofthe benign old scientist for a time, but I shall not be betrayed again!
I am glad that Ipossessed the foresight to hide my presence from Miss Walker after her captureon the island. She clearly believes that I never learned of her betrayal. Bycunningly taking advantage of this fact, I have managed to completely deceivethe deceiver!
The grim old bat she travels with is another matter. I often catch her glaringin my direction, her eyes sharp and mistrusting. If I could, I would deal withher as I dealt with Timur, but I fear she is far too observant. For now I mustmaintain my deception as best I can.
I may have givenMiss Walker too much credit. Although I carelessly allowed her to catch sightof my Edmunium ore samples, she was more interested in the artifact I possess.
I should have realized this sooner. Miss Walker’s specialty is biology. Shewould not recognize the unique properties of Edmunium if they hit her square inthe forehead!
That fact has eased some of my tension. Even if Miss Walker seeks to takeadvantage of my genius, she is focusing on the wrong discoveries. So long as Iam careful in my studies of Edmunium, I shall remain miles ahead of her.
I cannot wait tobe rid of that glowering menace of a woman, this so called Wali al Aswad. Isuspect the feeling is mutual. She has offered little in the way of farewellswhile seeing us to this ARK’s entrance to the starlit sanctuary.
Things will be much easier once Miss Walker and I have parted ways with thedesert witch, I suspect. Miss Walker is thoroughly oblivious to both thewonders of Edmunium and my knowledge of her underhanded scheming back on theIsland.
She can continue to fiddle with trinkets and relics. I may even assist her ifit suits me. Meanwhile, I shall unlock the secrets of the most extraordinaryelement in the universe right under her nose!
Old habits diehard. I suppose I’m living proof.
I woke up stark naked who knows where with who knows what lodged in my arm, butjust weeks later and I’m already back to robbing folks at gunpoint. This placemay not be Texas or the Arizona Territory, but I’m the same John Dahkeya.
I don’t know why that makes me restless. I didn’t mind this life before, butthen I didn’t exactly choose it. I just stumbled into it, or at least that’swhat I told myself. So much for that. Maybe this is just who I am.
Sometimes thepennies a man won’t part with willingly are worth less than the words he’llshare with any stranger. Some of my new partners don’t see that.
Blondie’s particularly blind to it. He’s always looking for an excuse to pullthe trigger, and he’s stubborn as hell. He even still gets mad we call himBlondie, as if any of us can pronounce that name of his.
But if Blondie were calling the shots, that hunter wouldn’t have told us aboutthe group gathering to the southeast, and they’ll have a lot more for thetaking than animal hides.
I can’t believehow easy this was. There weren’t many guards here to begin with, and the few they’vegot are more likely to shoot you a smile than a bullet. We just walked rightin.
The settlement is even bigger than we expected. It’s impressive, protectionaside. Everyone working together to build their own little paradise, not thatit’ll last. If you ask them, they’ll credit their leader, a woman called Raia.
The others have spread out to find where the supplies are stored, but I’mfeeling curious. Maybe I’ll go find this mystery woman. Might be interesting.
I don’t knowwhat brought me to this desert. My old man would say it was the spirits of ourancestors. Other folks might say God. Whatever it was, after talking to thatwoman, I realize now that I’ve been wasting what it’s given to me.
I have no history here. There are no posters showing off my sneering face, noposses hunting me. I can be any man I choose. So today, I’m making a choice –the folks here don’t deserve to be robbed. What they deserve is protection, andI’m the man to protect them.
Hell, maybe they’ll even call me Sheriff.
Now I know howthe old man felt while he was teaching me how to hunt. We stopped seeing eye toeye even before I left the tribe, but I’ll always thank him for the time hespent telling me the same damn things over and over again. Must have drove himwold inside, but he never showed it.
Hasn’t been easy to imitate that patience. Half of this sorry bunch is green asgrass, and the half that isn’t would rather hold a spear than a gun. At leastthey’re improving, even if it’s at the speed of molasses.
