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Ancient Blood


by laurelinden

--------

Also by Demiurgec

"What do you think it means?" asked Neferen. The desert Peophin reached out to dust the great stone tablet a bit more with her hoof, peering uncertainly at the inscription.

    Phezor, a desert Kacheek, frowned. "I don't know much of the Ancient Language, but some of the signs look familiar." He reached out to help uncover the mysterious stone block's face from beneath layers of desert sand. "Now, tell me again how you found this?"

    "I go to Coltzan's Shrine every day to pray for luck and bounty," Neferen told her friend. "One day when I went a great wind stirred up after my prayer, and I thought that nothing had happened. Disappointed, I prepared to go back, when something caught my eye. It was a flash of some sort. I followed it, and saw the end of the tablet protruding."

    Phezor laughed. "Good thing you know me, right?"

    "A great thing," agreed Neferen. Phezor was a member of one of the oldest families in the desert, and his ancestors had resided there for as long as anyone could remember. Since he also knew more of the Ancient Language than anyone else Neferen knew, it was fortunate indeed that they were friends.

    The majority of the stone tablet lay revealed, sparkling in the hot desert sun as if ingrained with a million tiny diamonds. "Mica," Phezor explained, seeing Neferen tracing the shimmers with a hoof. "Now, let me see if I can make this out." After studying the intricate loops and swirls of the inscription, the Kacheek began to read.

    "For those of you who have reached my summit," he began, and a puzzled look crossed his face. "Summit?" he muttered again skeptically. "Yes, this definitely says summit..."

    Neferen was more intrigued than before at discovering only the first line of the ancient tablet. "Read on!" she urged.

    Phezor chuckled and bent over the tablet again.

    "For those of you who have reached my summit, gaze upon the heavens for you are nearer to them than you would believe. Those of my blood, those of the ancient Lost Desert lineage, heed my words. Place your paw into the groove below and your way shall be revealed. But be wary--" Phezor abruptly ended his translation.

    "What does it say? ‘Be wary’ about what?" Neferen demanded, her excitement overwhelming her generally calm demeanor.

    "The inscription is worn away and I cannot translate any more," Phezor mused. "We should find this paw shaped groove; I may be able to gain us entry into whatever it means by ‘your way.’ What a fabulous discovery this might prove to be!"

    They locked eyes for only a moment and began to hurriedly brush away at the sand. As the hot grains fell away, they began to see the traces of the paw-shaped groove the tablet had mentioned.

    Neferen touched the shape lightly with a hoof while Phezor finished clearing the sand from inside. The shape was inlaid with what seemed to be solid gold, flashing brightly in the desert sun, and the sprinkling of tiny grains that remained sparkled like tiny stars in a sky of gold. 'It's beautiful," whispered Neferen, and her hoof reached down toward the groove.

    "No!" cried Phezor, knocking the hoof aside. He glanced up apologetically as he saw Neferen's startled expression. "The inscription commanded that only one of the Ancient Blood should touch it," he reminded her gently. "I don't know what would happen to you if you did."

    Steeling himself, the desert Kacheek placed his paw in the opening. The gold around it blazed to life, and his eyes got wide, though he did not cry out. Then the gold swirled and melded in a molten whirl around his hand, shrinking to surround his fingers in a perfect cast. The sun flashed upon it in one bright beam and the gold cooled, hissing in a cloud of white smoke. Glancing uncertainly at Neferen, Phezor removed his paw.

    All was silent for a moment. "Do you think anything happened?" asked the Peophin.

    Before Phezor could answer, though, the winds picked up in a distant moan. Neferen looked around, puzzled at the sudden gale force winds that seemed to assail her from all sides. Phezor stared incredulously at the ground around them, for he had noticed that the winds were not disturbing the sand anywhere but directly at his feet.

    "How odd!" he shouted to Neferen, who was also noticing that the strange winds were doing nothing to the loose sand around her. "Something truly incredible is happening! I can feel it at the essence of my very being, I--"

    His voice was cut short and turned into a desperate yelp as the swirling winds lifted him clear off the ground, sending him spiraling upwards towards the heavens.

    Neferen gasped, making a quick move towards her friend, but the winds pushed her back, not allowing her to enter the miniature twister. They swirled in an expanding force below her, pulling the piles of sand away from the tablet, smoothing them away from a tremendous form which had lain hidden beneath. It was a pyramid, she saw, as the wind cleared it from its imprisoning sand. That’s what the tablet had meant by “summit.”

