Legion of the Sands
Part Two – A Storm Approaches
The band trooped out into what had once been a broad, paved plaza at the heart of the city. A thin layer of rolling sand now covered it, stirred by the winds. A fountain stood at the centre of the plaza, the water now dried out and the basin clogged up with dust and sand, more of which was banked up around it. Once, when the water had flowed, it had been a marvel, having the form of a man astride a horse, his sword raised towards the heavens, supported by four dragons from whose mouths the water had spouted.
On the far side of the plaza from where the boulevard had entered stood the Governor’s Palace. A broad set of steps led up to a display of columns and marble facades and a pair of wide bronze doors that marked the entrance. Set around the plaza were the other buildings that formed the administrative and civic heart of not just the city but the large northern province of the Empire, back before it had fallen.
Nhaqosa decided to establish their camp at the base of the fountain, for the time. He separated the band out into five groups numbering three apiece.
“Stay here with the camp,” he told one of the groups. “The rest, we split up and search around the city near the plaza. Look out for any wells that may still be functioning, or other reservoirs of water. The palace may be a good place to find some. Also, see if you can’t collect some wood for a fire for the evening, given how cool it gets. There is liable to be plenty of material left behind when the city was abandoned that can serve as firewood.”
The designated group settled down to wait with the packs as the other four groups headed out in opposite directions across the sandy plaza. Nhaqosa, accompanied by Niati and a narrow-faced, dark eyed man named Abasan, headed up the stairs towards the palace.
At the top of the stairs, Nhaqosa turned to look back out across the city. To the south, beyond the city where the stark deserts flowed, a drifting cloud of sand was rolling towards them, marring the horizon in a red haze.
“We may be in for a bit of a blow,” Nhaqosa rumbled,
“It might be wiser to find a place indoors to shelter for the night then,” Abasan suggested.
Nhaqosa nodded in agreement. “Let’s have a look around and see what we can find. We have a whole city to choose from after all.”
They made their way into the entrance of the palace, through the heavy bronze doors that hung open, stepping into a long chamber. Creamy marble pillars supported its length. The rich marble floor was dusted with a light coating of sand that had blown in through the open doors. Along the length of the room, between the columns, were small pedestals upon which rested the bronze cast heads of past governors and emperors. Doors opened off into unseen chambers. A breeze moaned down the length of the chamber, and somewhere along it a door swung and squeaked in it.
They explored through out the length of the palace, moving from room to room. Where once had been the grandeur of the empire now remained only emptiness and silence. Little remained within the palace, the goods and furnishing that had once lavished it having been removed when the city was abandoned.
In the depths of the complex, in the far reaches where had been the vast kitchens that fed the palace, they come upon a cistern that had held water. Investigating inside, they found it lay empty, though still damp in patches. It had become a haunt for scurrying bugs and lizards, and the webs of spiders were strung out from the ceiling to the walls.
Nhaqosa snorted upon pulling his head out of the cistern. “We will have to hope the others have had better luck.”
“The banquet hall will make a good place to camp out in at least,” Abasan pointed out. “Deep enough inside the palace that we will not be bothered by the weather, and if we break up a few doors for wood and set a fire in the hearth we can ride out the storm in relative comfort.”
Niati responded with the faintest touch of a smile. “It is hardly what you can call comfort, being just a bare floor, roof and walls.”
“Better than what we are normally used to, that being that being hard, stony ground.”
“Let us return to the others,” Nhaqosa told the pair, “And make preparations for moving in here for the evening.”
They retreated back through the palace, onto the steps leading down to the plaza, and there they saw, marching up the length of the boulevard towards them, an army out of history.
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