Her highness stops by on occasion, but thankfully it’s just for a gander.This’d be even harder with distractions.
My patchworkposse had their first real test today. Some of our gatherers ran into those biglizards a few miles west of the village, and one of them managed to come callfor help. Luckily the others had tucked themselves away in an outcropping andwe got everyone back safe and sound.
Well, except for the Frenchman. He forgot that when you shoot at those bigbastards, they’ll shoot right back. Took them hours to get those barbs out ofhis arm.
When we got back, I think I heard the words thank you more than any other dayin my life. I didn’t real know what to say in return.
My band ofmisfit lawmen may finally be coming together. It’s been a whole week sincesomeone shot themselves in the leg or pissed their britches over a raptor.Maybe I’ll finally be able to get some decent shut eye.
Probably too much to hope for. Every day, Nosti grows a little bigger and Ihave a few more problems to solve. These giant bugs from the other day, forexample. Found two of them playing around with a pickaxe a few miles north ofthe river. I’ve never heard of any animals using tools, not outside of thelegends the elders used to tell about Big Owl and Coyote. Doesn’t seem natural.
Somethingdamaged a water pipe outside of town yesterday, and when a crew went to repairit, they were attacked by a whole mess of mantises. My boys and I drove themoff, but we were too late to save the engineers.
I know it sounds crazy, but I think those mantises cut through that pipe onpurpose to draw us out. If I’m right, then I’m more concerned about them thananything.
In the stories about Big Owl and Coyote, Big Owl was the huge, scary one, butCoyote was more dangerous because he was clever. He’d trick man and monsteralike, and everyone feared him. I never believed those stories, but I sureremember the lesson.
I was worriedthat Raia would fight some of the new precautions my boys have been taking, butI guess I’ve earned a looser leash. I suppose I ought to lay off the”highness” talk then. Seems only fair.
The other day we even shot the breeze a little. First time we’ve talked aboutsomething besides what needs doing. Seems we’re both a little worn out.
Unlike me, she’s used to being respectable and responsible, but being in chargemeans everyone wants your time and attention.
This place hasn’t been easy on either of us or anyone else, but I’m stillkicking so far. Come what may, I don’t plan on stopping.
Something likethis was bound to happen one day. The bigger the town gets, the more value Raiahas to it, and what happens to valuable things? People try to steal them.
It wasn’t a bad idea, holding her for ransom like that. Too bad for thoseraiders this is my town.
I picked most of them off with a rifle as they tried to force her onto a packanimal, and my men finished a few others as they fled. One tried surrendering,but I had to send a message. If you pull a stunt like that in my goddamn town,you wont get any mercy. Not a single shred of it.
That woman’s gotsome nerve. I save her hide and the next day, Raia’s scolding me for puttingdown a “defenseless” kidnapper. Hardly even thanked me first.
What did she expect me to do? Give him free room and board for the rest of hisdays? Let him go so he can tell every bandit in the desert how soft we are?
I told her that if she didn’t like the way I protected her then she can protectherself. Should have kept my damn mouth shut. Now I’m stuck teaching her how toshoot three times a week. Gonna be at it forever, too. She couldn’t hit abison’s äss from five paces.
I do believethat my pupil is the first dead eye Egyptian priestess the world’s ever seen.It took a few months but Raia’s too stubborn to quit.
I shouldn’t have been so hard on her. Trying to keep your faith and traditionsin a dog eat dog world isn’t easy. HeIl I couldn’t even do it myself, and thatwas before giant lizards were looking to take a bite out of my backside.
During one lesson, she told me this story about how her goddess had a nice sideand a nasty one. I think she meant something else, but the way I see it we’rethe goddess. She’s nice, I’m nasty, and we keep each other in check.
Even after allthis time in Nosti, I have trouble sleeping in the same bed every night.Sometimes I’ll just toss and turn until I give up and go to sleep beneath thestars.
Hell, I’m not sure we ever slept in (the) same spot twice back in the Russogang. Thought I’d live that way forever, wild and free like Doc Russo. Probablydie guns blazing like him too. Sounded better to me than withering away withthe rest of my tribe as the world passed us by.
