The Seven Jewels

by Rev. Joe Kelly
read from the beginning

part four.

Luo scrabbled to the top of a small ridge that must have once been city walls, and looked out over the vast pile of tumbled and weathered sand-colored stones.

Once, it must have been a city. Men had lived here, aeons ago, the forgotten crowds scurrying about like ants. Soldiers had patrolled the streets in ordered phalanxes, their proud panoplies of armor flashing dazzlingly in the sun. From his vantage point, Luo could see a plaza abutting a small butte that overlooked the former city. Into the living rock of the butte there was hewn a magnificent edifice, a facade for a temple. He could all but see the exotic and grand ceremonies that must have been held there: great gatherings of men in shining silk robes and pompous hats, heavy with glinting jewelry, lifting eyes and hands to the sky as sacrifices bled and burned to gods whose names were long forgotten.

Only the edifice remained now, somber and sullen in its forgotten grandeur. The rest of the city had long since lost all glory and glamour. Not a single roof remained intact; here and there, some of the grander walls still stood as empty, stunted shells, but no frieze, no other carving, had survived the wear of the centuries. All else lay in scattered piles of mute and crumbling stone.

There was something about that edifice that drew Luo to it. Perhaps it was the fact that it had remained where the rest of the city had crumbled. Something about it almost seemed to stir his Kan blood, as though mystic power lay buried beneath the rock.

Well, if there remained anything left to plunder, it could wait until tomorrow. Luo climbed down the remains of the walls, leading his Kan mare behind him, and shuffled jelly-limbed and half-blinded by exhaustion through the ruins.

All about was silence and desiccated death, a place so long devoid of life that even the bones of the men who had died there had turned to dust. Not even an insect or a lizard stirred in the heat of the desert afternoon, so that the whole place was as silent and still as a vast tomb. Luo’s only thought was to find a shaded spot to rest in until the night came. He thought he could see one, close by, and he wandered idly towards it, feeling like a dead man himself.

Something in it moved.

Instantly Luo’s hand was at the hilt of his saber. His weary body was tensed with its last reserves of energy; his normally rock-steady hand shuddered with his roused blood.

After a moment, he blinked. Had he imagined it? He was more exhausted than he had thought possible. He might be seeing things…

No. There it was again. A furtive flickering in the shadows.

His skin crawled, his hair stood on end, as he realized what it was.

From a pitch-black hole at the back of a shallow cave amidst the ruins, there emerged what looked like two huge red whips. They waved about with the lazy motions of a half-interested cat’s tail, probing the air outside with a sleepy curiosity. The body that the whips were attached to did not emerge from the cool of its burrow; the thing was drowsy, and not eager to wander through the heat of the day.

Luo stood as still as he could, holding his breath.

After a short time the whips withdrew. Luo exhaled, and relaxed as he sheathed his saber. Well, he wasn’t about to sleep there tonight. He cursed his luck; the thing would be awake with the setting of the sun. He would need to be gone by then–

Someone shouted behind him, a wordless shout of bloodlust and anger. He spun about, his sword already drawn, legs tensed once again, and he swore to himself.

There, at the top of a ruined stone wall, his face covered in dried blood, was Alruf. The Wose snarled as he bellowed at him, “You should’ve made sure I was dead, you son of a bitch!”

Luo glanced fearfully back at the burrow. He put his sword to his lips and hissed at the Wose to keep him quiet.

Alruf just stared uncomprehending at him, his expression consumed by rage. As he clambered swiftly down the shattered blocks, he continued to shout: “You can be certain I’ll make sure you’re dead–for what you did to my men, for stealing my woman, and for hitting me over the head with a Gods damned rock!”

Luo hissed, “Shut up, you fool!”

This only goaded Alruf’s rage. “Shut up? Oh, you lost your chance to shut me up! Here!” He grabbed a hefty rock. “I’ll shut YOU up!”

And he hurled it at Luo’s head.

Luo ducked, and turned in horror to watch the rock. It bounced off the ground, once, twice, and sailed neatly down the hole. Luo groaned. “Oh, you dumb shit.”

on to part five.

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