The Legend of the Nightsteed
Translated from Old Qasalan by An Inquisitive Gnorbu and read by A Magical Peophin for Neopians young and old, from the heights of Terror Mountain to the darkest corners of Qasala itself. Enjoy.
Once upon a time, long, long ago, when the sands of the Desert were still young and the people who lived within them rugged and mistrustful, there stood a marvellous city. Its majesty and splendour was known and held in awe from the very edges of the Desert across, and many of the smaller kingdoms tried in vain to match its grandeur. But always they failed; always the city was one step ahead.
The name of this city was Qasala.
It was ruled at that time by an aged king, an Eyrie by the name of Enedor III. He was said to be wise and fair, but audiences were accepted less and less to ask his advice as he grew ever older and ever frailer. Although he still had some years of life left, he had no living close family, and so the denizens of Qasala - especially the nobles - grew restless and careful, all muttering of schemes and plots.
The King's father's only brother had left to rule a far-off kingdom in the north many years ago, and some people whispered that his heirs would ride back and claim Qasala as part of their empire, despite the distance.
Others claimed that a Noble family would inherit the throne - their bloodlines were often very near to the royals' anyway, and were close to the King himself.
Others claimed that Enedor was already dead, and that the city was being run by the advisors, who were indeed the Neopians with the most reason and opportunity to remove their king.
In Qasala at this time there lived an Uni – one of the few not employed in the stables, he was a powerful mage, who kept himself to himself usually and believed that the king would announce his successor once he was ready. The ruling affairs did not bother the Uni much.
This day was alike any other, the sun blazing down, the mage in his darkened home practicing Fire spells when a loud rapping of flesh on wood pervaded his silent workings.
Extinguishing the flames with a glance, he moved slowly to the door, caution at his heels. Although many Qasalans had magic, practicing its use was completely illegal.
The man on the doorstep was tall, cloaked and hooded in black so his face was unseen. Even so, from his stature the mage could tell he was an Ixi.
The newcomer leaned forward and the mage could smell the spices on his breath as he hissed, "I know who you are and what you are, Uni, and I come in the name of one who would put your talents to good use. Let me in, and let us talk arrangements."
The Uni was startled – no one knew he was a magic user, and he'd never seen this stranger before – but he stepped back carefully and allowed the Ixi to enter, noting the slight limp in his step and the shape in the side of his robe that suggested a dagger.
The Ixi pulled the door shut behind him and let his hood fall back once he was in the shadows, black hair escaping to fall around his face in messy strands. He was much younger than the Uni had expected, although three scars like claws raked through one of his dull red eyes. He was Grey, his fur contrasting against the mage's own deep red.
"So," he muttered, "What do you want?" Nothing good, certainly.
"As I said, I was sent by someone with need of your... Skills. He will pay handsomely for your involvement."
Hesitation crossed the Ixi's face for a moment before he hissed, "My master wishes to build a City, greater and grander than this, in the deep desert to the east. It shall be huge and envied, and... It shall stand as the single Capital of the whole of the Lost Desert."
The Uni gasped, then hesitantly inquired, "Why are you telling me this...?"
"My master has heard of your powers and feels you should be the one to raise this city from the sands itself."
A mad sort of passion gleamed in the Ixi's gaze, and he lowered his voice even further to murmur, "Think about it! You would be the sole architect for an entire city, you would be famed throughout the Desert like the king someone with your power deserves to be!!"
The mage took a step back, his eyes wide. He was silent, but knew it was too much.
He couldn't refuse.
"When do we leave?"
A day's ride to the east, and the Uni stood amidst a sea of tents and shelters, before the largest and most lavishly decorated of them all. The grey Ixi had vanished into its black entrance to fetch his master, the shadowy ambition behind this whole endeavour.
The mage wondered if he was madder than his messenger.
Then the fabric moved, and he stepped out.
He was dressed richly in long robes and gold, and had an air of self-importance floating around him. His eyes displayed clearly the madness within him.
He was also a Chia.
The Uni met his stare for as long as he could before turning away. "So," he said quietly. "You are the one who dreams of a city greater than Qasala."
The Chia looked down on him with an expression of cruel derision. "And you are the one who shall build it for me." A thick accent, clearly from deeper within the Desert regions, with a hint of aristocracy in there as well.
"And how will I manage to achieve that...?"
The leader's eyebrows rose dangerously. "You shall draw forth the Darkness, and the Fire, and you shall meld them to form stone bricks and towers, and they shall reach high into the air like spires, and you shall shape the wild Elements to form a perfect City."
Mad, thought the mage, Utterly mad. But aloud he said, "And I will be paid?"
"All the gold in my keeping will be yours."