I don’t think Doc would recognize me now. I’m not the “Apache nephew”he taught to read and shoot. Matter of fact, if he were here, I’d probably haveto shoot him.
I expected thosemantises to come back, but not like this. They came at the village from twosides at the same time, and the way they moved… they were more coordinatedthan any wolf pack. They worked together like men would.
Took nearly half a day to fend them off, and they didn’t leave us withoutscars. If attacks like this become common, we’re going to be in a heap oftrouble, so I’ve decided to round up my best men to track these monsters down.We’ve got to at least find out where they’re coming from.
We’ve beentracking these damn things for ages. I can’t believe the traveled so far justto attack us. Something like that has to be deliberate. I already knew thesebugs were smart, but if they’re that determined to kill us, then we’ve got towipe them out here and now.
That’s easier said than done. There’s a whole mess of them here. Can’t say I’veheard of any mantises living in a group like this, but I’m no expert when itcomes to animals. Certainly not in this crazy place.
At any rate, I’ve got to come up with some kind of plan. Shooting them one byone won’t do the trick.
How long have Iwanted this? I can’t place it exactly, but it feels like I always have. Isuppose that’s how I know it’s right.
It’s not just that Raia’s beautiful. I’ve known beautiful women before, but Inever got the same feeling when I looked at them. I never felt this at homearound them, or anyone for that matter. What happened between us when I wasstuck in that room, it wasn’t a heat of the moment decision. At least I don’tthink.
All I know is that now, I don’t mind sleeping in the same bed every night. Notanymore.
Maybe I shouldchange my name again. Seems fitting. I started calling myself John about a weekafter joining up with Doc Russo. The others never called me Dahkeya anyway, soI figured they may as well call me by a name I chose myself.
That was part of it, but I think that deep down, I also knew that the boy whoearned the name Dahkeya was gone for good. Now I think the outlaw named JohnDahkeya is gone too, so it would make sense to call myself something else.
Then again, that may just confuse folks. Probably not worth the hassle.Besides, I kind of like the way it sounds with an Egyptian accent.
Things have beenquiet for a while now. Downright pleasant, even. At least, that was the caseuntil one of our hunting parties went missing about five days ago. Well they’renot missing anymore, at least what’s left of them.
We scoured every inch of their camp and still can’t figure out who attackedthem. There aren’t many prints from animals, and what ones we found aren’t likeany creature I’ve seen. There are scorch marks aplenty, though. Maybe it was agroup of raiders with some of those new, flame spewing weapons that I’ve heardtell about?
Whoever it was, I’ll see it to it that they live just long enough to regret it.
We finallytracked down our culprit this morning, and damn was he one big, mean son of agun. He had wings like a bat, a head like lizard and spat fire from his mouth.I’ve never seen anything like it, not even here. Fortunately, anything will dieif you put enough bullets in its head.
One of my men called it a wyvern, but he’d never actually seen one before. Saidit was just a legend. No one in town had seen one either.
So where’d it come from? Did it just suddenly fly here from parts unknown? Thiswhole affair doesn’t sit right with me. Gives me a bad feeling.
Folks have beenspotting a lot more of these wyvern creatures, and they’re not just throwingfire every which way, either. Some spit lightning or acid.
On top of that, those big pillars are acting funny. I checked with Sasha, sinceshe doesn’t buy into that Hathor business, and she sees it too. It’s making merestless. Between this and the mantises, it’s starting to feel like this placewants us gone.
I know that can’t be right. There were no spirits of the land to stop thefrontiersman back home, and there are none here. Still, I should talk to Raia.If that tower’s dangerous, she shouldn’t be worshipping it.
I shouldn’t haveexpected her to listen. Raia’s kept her faith this long, so there was no way afew wyverns and a talking to were going to change that, even if that talking tocame from me.
