Thirst thoroughly quenched, Talm and Wolmark resumed satisfying their curiosities by inspecting everything they came across. Wolmark slowly made his way behind the monolith to the rear of the room, where he found a door. Without stopping to think, he opened it.
Fortunately, nothing happened.
The room beyond was small and dark, with just a hint of light shining in from a small hole in the peak of the conical ceiling. In the centre of the room stood a pedestal. It appeared to be designed to hold something, but the space was now empty; judging by the dust around the edges, and the lack of it in the centre, it hadn't long been removed.
Wolmark shrugged, and moved on. He found nothing more of interest, and returned to the group.
"We can't travel by day, that much is clear," Flynn was saying, concern in his eyes as he glanced at Moonshadow. "We'll just have to rest up here, and travel by night."
Hergat frowned, but nodded in agreement. Wolmark was a little surprised at how well Hergat and Flynn seemed to be getting along lately, but was relieved at the easing of tension; in their present predicament, they really couldn't afford to alienate each other.
"Makes sense," Wolmark added. "We've got shelter, and a good supply of water. We should wait."
No-one objected to the suggestion. After dividing up the watches in pairs, they settled in to rest.
Flynn and Kwon stood in the doorway, enjoying the unusual sunset. The fading sun had painted the high clouds a shade of violet, as the blue sky darkened to black, and the stars began to peek through. The desert itself was fading from its pale yellow into an equally pale, almost luminous blue. As enchanting as it was, it also reminded them that they were no longer in the world they knew, and that a single mis-step could be their doom.
A hand came to rest gently on Flynn's shoulder; he didn't need to look, to know who it was. "Isn't this a beautiful sight?" he commented, gesturing outward at the array of unfamiliar colours.
"Yes, indeed," Moonshadow sighed. "But it's also very alien."
Kwon quietly left them, and began to make breakfast.
By the time night had really fallen, everyone had eaten well, packed up and filled all the containers they could find that would hold water.
"Right, is everyone ready?" Flynn queried, at last. He was answered by nods and murmurs of assent. They filed out of the temple.
"We should make for a high point, to try and get our bearings," Hergat suggested, a short while later. "We need something to aim for, I haven't a clue where we should be heading."
Flynn nodded. "Wait here," he called to the rest of the group, and he and Hergat began to climb diagonally up the next large dune.
At the top, they found they had a largely unobstructed view of the surrounding area. Behind them, to the southeast, were the cliffs they'd descended the previous night. To the south lay the temple, and roughly north by northwest, they could just make out snow on the peaks of the distant mountain range.
"I'd say make for the mountains," Hergat said. "There's just nothing else I can see to head for."
"I agree," Flynn replied. "We have to aim somewhere, or we'll just go around in circles. Let's get back."
They slid easily back down the dune, and rejoined the group. "We'll head for the mountains, unless anyone has an objection?" Everyone shook their heads. "Then let's move."
"Wait," Kwon said quietly, before they'd walked more than a few metres. "People are coming." They stopped, peering around intently.
Even though they'd been forewarned, the sudden, silent appearance of the strangers all around them still caught them by surprise. One moment the way was clear, and the next, they were surrounded. They were a strange group, dressed in a mixture of animal skins and coarsely woven material. A few had bows, but most were armed with primitive spears.
Hergat quickly raised his phasor, but Flynn grasped his arm and held it down. "We're the strangers here, we don't want to start a war - even if we can wipe them all out!"
Hergat frowned, but nodded. His instinct for self preservation was still strong, but he was beginning to see that there were sometimes alternatives to wholesale slaughter.
One of the strange figures approached the group. As he drew closer, he began to look rather catlike; his eyes were vertically slitted, and a pair of sharp fangs were visible, peeking out from under his upper lip. He towered over them, standing at least six and a half feet tall; even Katze had to peer slightly upwards to meet his eyes. His hair was long and wild; Flynn was tempted to think of it as a mane.
"I am Anzor, of the Shomani," he said, in an oddly rasping voice. "Why have you violated our sacred ground?"
Flynn took a pace forward, arms held wide in a show of peaceful intent. "We didn't mean to trespass. We arrived in this place only a day ago, and we don't know the lay of the land yet. We're seeking a way out of this desert, and perhaps to a city or town. Can you help us?"
