This was the second thing I wrote about Iyokus, and it continued the theme of the first, a narrator telling a story to Iyokus's sister, who at the time, was searching for him. I was pretty pleased with the way this came out in the end.
Come Kaldorei elf, sit by our fire – the desert can be cold at night no? Please, you are our guest now; share our food, our blessed water…Hashard! Put aside your blade! The lady has invoked the guest right, and is under its protection. Would you shame our tribe? Now give the lady your water flask boy! … I am sorry lady, he is young and your people… let us say that they have not been kind to us these past years. Now, why have you joined our fire – I know it is not to court old Sahir? … Ah, I know of what you speak and worry not, I can tell you of those days, thought the words are not ones it brings me any pleasure to speak.
It was many seasons ago and I was a younger man – not much younger mind, but I had hair on my head and still the maidens of the tribe would giggle if I deigned to smile at them. Ach, strong and worthy back then, now only my mind can aid the tribe and even that fades. Age can be a bitter draught to swallow…but that is not what you have come to hear.
You began your journey in Gadgetzan yes? Where the cursed goblins speak their vile tongue and plunder holy Tanaris. Years ago they placed a bounty upon us of the Wastewander peoples – but not for our heads, no, the goblins are not morbid. What value is there in a head? Can you sell it? No, they asked instead for our water skins, for they knew that our skins are our lives here in the desert. Yes, to take a Wanderer’s skin is to have killed him. Don’t look so shocked lady; I am sure Hashard knows you will return his water…
Now, the goblins did not take on this grim work themselves, no, they sent mercenaries and adventurers after us. Most the desert took care of – they were ironmen of forests and green places and the holy desert has no patience or mercy for those. But some, some were blank-eyed killers, who found our camps and our secret hunting grounds… Dark days lady, dark days. We learned quickly. We are the desert people, as shifting as the sand, and it does not take many dead sons to know that strangers could no longer be trusted. We had to change, and we did. No longer would we welcome a new face – no – we put them to the tulwar and knife – let their blood water the sands, their bones feed the hyenas.
The one of which you ask, the white-haired devil. He was the most feared. He would come only at night – and many a time would a camp awaken to find the sentries slain, the flasks taken, their heads parted from their necks in a single blow. A few of the sleeping would also be taken, again, a single blow to the neck. How he chose who would die those nights…I dread to consider the mind that thinks along such tracks. Other nights were worse… Perhaps he was not stealthy enough, or a sentry had particularly sharp eyes. Perhaps he tired of foes that did not fight, I cannot say, but every now and again, rarely we can thankfully say, we would come onto a camp utterly destroyed – signs of a great struggle, blood and bodies everywhere. Whether or not the killer was wounded, we could not tell for he was always long gone by the time the charnel houses were discovered. Then passed the night where I came face to face with the demon myself…
The basilisks of the deep desert are highly prized amongst my people, not only for their meat, but also because our shouldermen use many of the body parts in their most potent of magicks. I was on a hunting expedition with three of my fellow tribesmen, all many-blooded hunters, excepting for Skauras, who had put out his eyes and sang into the Troubled Void [I took Sahir to mean here that this Skauras summoned those creatures known as voidwalkers – the Wastewander hold that while death is peaceful, life – its opposite - is thus ‘troubled’, so to the Troubled Void would mean something like the living void ]. We had settled into camp on the third night, no luck with the hunt as I remember, with Teilek on watch, he of the fast hands.
I had trouble sleeping, as many of our people did those blood drenched nights, and saw what followed. Perhaps stupidly we had decided to light a fire that evening, would the light keep the evil spirits from us? Not that night. All it did was allow us to see by darkening the rest of the world, and it was into that small circle of illumination that the demon charged, seemingly from nowhere. He made no noise, shouted no warcry, and to this day I do not know how Teilek had the presence of mind to defend himself. I was rooted to the spot while his hands were a blur as they jerked his blade into the path of that giant sword. Still, he was thrown back by the force of the blow, and I myself heard the crack of his ribs. Our attacker spun away and disappeared into the night.
What could we do? It is the role of the men to protect the tribe…we had no choice but to follow. Skauras spoke a word and the world was flared into light. No tracks…I remember thinking that we had done something to anger the desert and it was sending its vengeance against us. See, even now my hands shakes, just to think of that night.
We had camped beside a spar of the rock that often pierces through the sands, and we made our way to that, thinking perhaps the creature had fled out of our view. We were wrong. As Aril passed the rock, two eyes flicked open, and the great murderous sword emerged from the shadows that pooled beneath the jagged stone. Aril was disemboweled before he could even cry out. Skauras sent his depthless companion against the demon, but he boiled through it like it was nothing more than smoke. Teilek did not survive the second attack on him, his broken ribs betraying him at the end. I myself was batted aside as a father does a child, and Skauras’ songs availed him nothing.
I blacked out for a moment I am sure – for I felt peaceful, I felt I had passed through my ordained troubles. But I soon regained my mind, and awoke to see the devil ransacking the bodies of my companions. I tried to rise, to fight, but my body would not respond to my will and he stood over me, his sword’s point hanging over my neck – his eyes all I could see in the darkness, two burning holes in the night sky, like stars, and like the stars, I could see no pity in them, no mercy.
Then I began to see the man that was above me. He was no demon, no spirit from the heart of the desert, but a man. He was tired, I could see that. His skin was so tight on his face, he was gaunt in the way dead men are gaunt. His armour was dented and poorly repaired in places, and dried blood caked the gaps.
And yet he had swept us aside like the wind brushes aside the dunes.
He stared at me a long moment, and then dropped the sword. The point, that damn point! It parted the sand just beside my neck. He must have been tired for he cut my neck then, not deeply, but I still have the scar. Or perhaps he meant to cut me…to remind me. I could see such scars on his own neck, but who can fathom such a mind. He said a word to me then, but of course I did not understand it at the time. And then he stalked off, dragging his sword in the sand, moving more like an old man than a warrior.
What did he say to me?
I found out later, for the word was burned into my mind, and whenever an outsider would drink at our fire – never often of course in those, and these days, I would ask them the meaning of the word. Most could not say, but at last, I had my answer from one of the sages of the Gnomish.
The word was: ‘Thirty.’
I can see the confusion on your face…and know that such confusion rested hard on me. What ‘thirty’ saved my life that night? Or was the translation wrong? I pondered the question for many nights and at last came to my answer, which made my cry out in its emptiness.
I was number thirty-one, who I was had no more meaning to him than that. He only wanted thirty water skins, and I was number…thirty one…
Sorry lady, it was a hard to take then, and the pain grows only greater as one faces the end. But let me finish the tale. After that night, his murders of our people ended, though we learned later that our great Caliph had been slain at his hand. The bounty remained though, as it remains to this day, and we were forced deeper into the desert, just as the goblins wished. So you find us this night…and why, if I may ask lady, did you want this story?
Perhaps you have spent long enough at our fire, no?