Still, I’m not about to take any chances. Whether it’s wyverns, mantises orgiant towers, nothing’s harming this town and it’s especially not harming her.Her prayer groups are getting extra guards and I don’t care if she likes it.
I expect she won’t. In fact, I’ll probably have to sleep under the stars forthe for the next few nights. Oh well. I suppose that’s what you’d call a”long-term investment”.
For all mycaution, I could have never prepared for this.
Yesterday, the towers started flashing and glowing like a damn lightning storm.When I saw that, I saddled up one of our cats and went to find Raia as fast asI could. Within minutes, the ground was crumbling beneath us, like the land wastrying to swallow the Nosti whole.
Once I swung Raia up onto the saddle, I had to ride like a man possessed, ourcat leaping across broken buildings as they slipped into the ground. Even thenwe barely made it, but we’re the only ones. I spotted Sasha hanging onto aledge as we escaped, but I couldn’t get to him in time.
We’re all that’s left.
I wish I werebetter with words. I just don’t know what to tell Raia after all that’shappened. A loss like that is always going to ache, but nothing I do or sayseems to ease the hurt at all. You know things are ugly when I’m the optimisticone.
For now, I’ve just got to keep us focused on staying alive, step by step. We’regoing back to the basics: finding water, finding food and finding shelter. Thissnaggletoothed cat and I are all she’s got left, and that means I’ve got to besteady for her. Somehow, we’ll make it through this.
So far so good.The cat has helped keep the critters away, so I’ve conserved ammunition, andwe’re all stocked up on supplies. For the immediate future, I’d say we’re safeand secure.
Further than “immediate” though? I’m not so sure. Neither of us arebuilders, and there are bigger, tougher animals than long-toothed cats outthere. Eventually we’ll need to find some new friends. Nosti was the biggestsettlement in the desert, but it couldn’t have been the only one.
I’d heard rumors that a hunting party had seen some buildings to the west.Sounds like as good a place to start as any.
Damn it all tohell! I had everything under control. We were going to make it, but I just hadto go searching for that town. What a stupid, bone-headed decision!
It’s not that the rumor was wrong. There are buildings, all right: crumbling,abandoned buildings that are half-buried in sand…and home to a group ofdamned wyverns that attacked us on the way in. We managed to give them the slipby taking shelter in this big, circular building, but they’ve been circling itever since.
We’ve got enough supplies for nearly a week. Hopefully they’ll lose interestbefore we start to run dry.
The wyvernshaven’t left. They’re fixated on us. Well if they want me so bad, they’ll getit. I’m not foolhardy enough to fight them on my own, but I can at least insistthat Raia take our mount. If things go south, then she’ll have a chance to run.
Raia, if that happens and you’re reading this, don’t go crying on my account.The time we’ve had is more than I could have hoped for. Besides, it’d bedownright selfish of me to keep you to myself when you’ve got so much to offerthe world.
As for me, I’ve only got one true talent, and those ugly, overgrown lizardswill find out just what that is when I drag them to hell.
Even at thisdistance the great Obelisk is beautiful. It is like a pillar of Amun-Ra’s lightgiven solid form. I wish we could have made our camp right beside it but theothers thought that might draw unwanted attention. At least we are close enoughto be in its shadow and drink from the river that runs beneath it.
I always face it when I pray to Hathor andthough i can feel the scepticism in my companions’ gazes, my faith is unshaken,for it was my faith that guided us here to this place rich with water andresources. All agree it is the ideal location for a settlement. Wherever we arethe gods are watching over us I know it.
Construction has been going well. None of us are architects, but we havebeen adjusting to our roles.
Girisha’s broad shoulders and a boominglaugh conceal a keen mind, and we started making better progress once Iconvinced him to stop hauling rocks and start drawing up plans that let Amirfocus on starting a garden where he is more at home.
I have focused on trying to keep usorganized and maintaining our spirits myself. I wish I could do more, sadlywhile a priestess has many.jpgts, manual labor is not one of them. I often findmyself winded before midday. I pray that the others do not find me burdensome.
