The Oasis of Broken Bones
Part Five – Bones on the Shore
Peregrine and Blade made their slow way back down the canyon, towards the deserts at the base of the rocky uplands, and the oasis. The moon had at last broached the horizon, showing large and full as it made its gradual climb into the night’s sky, illuminating the landscape around them with a silvery sheen. The heat of the day had given out, replaced by a chill that had settled upon the lands. The air hung still and empty and silent, while above the stars glistened like frozen fire, sharp points of light.
“Are you sure that this is wise?” Blade asked of Peregrine after some time of riding along in silence once they were well away from the compound.
Peregrine laughed easily. “When before have we ever worried about the wisdom of our actions?”
“Perhaps it is that that we started doing so,” Blade pointed out. “This beast sounds most fearsome, and most dangerous, and as of yet we are still uncertain of its true form and nature.”
“The extortion that is taking place here offends me,” Peregrine said, “And something of it all does not sit right with me, some hidden danger that lurks beneath the surface. Surely you have felt likewise.”
Blade nodded slowly. “Aye, there is a prickling there that trips my sense of unease.”
Peregrine grinned, her teeth glistening in the moonlight. “You could rest as little as I, knowing that.”
The canyon they rode down opened up and the desert lay spread out before them, the harsh lands of the day now glowing in the lunar light, giving it a soft, almost ethereal quality that belied its dangers and uncaring indifference to human survival. Down from the hills they descended, headed towards a dark patch against the sheen that marked the oasis and the trees that clustered around it. As they came nearer to it, through the trees, they began to see the waters of the oasis glow, reflecting the rising moon like a mirror.
Peregrine led the way in through the trees, her senses now on edge, expectant and ready, her spear gripped tight in her hand. This way and that she looked about, all tightly coiled reflexes that could react at a moment’s notice to danger.
Beneath the hooves of their hooves, they began to hear a crunching sound, one that came not from sand or rock or fallen branches. Looking down, as her eyes adjusted to the gloom beneath the trees, Peregrine began to pick out the shape and pale hues of bones, growing more numerous the further under the trees towards the water’s edge they came, bones of all shapes and sizes. They came not just from man, but from animals as well.
Stopping part way through the trees, before they emerged out into the open around the oasis, the pair dismounted and tethered their horses there. Peregrine stooped down and picked up one of the bones laying there abouts to inspect it. It was a solid thing, one too large to have come from a man, instead being from some beast of burden or horse. It had been snapped in twain, and teeth marks scored its surface, large ones at that.
She set it aside as they removed their weapons from their horses and pushed through the last part towards the waters of the oasis. The last of the tall trees gave away and they saw the mirrored surface, the shoreline of it thick with bones, having washed up out of the waters. Across from them, on the other side, they could see a building standing, one that had subsided at an angle and had been part submerged. A faint glow came from within it, one at first hard to spot as it blended in with the moonlight, but one, the more they looked at it, the less natural it seemed.
“Another mystery,” Peregrine stated, speaking softly, “And one tied to this whole affair.”
Blade nodded, slotting a quarrel into his crossbow and starting to wind back the string to load and ready it. Of the beast they had come to find, no signs could be seen beyond the bones. The waters were undisturbed and no sounds could be heard beyond the faintest of breeze stirring the leaves of the palms.
Taking great care with her movements, Peregrine started along the shores of the waters, stalking with a silent tread, each foot placed to avoid disturbing the many bones that lay thick upon the ground. Blade followed along behind her, just as silent and just as careful. Like ghosts they flowed along, drawing ever nearer to the building, which, the closer they came, the more appeared like an ancient temple, though built for whom or by who they could not tell. The columns that supported the roof were statues, worn away by wind and sand and water so as appear shapeless forms.
Once having made their way most of the way around towards the temple, a laborious process made so by the plethora of bones upon the ground that they had to avoid, Peregrine motioned for them to stop. Drawing Blade close, she spoke softly to him.
“Would not the beast make its lair in this building?” she asked, “For enough of it lies beneath the waters that it would make an ideal locale for in which for it to lurk. It would be best that we not rush in, for it will know its lair better than we. We must endeavour to lure it out.”
“How exact do you endeavour to achieve that?” Blade asked. His finger hovered just above the trigger of the crossbow, eyes scanning about for danger.
“I will provide a disturbance for you,” Peregrine announced, grinning like a wild thing. “You alight to the top of the temple and wait there. We will see what emerges once I have attempted to lure it out, and then you can enter, for I feel the answers we seek shall lie inside.”
Blade nodded, though his expression spoke of being not quite convinced. Even so, he pressed on, sneaking around to the side of the building while Peregrine remained behind, waiting. Blade slung the crossbow over his shoulder once he arrived and began the slow ascent up to the top, using a crumbling pillar to brace himself with against the wall. Hauling himself up over the top, he took a moment to catch his breath. Once recovered, he took hold of the crossbow again. Sneaking up to the edge of the roof that overlooked the entrance, he motioned towards Peregrine to show that he was in place and ready.
Peregrine rose up straight as he did so and let forth a fearsome cry, one that shattered the still, clear night. As the cry rang out, she lashed out with a boot at the fallen bones around, sending them clattering and bouncing across each other. None could have failed to have heard the noise, even for some distance beyond the oasis, and it took not long at all for an answer to come. From deep within the part sunken temple they heard a deep, growling rumble, one that reverberated out over the waters.
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