Anzor continued as if Flynn had never spoken. "Why did you desecrate the Temple of Lights?"
"The temple? We needed a place to shelter from the sun, some of our people couldn't survive even one day in its heat. If that was a desecration, we can do no more than apologise."
"Your cause may sound just; yet the lights of the temple no longer shine, and the Stone of Mikos is gone! What excuse have you for that!?"
Flynn looked around the rest of the group in perplexity, before replying to Anzor's accusation. His gaze lingered on Wolmark, and then Talm, who both shook their heads. "I swear, all we took from the temple was shelter and water. Search our things, you won't find what you're looking for."
"We shall," Anzor responded, harshly, "but not here. We will take you to our village, and find the truth of the matter there. You may keep your swords; our archers will watch you from a distance, and if you draw steel, you will die."
Flynn didn't think this was the time to inform Anzor about their high-tech and magical weapons. He sighed, and turned to the rest of the group. "Best do as he says. They'll soon find out we were telling the truth, and then they may even be able to help us. Until then, offer no provocation!"
They gathered up their things, and followed after Anzor, trying hard not to think about the weapons that were trained on their backs.
The village was a small agglomeration of small tents, mostly beehive shaped, and large enough for two or three people at most to sleep in. There was a large communal fire in the centre, and a couple of larger tents close by - Flynn guessed the largest was a sort of town hall, and the other was probably the chief's. Anzor bade them halt; but before they could sit to rest their exhausted legs, some of their Shomani guards made to separate the elves from the rest of them.
"No!" Flynn shouted. "We stay together!"
Anzor looked at him in surprise, but gestured to the guards to desist. He then pointed to the larger tent. "Wait in there," he ordered, "but leave your things outside."
Flynn obediently dropped his pack, and even his swords as a gesture of goodwill. The rest of the group, with varying degrees of reluctance, followed suit. Flynn then led the group into the tent.
It was quite roomy, even for a group of their size, and there was plenty of room for them to stretch out and rest. Before long, most of them were slumbering deeply.
Some time later, Salmaris sleepily opened her eyes to see a young Shomani girl sitting nearby, staring at her intently. Salmaris blinked, and the girl was gone; she began to wonder if she was still dreaming.
Flynn awoke to find Anzor kneeling next to him, shaking his shoulder. "We are ready. Please gather your people, and come outside."
Flynn nodded, blinking tiredly, and Anzor silently left. "He might even be quiet enough to sneak up on an elf," Flynn thought to himself, as he heaved himself to his feet.
Outside, they found many Shomani seated around the fire. Several places had been left, enough for each of the adventurers to find a place; Flynn took a spot in the middle, with Moonshadow on one side, and Hergat on the other.
A greying, elderly Shomani spoke first. "We have examined your possessions, and the Stone of Mikos is not among them. Further, we have followed your trail as far as we may, and we believe you are telling the truth." Flynn smiled in satisfaction.
"However," the Shomani continued, giving Flynn pause, "the desecration of the Temple of Lights coincides so closely with your arrival, that we believe it must be an omen. Therefore, we set upon you this task: find the Stone of Mikos, and return it to its rightful place in the Temple, that the lights may once again shine!"
"Seems like we're getting off easy," Hergat murmured in Flynn's ear. "Once we're clear, we can just keep going."
The old man continued. "To give you incentive in this task, four of you will remain here, as a safeguard."
Flynn turned to Hergat, and smiled slightly. "You were saying?"
"Which four, we leave to you. Choose now, and set off on your quest as you will. We leave it in your hands."
With that, the Shomani rose and left the fire, returning to their tents.
Flynn looked around the group. "I don't see that we have a choice, unless we wipe these people out - and I refuse to do that."
Hergat frowned. "So then - who stays?"
*** OoC ***
OK, here's the deal: everybody chooses one of their characters to stay behind. Whether the group all draws straws, or throw dice or whatever, I leave up to the first person to post.
*** BiC ***
There are three kinds of computer users: those that use Macintoshes, those that wish they used Macintoshes, and those that don't know any better.