Sands of Kvatah - Cover

Sands of Kvatah

Copyright© 2023 by Ben Leonard

Chapter 1

The guards standing at the gates shielded their faces, meals threatening to surge out of their mouths, assaulted by the putrid smell of rotted flesh. In the distance, a strange silhouette moved towards them. His dark drooping hair clung with residues of dust, and his clothing mirrored the orange hue of the desert. Lances held upright and firmly grounded in the sand, the guards braced as the man advanced.

‘Stop right there!’ bellowed Soros, the guard in command, lances now forming a defensive front.

The stranger halted, swaying haphazardly.

“Who are you?” Soros asked, met only with an unsettling silence.

A wave of noxiousness rolled over them, clawing at their throats and burning in their nostrils. They snatched their scarves, the fabric offering scant protection against the stench that seemed to burrow into their very skin.

‘Reveal yourself!’ Soros shouted.

In response, the desert breezed briskly. The stranger slowly lifted his chin, the wind dispersing clumps of hair to unveil his ochre eyes fixed in an expression of terror.

They tightened the grip on their lances, poised to thrust at any moment.

Soros knuckles whitened, the trembling wood betraying the tension in his grasp. His breath caught in his throat, each inhale a searing reminder of the tension coiling within him. Yet his feet remained rooted to the sand, a soldier bound by the duty to protect his people.

With each step forward, the stranger’s skeletal form= emerged from the clinging sand, moving with an unsettling grace that belied the unnaturalness within. Soros brandished his lance, and the guards echoed a battle cry as they lifted their weapons in tandem. As the men stepped forward, Soros caught a fleeting glance from the trespasser who dropped to the sand like a dead weight. The guards were puzzled, their straightened lances frozen above them. A nervous gulp itched at his throat as he studied the body, now lying on the sand in the distance.

‘Leave it there’ he said.

The guards lowered their arms. Soros turned to them:

‘We shall wait for Uruk’.

Heat waves rippled through the air, seemingly gliding along the dunes of the Mahari desert. The guards observed as the corpse sank deeper into the sand, a lump coated in grains, standing out like a dusty rock. As the men took turns patrolling, the aggressive sunbeams were absorbed by the thatched roofs of their respective huts. Sama village was part of a vast fief sprawling across the Mahari desert. The communities thrived by engaging in the nomadic market, where each village contributed its own specialty. Merchants traversed the desert, exchanging goods with neighboring villages. Essential needs were met through a network of hamlets, ensuring accessibility over shorter distances. This time-tested system, in place for centuries, saw inhabitants perfecting trade routes and anticipating the unique requirements of each tribe. The specialization of tribes in various fields fostered interdependence, requiring peaceful coexistence for survival. As a result, desert communities sprawled and flourished, witnessing a significant wave of development. Some villages grew so substantial that they merged to form cities, with the capital, Nahaja, becoming home to over a million souls.

Soros stood with his arms crossed, his back against the wooden gate that surrounded the village. Reminiscent images of the Cold Night flashed before him—the sudden coldness that seized the desert, turning grains of sand carried by the wind into flesh-hunting ice darts. The screams, the bloodshed. The Kvatah.

‘Chief’ said a guard in a short breath to Soros. ‘Uruk has come. He demands the body to him’.

Soros nodded, dismissing the guards, and made his way purposefully to the front gate of the village.

Three days had elapsed since the unsettling incident, and the guards, summoning their fortitude, finally approached the body to carry him back to the village. They had no choice but to incinerate their garments; the persistent, foul stench had impregnated the fabric beyond any attempts at cleansing. Among the villagers, a moniker had circulated, labeling the man as ‘Rotta’, the term denoting the odor of a long-deceased individual discovered well after their passing.

Soros and the guards conveyed Rotta to Uruk, the village shaman, whose discerning gaze meticulously assessed the corpse that had been cleaned. Rotta was a young man, the pale shade of his face extended to his body, a strange sight for a man coming from the desert. It seemed his long, dark hair had protected him from the light rays, and they had burned its previous pigment into a coal strain. His body was slender, maigre, visibly unnourished and soars had eaten parts of his skin.

‘A walking dead. Or carried death across the land,’ Uruk said.

The guards followed the old shaman with their gaze as he dipped a brush into a vessel containing a silvery powder and blew through it. An ash cloud materialized over Rotta, engulfing him, swiftly spreading and filling the room. Eyes closed, Uruk whispered in mantra:

“I call upon the eye of providence,

On the realm of spirits, from the flesh,

May you reveal the essence through the mesh.”

A luminous carmine light traced itself around Rotta’s silhouette, within which a finer line emerged, adorned with reflections of sapphire hues.

“I see you,” whispered Uruk, his hands weaving through the ethereal mist.

With sudden swiftness, the crystalline line leaped into the mist, twisting in every direction.

The guards recoiled against the walls, startled.

“Gather yourself! Your fief awaits the return of its master,” Uruk urged to the beam.

The darting crystal line surged to the cloud’s center, afloat above Rotta’s chest, spiraling so rapidly that it etched a stationary circle. An golden radiance swept through it, flashing and seamlessly merging back into the encircling line around Rotta’s silhouette, which in turn, vanished. Uruk drew a deep inhale which disformed parts of the cloud near him, he then turned to the guards, said:

‘He remains our kindred’.

The guards sighed in disbelief. Soros stepped through the cloud, the veil spreading sideways revealing Uruk, Rotta laying to his side.

‘This ... man,’ Soros muttered. ‘We left him lying in the sand for three days, he cannot be alive,’ he said.

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