It took longer than I’d hope but I believe the gods have heard my prayers.At least I believe so. When I imagined what a true warrior might be like Icannot say that I imagined Captain Dahkeya.
He speaks tersely, has no sense of decorumand in general is rather prickly. He was nigh unapproachable for a whole daywhen we decided his position should be called captain instead of the nonsenseword he proposed.
Yet he has been getting results or soI am told. When I find time I ought to observe him in action myself.
It has been sucha blessing to be able to spread Hathor’s joy and love to so many people. Atfirst my daily prayers garnered but a few curious observers. Yet soonobservations turned to questions, and questions turned to participation. Nowthere are so many of us that we have even begun to construct a shrine.
I truly wish that I could teach these eagernew students all day long, but my duty to the village must come first. Perhapswhen our future here is finally secured I shall be able to live the life of apriestess again, but for now I have too many people counting on me. I cannotabandon them.
Names are acurious thing. We assign them great weight, yet they do not change thesubstance of the person, place, or thing they belong to. I suppose that line ofthinking is why I never dwelled on the name of our humble village. Yet now thatit has grown to become somewhat less humble our home can go nameless no longer.People must call it something.
To that end Nosti is as good a name as any. Iam told that it means to know in some old important language, and whatever ourcitizens intended that to symbolize when they chose it I know this: while weare here, we are under the protection of the gods.
Lost souls from all across the desert continue to prostrate themselvesbefore Nosti’s gates. I adamantly refuse to turn away anyone that does not meanus any harm, but I realize that has left us with many mouths to feed.
As a result, Nosti’s fields are its mostvaluable asset. Fortunately, Girisha’s designs, and my organization of laborand resources have once again proven effective. Not only did we implement anefficient irrigation system, but we have encased our crops in a largeprotective structure made of a clear, shiny substance called glass.
Every morning it sparkles with aAmun-Ra’s light, like a great gem, a beautiful reminder of what we canaccomplish when we are united in purpose.
Despite our bestefforts and the blessing of the gods, tragedy is unavoidable in these strangelands. Yesterday it struck Nosti once more in the form of a mantis attack, andwhile I could not undo what had been done I hope that I was able to bring somesmall comfort to those who knew the victims best.
Though we lack the resources to properly interthe dead in tombs, we still held a ceremony in their memory and I made time tospeak privately with anyone who wished to. Between that and my usual duties Iam physically and emotionally exhausted, but when my people are suffering I cannot afford to rest.
Early on Ihandled all of Nosti’s trade negotiations, and I have had trouble growing outof the habit. I suppose that is why every caravan or hunter that passes throughour gates knows my name. Some still insist on speaking with me personally. ButI do not mind. I find these dealings rather engaging. It is like playing a gameof words.
One such caravan arrived yesterday bearing ahaul of metal ingots. Our venerable captain has suggested that I bring acontingent of guards to the negotiations, but I would rather not. If our guestsare intimidated, they may back out and I would be remiss to waste such an opportunity.
I shall gladly admit that I erred. I shall even admit that I owe CaptainDahkeya my life and offer him all the gratitude he is due. Yet that does notexcuse such merciless behavior.
Those so called merchants may have stoopedto viciousness and cruelty by trying to kidnap me, but that one hadsurrendered. There was no need to execute him on the spot, was there? It is sohard to see where light ends and darkness begins in this violent place.
Perhaps if I could adequately protectmyself we could have avoided needless blood shed. Yes, I think it is time Ishall master these explosive weapons, and Captain Dahkeya is going to help me.
Step by step I am learning how to shoot. During my first few lessons theweapons almost jumped out of my hand when I fired them, but my arms have grownstronger and my aim truer.
Captain Dahkeya’s presence has beenhelpful. The same calm that is found unnerving from afar has been steadyingfrom up close. He does not waste his breath in exaggerated praise or criticism,he simply keeps me focused on what I need to do and every thing else just fallsaway.
Considering where I started, he hasbeen very patient with me. Perhaps I should be more patient with him.