    Helpless, Neferen stood, watching as the twister jostled and spun Phezor about the newly exposed pyramid. There was little she could do to help her friend, and suddenly her mind snapped back to what Phezor had said only a few minutes earlier: The inscription commanded that only one of the Ancient Blood should touch it, I don't know what would happen to you if you did.

    She cried out to her friend, cursing herself for finding the tablet and bringing him out translate it. Perhaps Phezor's bloodline did not trace back as far as this pyramid. The thought sent a chilling shiver down the Peophin's spine.

    Her eyes had been turned upwards for some time now and thus she had not noticed that the winds were clearing away strange entranceway right at the base of tablet, at the pyramid’s top. She was suspended above the ground, near the pointed end of the pyramid, by only a tiny platform jutting from the tablet’s bottom.

    And then, as suddenly as it had begun, the winds vanished and Phezor fell to the sandy platform with a thud. As Neferen's eyes followed her friend’s descent, she caught site of the angular portal that the winds had uncovered.

    "Enter!"

    She did not know where the voice had come from, but turning her gaze to Phezor she knew that the Kacheek had heard the word as well. Then, suddenly, the massive slab of stone that had sealed the pyramid for centuries, began to slowly slide away, leaving a gaping hole into ancient darkness.

    Momentarily abandoning the discovery, Neferen rushed back to where Phezor lay, and knelt down beside him. "Are you okay?"

    The Kacheek nodded. He seemed shaken, but unhurt. "I'll be fine. But what's that?" He pointed to the opening as he lifted himself to his feet. "Should we go inside?"

    "If you are sure you are all right..." Phezor glanced inquiringly at his friend as he heard the hesitancy in her voice, and Neferen shrugged in reply. "I don't know if I should go on," she finally admitted. "Maybe we should try to get down. What if I am not of ancient blood, like you?"

    "It didn't say anything about that on the tablet," replied Phezor thoughtfully. "Only that one of ancient blood must open the doorway." As he spoke, he neared the opening, and Neferen followed nervously in his wake. Billowing from the hole was a stale, musty smell with a sharp underscent of spices and incense. "I'm going in," he announced softly. "It's... calling me."

    Neferen watched uneasily as her friend stepped into the hole, vanishing into darkness. "Phezor!" she cried. "Wait!"

    There was no reply.

    If she wanted any hope of catching up to her friend, she had to act quickly. Without further thought, she pitched herself into the opening, and as soon as she was inside a terrible rumbling sounded, shaking the earth like thunder. Shards of dust and debris fell about her, blowing up into her eyes and lungs. Coughing and sputtering, she tried to backstep out, but her back hit solid rock.

    The opening had closed behind her.

    In the absolute darkness, Neferen remembered her earlier conversation.

    What if I am not of ancient blood, like you?

    It didn't say anything about that on the tablet.

    Phezor, she thought in despair, You couldn't read the whole tablet...

    Her mind wheeled as she thought of her mistake. He hadn't been able to read the whole tablet. The last two words on the tablet had been “be wary!”

    "Be wary of what?" she muttered aloud to herself. She sucked in a deep breath, gagging on the dust that clogged the air in the tunnel.

    Finally, resigned to her fate, Neferen steadied herself against the slab of stone which blocked her escape and tried desperately to make out any minute details in the darkness. There was nothing nearby to give away even the faintest notion of her surroundings and she found herself wishing she had taken a look around before blindly rushing in.

    Then she noticed something as she squinted far down the tunnel -- at least it appeared far down the tunnel, she couldn't really tell in the complete darkness -- in the distance was a faintly glowing luminance.

    With no other choice before her and no sign or sound to let her know that Phezor was alright, Neferen steeled herself and began to slowly make her way towards the distant light. The light was calling to her, just as it had to Phezor moments before.

    Thinking only of moving toward the light, Neferen pushed through the winding turns of the tunnel, not realizing that she was soon hopelessly lost. The flicker of brightness was always just ahead, like a friend waiting for her to catch up, and she followed blindly with a small half-smile on her face, as if recalling shadows of pleasant memories long forgotten.

    Then the moving light stopped abruptly on a curve before her. With her heart racing, the Peophin almost stumbled in her rush to see its end. As she turned the corner, her jaw slackened with mixed wonder and awe as she took in the scene which lay in the pyramid's heart.

    It was a huge room, walled with tiles of finely etched ivory, its ancient letters and designs painstakingly colored with bright dyes and lined with gold filigree. The floor was strewn with gold coins and white rose petals and rubies. Torches, mysteriously lit, hung incrementally throughout, and yet the room was lit too brightly for it to have been a result of their light alone.

