Chapter 18: Ankallat
The huge gate into the city was open and they could see people entering the city from the northern road. The next thing Meela knew they were past the gate and the city was around her. It had wide streets and sand coloured stone buildings, mostly all having round domes. She saw at the entrances there were often wide steps leading down into the ground. She could see people staring at her. They eventually stopped at a large building which had at least another upper floor. The camels sank down and they all dismounted, though Meela needed help with this. They led her down some stone steps and came into an underground room. Meela saw ahead of her was a bald man with dark skin and long white robes. He was very tall. The guide began speaking to him rather quickly and the man nodded. He came up to Meela and examined her eyes and felt her forehead. He barked out an order with a very smooth voice and a couple of other people came and carried Meela away to a room with a bed. Once she was lying down the man removed her bandages and looked at her wound rather gravely. He gently touched it with his long fingers.
“I think there’s more to this than it seems. There is poison in this wound.” he said to her. Meela nodded at his words. To her it all just seemed like a dream.
He left her and came back a short time later with a vial. He lifted her head and got her to drink it’s contents. It tasted bitter and brackish. She lay her head back.
“That was terrible.” she told him. He smiled briefly showing his white teeth.
“It was an antidote to counter the effects of the poison. It was a slow-acting poison that was draining away your life force making you listless. You should start to feel better soon.” He informed her. He then put a salve on the wound and bandaged her up again. He then laid his hand on the area and chanted a few words. The pain almost instantly began to lessen. Meela fell into a deep sleep.
When she awoke she felt a lot better and could feel her strength returning. She slowly sat up in the bed. The pain in her side was now hardly noticeable. She didn’t know whether it was day or night or how long she had been asleep. She looked around the room. The room was lit by a couple of lanterns. All her things were lying on a table on the other side of the room. She noticed there was a vent in the ceiling from which cool air was coming out. She slowly got out of the bed and stood up feeling her bare feet on the hard floor.
“So you’re finally up.” said the healer once he came through the doorway, appraising her as he did.
“How long was I asleep?” she asked him.
“Only a few hours. You were brought in here in the middle of the afternoon, and it is now the early evening. Once the poison was out of your system you began to heal quickly.” he answered.
“I’m feeling much better. I can’t remember much of the journey here.” she admitted.
“You were close to death when you arrived. The poison was working it’s way to your heart. If you had arrived a few hours later you might have been beyond my help.” he told her.
“Thank you for healing me.” she said to him. He smiled and bowed before her, which surprised her. “What’s your name?”
“My name is Déwag and this is my house. You are welcome to stay as long as you want.” he replied.
“Thank you Déwag.” she said, this time bowing to him in what she presumed was Yastelli fashion.
“You must be hungry. We are all about to sit down and have a meal. Please join us.” Déwag offered. She nodded and he led the way down a hallway to the dining area.
She came into a large room. In the centre was a low table with cushions around it. Already others were sitting there. She recognised the soldier and Aduna, but there were several others that were either assistants or other patients, she wasn’t sure. There was also another man there. He had long reddish-brown hair and his skin was a lot lighter than the others, more like the olive complexion of the people from the eastern provinces of the Empire. He wore robes that were a pattern of reds and browns that seemed similar to his hair but it also seemed to have a slightly metallic sheen to it, but maybe that was a trick of the light or maybe Meela’s eyes were still adjusting to things. There was also a strange glow coming from him as though inside he was made of light and his skin could only barely contain it. Whoever he was Meela found him intriguing. When she entered the room Aduna looked up at her and looked relieved Meela was on her feet again. Meela sat down opposite the strange looking foreigner. He smiled at her.
“Hello my name is Meela.” she said to him rather forthrightly.
“Hello Meela. I am El-Karoth.” he answered her in a strangely deep and reverberating voice.
“What are you doing here in Ankallat?” Meela asked him.
“I was waiting for someone to arrive.” he replied.
“And have they?”
“Yes they have now.” He said looking directly at her.
She was about to ask him something else, but before she could trays of food were set down on the table before them. The trip over the desert had made her extremely hungry. Before her were spiced lentils, cubes of braised goat and camel meat, cheese made from camel’s milk, olives and dates, and various types of flatbread. She piled a lot of the food onto the plate before her.
“It’s nice to see a woman with a healthy appetite.” El-Karoth said to her smiling. She smiled back and was about to start eating when Déwag suddenly stood up and began speaking:
“I would like to welcome Meela. She comes from the north and helped defeat Tigreralat’s attack on our borders several days ago. She also fought off a desert wurm yesterday saving her two companions.” he announced. He then presumably said the same thing again in the Yastelli language. Everyone looked at her in astonishment. Meela smiled at them feeling a little awkward. Once everyone had greeted her from where they were sitting they all began talking amongst themselves, and beginning to eat the meal in front of them. Meela just quietly sat there giving the food in front of her the full attention it deserved, and trying to ignore everyone else.
After she had finished eating she looked around the room admiring the mosaics on the walls. She noticed a vent in the ceiling similar to the one in her room.
“What are those vents for?” Meela inquired while pointing to the one in the ceiling. El-Karoth turned and looked at it.
“It’s piping in cool air to the room.” he answered her.
“How does it do that?” she asked her face frowning.
“Under Ankallat there is a vast cavern with an underground river. The air from that cavern is piped into many buildings in the city by a series of tunnels and pipes. You can actually go down some steps in this house that lead to this cavern. Many other buildings have them too. In fact most of the people in this city live underground, especially during the hottest months. The rooms we’re in now are underground, if you didn’t know.” El-Karoth informed her.
“I see.” responded Meela interestedly.
“It’s worth going down the steps to see the cavern.” El-Karoth suggested.