In ancient times, gentle Hathor took the form of the fierce warriorgoddess Sekhmet, and unleashed her wrath upon the human world. Yet even duringher relentless slaughter, Hathor was within Sekhmet as Sekhmet was alwayswithin Hathor, and when she was eventually calmed the peaceful goddess of joyand love returned.
As it is with the goddess, so it is withmankind. The vicious can become kind, and the kind hearted can become violentfor all his past transgressions. Captain Dahkeya is no different.
He did not grasp Hathor and Sekhment’stale when I told it to him the other day, but if he keeps trying to betterhimself, then perhaps one day he will.
In principle, I have turned into a competent marksman. Yet in practice howwould I fare? When the time comes, could I end another human life?
I am not so sure. My mouth grows dry withfear at the very thought. The warrior spirit of Sekhmet surely residessomewhere within the recesses of my heart, but search as I may, I can not findit.
As training I offered to put down someof our beasts that had grown deathly ill. It was a merciful act, but it stilldrew tears from my eyes and twisted my stomach in to knots. I must learn to actin spite of these feelings. My life may depend on it one day.
Despite my best efforts, I know that I have strayed from the teachings andcustoms that I learned so meticulously back home. Out of necessity I haveadapted it to both the needs of Hathor’s new followers and the circumstances weall face in this desert.
For example, celebrating the gods withfeasts and festivals in their name would be wasteful. This sacrifice isparticularly unfortunate, for my students deserve some sort of reward for theirdiligence.
Perhaps I can still organize a modestcelebration of some sort. In fact, maybe the whole village should have one justto raise everyone’s spirits. Even our venerable Captain might enjoy that. Ah,but I ask for miracles.
I trust our Captain’s judgment on matters of defense, but I still feel illat ease with his decision to sally against these mantises. It is not that hehas left the village unprotected. Quite the contrary. I fear that his owncontingent is too small.
I know that I should not be concerned. Hepersonally vouched for the caliber of his team, and I have more immediatepriorities. Our walls and gates need repairs, our infirmary needs supplies andour morale needs bolstering. I have been scrambling to and fro with suchconstant urgency that rings have formed beneath my eyes.
Yet when I finally earn a momentsrespite, I am restless with worry.
The people of Nosti come from so many different places, and they all havedifferent ways of thinking. On occasion this incites conflict.
Several weeks ago two newcomers came toblows over a long standing feud between their home nations, and just the otherday I had to harshly discipline one of my own disciples for harassing thevillagers who worship that wooden cross. One time a man even challenged me to aduel for Nosti’s leadership.
Yet those same two people who engagedin fisticuffs now work to repair our western gate, and it is stronger for theircombined efforts. Perhaps that is why the gods have brought us all here. Tohelp us understand each other.
For days, I haveprayed for both Hathor’s compassion and Sekhmet’s healing powers, and for daysI have waited. I have faith that they heard me. When I first laid eyes on him,I thought for sure he was dead or dying, but the gods have not yet taken JohnDahkeya away from me.
My mind knows that I have otherresponsibilities to attend to, that I cannot afford to spend more time in thisroom. Yet I know that if I attempt to attend to my duties, my heart willinterfere and I cannot neglect it. Not any longer.
Without question, it was Hathor’s divine will that sent me here, not onlyso I could spread her joy and compassion, but so I could understand her love.
I thought I knew it before. I loved myfamily, I loved my fellow priestesses, and I love all those under my care herein Nosti. Yet only when I finally surrendered myself to it, when I let it rushover my body and carry me like the current of a great river did I trulyunderstand it. Only now can I claim to embody Hathor’s teachings, thanks toJohn Dahkeya, this warrior from a distant time and place.
And now, together, we can turn thisdesert into a paradise.
The mood in Nosti has been so jubilant lately that I think we may justhold a festival after all, and why not? We have plenty of cause to celebrate.
With the mantis threat diminished, ourscouts were able to establish an outpost in the north, where they discovered awealth of thick, black oil seeping through cracks in the earth. Thanks to thisbounty, we have been able to create amazing new tools, and fill our storehousesto the brim. A festival would hardly make a dent.