Only then did the Uni catch the full implications of what he had said before. "Wait- you want me to pull up Darkness, Fire and Air at once to shape things?! Have you any idea how much energy that would create??"
The chia waved it away unconcernedly. "I shall have others place wards around you, so you shall not be harmed."
The Uni stared at him a moment longer, then replied, "Fine. Fine. When do I start?"
He held out his stubby yellow arm, motioning the mage to go.
"Whenever you are ready."
And thus, later, the Uni stood on the slight incline of a dune, the camp behind him and the flat space that would soon be transformed in front, eyes closed in preparation. The other mages' wards hummed invisibly around him, reassuring him that he could do this.
He breathed deeply, equine nostrils flaring, and his eyes snapped open.
The spell began.
He called upon the Darkness to twist and shape the sand, and the Fire, to burn it into solids. He directed the magecraft over the area, throwing it back and forth and ignoring the sudden bursts of pain that hit him, urging him to stop. Sweat streamed down his sides as he poured his being into the magic, the dust and sand that whirled around him, stinging his eyes and filling his ears with the roar of creation.
As the City grew, draining more and more of his energy and forming more and more heat and swirling power, he finally called upon the Air, to hold and steady the towers that rose from the ground.
The spell was huge.
The sand began to scream as it slammed through the air, whipping up huge deadly tornadoes and violent sand storms. The mage could no longer see his work, but he could feel it, even as he was wracked by a bolt of fatigue once more. But he was safe, he couldn't be harmed-
Suddenly he felt the wards vanish.
The sand struck him, the blow throwing him to the writhing ground and only now did he see the spell needed to be stopped. But he couldn't let go – he realised too late how deeply it had its hold in him – and he wasn't in control any more. The Darkness he had released snapped back upon him, and as he tried to stand his form and words and soul were stripped from his bones and lost in the storm.
The creature that remained gave a scream, deathly to hear and painful to behold as it desperately tried to save itself, drawing the darkness around it and clothing itself into the nearest of the only form it had ever known.
Then it collapsed under the crushing weight of the stone and sand that it itself has made, and the last flash of rational thought that flickered through its dead brain was that the Chia had tricked it.
The Chia looked down upon the silent City that now stood, a cruel smirk squatting on his thin mouth. "I claim this City in the name of Chen-ra, Son of the Sun," he said, very quietly, "And it shall be named... Sakhmet."
It was night, and the new streets were silent. But in one far, empty corner, the dirt of the ground stirred, very slightly. Just for a moment. Then it was still.
With a suddenness that was terrifying, the torn and wild head of something that resembled an Uni only from twisted nightmares burst through the sand, and clawed and thrashed until it was clear of the element it had been trapped under, conscious and struggling.
Its entire form was wrapped tight in ripped and ragged bandages damaged by the entombment, holding bare flesh and bones together, just. Its single horn was bent and scratched, its mane hung in tattered, thin strands. But still it glared out at the world that had tried to end it with maddened, hate fuelled crimson eyes, and it raised its ruined head to the cold stars and bellowed a challenge to anyone who could hear it.
Then it reared on blackened hooves and charged off, out of the city its name would never be tied to and back to the city of its birth, where it would become a nightmarish legend.
Some said that the monster that stormed through the city killed the King; that just the shock of seeing it finished him off. Some said that the King was already dead, and the monster was merely an omen.
No one knew what it was. No one knew where it came from. But all were afraid.
The monster was said to attack people, the monster was said to appear when someone was going to die. The monster was known as Fear and Death and Evil in Qasala until, one day...
It just disappeared.
The Nightsteed, as it had been dubbed, vanished, and was never seen again. Perhaps it was captured, and finally put to rest. Perhaps it still roams the desert now, waiting for unknowing travellers to fall into its grasp.
Whatever fate befell it, ever since it left there has been a belief – a prophecy, if you will – that one day it shall return and have its revenge on Sakhmet, the City it was betrayed by.
Until then, take heed; lock your doors and windows least the Nightsteed get you in your sleep.
X x x x x x x x
AIG's notes – This text was recovered from the ruins of the Qasalan library, from before the Curse. It appears to be merely a bedside tale, or an old legend warning people against magic, greed, Chias or whatever else, however some research into the topic I have concluded there may be some truth to its roots. There was indeed a King Enedor, whose reign ended in near disaster because of his lack of close relatives, and Sakhmet was founded three years before his recorded death. And around that time there were indeed many widespread claims of sighting a 'Monster of bones and cloth, with a single horn and eyes of piercing blood' in the districts of Qasala. However, I myself do not believe that these have any resemblance to the case of the current Nightsteed, as he suffers a curse rather than self-inflicted black magics.
No name was found as to the identity of the Uni.