    Her eyes scanned over the scene in an instant, and rested at what was in its center. Standing on a raised platform, surrounded by the bursting water of shining fountains, was Phezor.

    The Kacheek was robed in rich swatches of white silk embroidered with gold, and around his head was a ruby-encrusted circlet. His paws glittered with golden rings, and even the sandals on his feet were of delicately worked leather.

    Neferen scarcely noticed his new garb, though; her gaze was riveted in his eyes. They stared at her with the wisdom of countless ages, and his voice was strangely regal as he spoke. "My friend," he said, raising a paw in greeting, "Come..."

    She didn't delay even a moment to consider the implications of all that was happening around her. Instead, she mindlessly walked towards her beckoning friend, a strange smile creeping at the corners of her mouth.

    "Sit," Phezor said, and once again, had Neferen been of sound mind, she would have known that she had no choice in the matter. She moved closer, taking a seat on an ornately carved chair. Its wood was the finest mahogany she had ever felt and for a moment Neferen found her hands gently gliding up and down the arm rests, the feel of the wood was hypnotically soothing to the touch. The whole chair was inlaid with the finest gold that sparkled brilliantly in the light which illuminated the chamber.

    After admiring the room for many long moments, Neferen snapped her eyes back up to meet Phezor's unbreakable stare. The Kacheek looked marvelously regal in his flowing robes, and the circlet which adorned his head. She found everything so marvelous, so perfect.

    As she stared at him, her eyes were drawn into his own like a whirlpool, taking her deeper and deeper into their silvery essence.

    Silver?

    The thought hit the Peophin like an avalanche, momentarily breaking her free of the mysterious enchantments that had robbed her of her free will. She couldn’t realize the significance at first, but for some reason the thought was overwhelming.

    Then she understood. Phezor's eyes were brown.

    "But they are better this way," the desert Kacheek said smoothly, as if reading her mind. "Don't you agree?"

    She nodded mindlessly, gazing into them. Bright eyes of silver... flawless, liquid points of light...

    A voice came from her throat, though she was not sure it was her own. "Master, what are we to do?"

    Master Phezor lifted his hands, gesturing to his surroundings. "It's beautiful, all of it," he said. "But it could be more. Are we to stay forever -- you and I, my servant -- within this pyramid, treasuring our handful of jewels? It is not enough for me."

    "Nor me, my master," said her voice. The rest of her longed to merge with the voice of submission, to yield her thought and consciousness to this king before her. He was so wise, so noble... and it was so difficult to think and worry... should she not consent, and let him have the control? It would not be hard...

    "Never feel pain, or stress," he said, his unblinking silver eyes boring into her. "We could leave this place, my servant. How could you ever feel truly happy, when your mind is always filled with petty concerns? I will lift them from you... I will take the world's cares... and then you will be free."

    "Free," she murmured, and her sight was swallowed up by those huge, silver eyes. "Free..." She could feel her mind slipping away, giving into the promise of unburdened life...

    Then she heard something else -- a voice belonging to neither her, nor Phezor. It started out in a distant corner of her mind; its force in her thoughts was weak, but slowly it overwhelmed the influences of Phezor and the pyramid. Slowly it pulled her free from her reverie.

    "Be free," it commanded her over and over again, each time more intrusive than the last. Her mind swam with the force of this new presence. She was torn between the words of wise, powerful Phezor, this new voice, and her own, very distant thoughts.

    "Be free," the voice demanded, "and flee this accursed place!"

    Accursed?

    The word hit her like a sandstorm, overpowering all other thoughts in her mind. She looked at Phezor, who was staring at her now, a puzzled look etched in those terrible silver eyes.

    "Stay," he purred. "Stay here with me, my servant!"

    Her thoughts reeled, and once again she heard the other voice.

    "You serve no one!"

    She felt as if she might collapse; it seemed as if the spirits of the Lost Desert were battling for control of her body. Neferen no longer knew who to trust, or what to do...

    In a final act of desperation, she lunged from her seat, straight towards a very surprised Phezor.

    The Kacheek mastered his emotions quickly and brought up a paw before him, aiming toward her. The strange silver eyes slanted with a horrible malice, and his fingers twisted together. As they moved, a terrible ripping sensation wrenched within her chest, as if his claws turned inside her. She gasped wordlessly, struggling to breathe, then whipped her shoulders away, blocking the line of attack. The grip released abruptly, and Neferen sat on the stone floor amid the scattered rose petals, breathing in ragged heaves.

    "Fool! Slave!" cried the Kacheek, his eyes burning with white-hot rage. His jeweled paw lifted again, pointing toward the crumpled form of the Peophin. "I do not know how I lost my power over you before, but there is one way to make sure it does not happen again..."