I am sure my beloved Captain willdisagree. Ever the dutiful worrier. Fortunately, I can be quite convincingwhere John Dahkeya is concerned, and for one day, we deserve to supplant worryand duty with song and dance.
Over the last fewdays, the lights of the great obelisks have been pulsing with a rhythm andintensity that I have never seen before. It is a beautiful, soothing sight,particularly at night. It almost looks like they are singing a song to thestars above. Surely this is a sign of the gods’ favor. Hathor is offering usher blessing.
Havinganother festival would be exorbitant, so I have organized a special round ofceremonies and prayers after dusk instead. Thus far they have gone wonderfully,and everyone has left with renewed faith and vigor.
I wonderhow long this display will last?
Sometimes, Iwonder how John can carry on, with no faith in a higher purpose or power andeyes that see threats everywhere. Even when we are safe and secure, he insists onsleeping with a weapon at arms’ length. It is no wonder that he suddenlybelieves the obelisks could be dangerous.
Fortunately I have enough faith for the bothof us. I have faith that he will protect us from the flying lizards that haverecently appeared, I have faith that the obelisks would never harm us, and Ieven have faith that I shall forgive his constant prodding on the latter. Thatfinal matter might require some additional effort on his part, however. He hasbeen simply relentless about it.
What did I do wrong? Despite every trial and tribulation, I kept my faithin Hathor, Amun-Ra and all the gods. No I did more than that. I gave them newfollowers, I built shrines for them, and held ceremonies for them.
So why? Why did the obelisks light up thesky and call down such a terrible doom upon my new home? Why would the godstear the very earth asunder and send all that I have built and cherishedtumbling into the abyss? Where did I betray them?
Were it not for John I would not evenbe able to ask such questions. I would just be some dead fool, whose last actwould have been to beg for salvation from the very gods who have forsaken me.
My mind is filled with the dead. I see the smiling faces of my students,eager to learn. I hear Girisha’s laugh, deep and merry. I see the outstretchedhand of John’s trusted lieutenant as she fell into the darkness below.
John tells me not to blame myself, thatwhat happened was unpredictable. Yet how can I not feel guilty when I led somany to worship the instruments of our destruction, all the while promising tokeep them safe?
Somehow, I must bury these emotionsand focus on the present, as John does. If I cannot tear my mind away from whatI have lost, I will lose all I have left. I cannot let that happen. I cannotlet the gods take him too.
You would have been proud of me. I controlled my breathing, just like youtaught me, even with the tears streaming down my face. Even with all the hateand anger in my heart, I kept my aim steady, and I killed them. I killed themall, John.
So why have you abandoned me, too? Youwere the survivor, not I. These creatures should not have been enough to killyou. You were too strong. I need you too much.
Please. Come back to me. I need tohear your voice. I need to see your smile. Please. Please.
When I found them, I wanted to smash them to bits. Those eggs were thespawn of the monsters that slew my beloved, and they did not deserve my pity.Yet I also knew they could help me. If I could raise these creatures as my ownservants, then even those traitorous gods of mine could not strike me down.
I have constructed a great bonfire tomimic the warmth provided by their mother, and gathered milk from the mightiestof the fallen beasts so that I may feed them when they hatch. Hopefully it isenough.
No, it will be. I will raise thesecreatures, I will master them and I will survive. I promise you, John. I willlive for both of us.
I have seen so much since we last spoke, John. There are secrets in thisdesert that you would never believe, dangers that would have paralyzed me withfear when we first met, but I am a different woman now. Would you recognize mestill, behind this black veil?
I still find ways to help people, thoughnot as I used to. I am no shepherd to the lost, no healer of wounded souls.Sometimes I simply defend the defenseless, or guide those few who seek thetruth behind this cursed place.
Perhaps one day, someone will findthat truth, strike down the false gods of this land, and at last grant me rest.Yet until that day comes, know that I will not falter. Know that I will carryon.