Meela nodded thoughtfully. She didn’t particularly like going under the ground. She left that to the dwarves, gnomes, and half-people. She preferred being above it all. She was sorely missing her airship and wondered how her crew were doing in Loro-Don. They were probably getting worried about her by now, since she hadn’t returned after a couple of days. She hoped Bronwyn hadn’t flown off without her.
“I once heard a rumour that there were some True-Elves living in the deep desert in an oasis. This oasis apparently has a portal that leads to their actual kingdoms. Have you heard about this?” she asked him. He smiled at her words.
“There are lots of rumours about what’s in the deep desert. Maybe they are there, but who can say?” he replied.
“The only other True-Elves I know of is the High Elf Queen and her people who live across the sea, but I’m not sure if they really exist.” Meela added.
“Again, who knows?”
“Maybe I should try flying there one day.” She suggested.
“Even if they are there, you probably won’t get there.” advised El-Karoth. Meela nodded slowly in agreement with his words.
After the meal was finished Meela returned to her room. She was still feeling rather tired and so she lay down on the bed intending to have a short nap, but went into a deep sleep instead. When she awoke it was the next day and she felt rather refreshed. Once she got out of the bed she saw there was a tray of food by the door which included, breads, fruits, and a hot drink made from infused herbs. While she was eating Déwag checked up on her. He inspected her wound, which had healed up considerably since the day before. He advised the best thing for her to do today would be to rest as much as possible, and then left, but not before re-bandaging her wound again. Meela did heed his words though she had already decided she was going to have a look at the underground cavern that El-Karoth had mentioned the night before, despite her reservations about being under the earth.
After breakfast was finished she looked for the stairway that led down into the cavern. Once she found the way after asking another person she went down the steps that had been carved out of stone and came out into an immense cavern. It was vaster than she had expected. The cavern went on in either direction beyond her sight. She could feel a slight cool breeze on her skin. Down below her feet there was a large stream of water flowing along at a moderate pace. Under the water she could see crystals in the rock surface, slightly illuminated. Above in the cavern walls there was a slight phosphorescence from some type of moss, she suspected. As she was half-elven her vision could see a lot more in the darkness than human eyes could. She shivered.
She did not like being underground. The stories she had heard of the elves that lived deep under the earth made her uneasy. They had white skin that was cold and slimy. They were virtually blind in the utter darkness and felt their way along with their long arms and probing fingers. They could silently move up to you and drag you away to their underground lairs without a sound… And then there were the goblins. She had seen a couple in a Loro-Don, they had been maybe almost four feet high with light green skin. They mostly stayed out of sight deep under the ground where they engaged the dwarves in constant wars over the countless centuries. Many great battles were fought in tunnels, mountains, or deep under everyone’s feet, that no body else knew of. Meela knew a few dwarves that mentioned them briefly, but not in great detail. Goblins were odd, but it was the elves that lived in the deep that had always made Meela want to avoid going under the earth, even though no one she knew of had ever seen one. The stories she had heard when she was a child still made her shudder. Once she had seen enough of the cavern she quickly went back up the stone steps.
She kept to her room for the rest of the day. In the evening there was another meal, which was very similar to the previous night. When she went to sit at the table she noticed El-Karoth was not there and wondered if he had already left the city. She was told that Aduna and the soldier had been given fresh camels and had left that morning to go back to the fortress, as they were needed. No one knew what had happened to El-Karoth. After the meal Déwag took her aside and gave her a piece of parchment.
“Since it seems the Tigreralateans are now putting poison on their blades, I have given you directions on how to make the antidote. When you go back to Loro-Don give this to the alchemists there and get them to make as much as they can as we will all probably need it. I have some stores of it here, but not enough for a prolonged war with the Empire.” he told her. She took the parchment with thanks and hid it in her bag.
She went to sleep early again, but in the middle of night she was prodded awake by someone. She opened her sleepy eyes and turned to face the person. There in the darkness was a tall person with a faint glow. She knew it was El-Karoth.
“Meela.” he said.
“You weren’t at the evening meal. I thought you had gone.” she said half-asleep, trying to stifle a yawn.
“I was unable to make it to that meal.” he explained. “Do you wish to go back to Loro-Don?”
“Yes, but I don’t think I’m strong enough to teleport yet.” she answered.
“I can take you back. Just follow me.” he said in a quiet voice.
Intrigued, Meela got out of bed and watched him leave the room. She quickly put on some robes and grabbed her bag and then followed him out the door. She continued following him out of the building and into the wide street. He walked towards the wall in the north. When they got to the wall he quickly climbed up it. Meela watched him wondering where he was going.
“Surely a sorceress, and a pirate no less, wouldn’t let a single wall stop her.” El-Karoth said to her from above. She smiled and shook her head and then began climbing up.
Once they were both over the wall El-Karoth began walking into the open desert with Meela following him. Eventually he stopped and then turned to face her.
“Where are we going?’ Meela asked him.
“You’re needed back in the north. I can take you there granddaughter.”
“Granddaughter?” she replied confused.
“I have many grandchildren and you’re one of my favourites.” Meela raised her eyebrows when he said this. “I will take you back to Loro-Don. You can ride on my back.”
“Excuse me?” she said incredulously. “What the hell…” but her voice trailed away as she saw El-Karoth suddenly grow taller.
His skin started turning into bronze scales and wings started growing out of his back, and in a surprisingly short time there was an elder bronze dragon standing before her, the same bronze dragon that flew beside her airship a few days ago, she realised. She finally understood. Without a moment to lose she quickly climbed up the dragon’s leg and found a good spot to sit and hang on to, just below his head. The dragon started beating his wings with a tremendous echoing thud and in the next moment it was rocketing into the dark sky.
Next episode: The Debate in Loro-Don