Despairingly, Neferen gazed upward, meeting his cold, metallic gaze. There was nothing she could do; her life was lost. The strange pyramid had claimed the Kacheek who had once been such a close friend. "Phezor," she whispered, her voice clogged with tears. "What happened to you?"

    She expected the final blow to fall at any moment, but she was too drained of hope to care. When it did not, she glanced up in confusion. The Kacheek was facing her, rigid, shining in his splendid garments, but the barest flicker of uncertainty was in his eyes. He blinked, and a flash of brown appeared, but the silvery color hurried to reengulf them.

    A desperate, soaring hope rose within her, and she jumped to her feet. "Phezor!" she cried, pouring her heart into her voice. "Phezor, do you hear me?..."

    Phezor’s expression faltered. He could hear a familiar voice -- one he knew was that of a friend. But he could not determine the source. His spirit was struggling to break free of the powers of the pyramid, and with it the voice that had come to Neferen assailed his thoughts.

    "Be free!" it cried, blasting away any other thoughts in his mind. “BE FREE!"

    Neferen was staring up at her friend, watching his internal struggle, when suddenly, he collapsed to the ground.

    She rushed to him, putting a hoofed hand on the shoulder of her dear friend. She watched as he slowly open his eyes. All her worries faded as she gazed into their depths. His eyes – they were brown!

    "Ne-Neferen?" He mumbled shakily trying to prop himself up on his elbows. "Neferen, I heard your voice, and another, though, at first, I was not sure who it was, I believe now that it could be none other than King Coltzan... it warms my heart to know that even after his death that his spirit remains as a guardian of the Lost Desert."

    Neferen was speechless, had it truly been Coltzan who had freed Phezor? And if that were true, had Coltzan also freed her from the pyramid's mind trap?

    She didn't have time to ponder over the answers, though. She knew that the powers of the pyramid had only been temporarily subdued -- not defeated.

    "Come on," she said, smiling with tight lips. "We have to get out of this place and bury it again, tablet and all!"

    Phezor nodded in agreement, accepting the hoof that she extended to him. Once he was on his feet, he took one last look around the pyramid's main chamber. The piles of treasure rose nearly to the ceiling and the flower petals that littered the floor were of a magnificent and undying brilliance. But this was not his place: this was a place of evil. Shedding his silk robe and ornately decorated crown, he turned to Neferen, and with the help of his friend, made his way back through the winding tunnels.

    At long last the setting sun greeted them as they emerged from the temple. The portal, which had been blocked by a massive slab of stone, was now sitting wide open, welcoming them back into the brilliant desert sunset.

    As soon as they had left the ancient temple’s entrance, the stone slab snapped back over the doorway, sealing all of the evil deep within the place.

    "Be wary," Phezor muttered, turning his attention again to the inscription carved upon the stone. He pulled a small chisel and hammer from his pouch and went to work finishing the warning. He didn't even notice how easily the ancient language poured out of him as he worked. The influence of the pyramid had left an indelible mark on his mind.

    When at least he had carved several more words into the hard stone, he turned to Neferen, and read the final warning in its completed form.

    "Be wary, for evil spirits dwell within this accursed place," he said solemnly.

    "I suppose some things are better left undiscovered," Neferen mused. "But perhaps it was Coltzan who revealed this place to me," she continued thoughtfully. "Perhaps it was his intention that we would venture in, discover its evil, and you would complete the inscription..."

    "Perhaps," Phezor replied mysteriously, then glanced down at the ground, far below them. “Now, how do we get down?”

    As if in reply, a sudden jolt shook the platform that held them suspended at the pyramid’s top. Abruptly it detached, and Neferen grabbed Phezor’s arm to steady herself. Slowly, gently, it floated down the length of the pyramid, and thudded to the ground well clear of it.

     “What’s going on?” asked Neferen.

     Phezor smiled. “Something tells me we shall see soon enough.”

    The winds rose in another scream, whirling the sands to their call. The friends watched in awe as the desert seemed to speed through the ages before them, covering over the tremendous pyramid in a gigantic mountain of sand. As it died down, the sun was setting behind an enormous sand dune.

     “Much better,” said Phezor.

    Neferen smiled as they turned for home. “I’ve only one favor to ask you,” she told her friend.

    The Kacheek lifted an eyebrow in inquiry. “What is that?”

     “Next time we read an ancient message, we read the whole thing, okay?”

    Phezor’s laugh rang out across the desert. “It’s a deal.”

The End

 
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