The Sleepers of the Marsh
Part Eight – Memories Forgotten
The mists once more began to thicken out across the marsh, rolling onwards in waves. Again the silence began to descend over the region as the gloom of the shrouded sun took hold. Peregrine stood atop the small island that Ket and his kin had lived upon, looking out, still half expecting trouble. After a short time Blade joined her, his sword sheathed.
“It is passing strange that they were able to reach here,” he commented, brushing at dried mud upon his sleeve with a gloved hand. “There is the smell of the mysteries here, of magic worked, and yet neither of the brothers nor any under their employ had any inkling of how to do so.”
Peregrine shrugged, seemingly indifferent as to the revelation and the source of the mystery. “It is done now, whatever the cause may be.” She nodded towards the bodies slumped around them. “Just as they are done for.”
“One brother did manage to escape,” Blade pointed out.
Another shrug came from Peregrine. “He is alone and while he may have been the hunter once, now it is our time.” A wrathful smile spread across her face. “Run he might, but he will discover no place of refuge where I can not find him.”
The little marsh dweller, Ket, climbed up onto the island, a grin across his face, his spear dripping crimson.
“I see you fought,” Peregrine noted.
“Mists aid, mists help,” he replied. “Keep us hidden as we stalk enemies. At last we have some revenge for those slain.”
“It did tend to lend us unnatural aid,” Blade mused.
“I would like some answers on that,” Peregrine stated as she began to clean off her sword. “Come, Blade, let us return to the tower and get some.”
Even as she spoke, one part of the mists around them began to collapse in on itself, growing thicker and darker as it spiralled inwards, taking the vague shape of a misty individual, one like those in the tower but indistinct enough so that it could not be picked out as one individual. When it spoke, the voice was as numerous voices all overlaid upon one another, a strange, reverberating echo.
“If it is answers that you seek, then pray ask. For your aid this day you at least deserve that.”
“Who are you?” Peregrine asked curtly, before any other could raise voice.
“We are those that built Khetner,” came the response, “Back in the distant past, in the earliest age of men, when the Xoacana were still a living memory.”
“You knew them?” Blade asked, quirking a brow as he came more awake.
“Not us, but there still lived in our time those that had. We walked where they had been, though, and seen their wonders and horrors both. Such places were not meant for men and so we gathered up our people, such as survived the downfall of that evil race, and brought them here and in time we built this city. We grew strong, for we were both young and free of the dark bonds the Xoacana had placed upon us. Others were also free of those dark masters and one in particular chose a different path, one which sought to emulate them.”
“The Baktheri,” grimly spoke Blade.
“Yes, it is so,” came the echoing reply. “They had stood high in their masters esteem, at least as high as a slave and a lesser being could, and some small morsels of dark magic had been taught them. More they sought out, delving deep into the ruins left behind, and so they grew and spread and enslaved. And they turned their eye upon us. We marched out to meet them, confident in our arts and abilities.” A sigh arose from the apparition. “We were sorely mistaken, as against the endless slave armies that the Baktheri controlled there was little we could do. We would not be enslaved though and so we fell back here, to our city, and here we made our final defence. We called up the mists to enshroud the city, to confuse and confound any foe that should come against us, until such time as the enemy was gone. We, the elders of our people, fell into the long sleep to maintain it, to be awakened by the rituals we had left to our people when the time was right.”
“The Baktheri are long gone,” Peregrine pointed out, “As dead as their former masters. I do not think that your people remember the rituals any more.”
The mists rippled as a sigh like a breeze arose from the apparition. “It would seem to be so. We underestimated the hate of the Baktheri though, and for that we are lost in the endless sleep. They called forth the waters and drowned our city and most of those who remained. The few left clung to the shores of the marsh, protected by the mists, but little by little they forgot the rituals we had left them, and even memory of who they had once been.”
“Why could you have not spoken to them and expounded to them the rituals like you are doing to us now?” Peregrine asked.
“We were awoken. We did not wake ourselves, and nor can we. Already the sleep takes a hold of us once more. Dark magics had penetrated our mists and that brought us from our slumber. Time, though, has come to an end for us.”
Ket, who for the duration of the conversation had remained silent, a confused expression upon his honest face, at last spoke up. “Ket understands little of what you say, but this Ket say. Not many of us, but we look for these rituals for you.”
“Then seek out the ruins of the city,” the apparition commanded him, “For the means to do so are contained within them. This outcome was not unforeseen us and thus we left the instructions behind. “As for you,” it said, looking to Peregrine and Blade, “It is time for you to depart, for once we sleep again the drowned ones will rise again and we can not control them. But we will not see you go so empty handed.”
It held out a ghostly hand and upon it the mists swirled and twisted, coalescing into a the form of a gem, one that flickered with a cold fire within. Large it was, and of icy blues, flawless and prefect, a gem to inflame the greed of any who gazed upon it. “A frost sapphire,” the voice breathed. “A fair repayment for what you have done for us.” Thus saying the ghostly figure fell apart, once more returning to the mists, and the gem fell to the ground.
Peregrine strode over, reaching down to the ground to pick the gem up. “I have heard of such things,” she said, raising it up to study it close. “A pretty bauble to be sure.” Tucking it away, she looked to where the shore would have been, the sight of it shrouded by the renewed mists. “We had best be going while we still can.”
“Come,” said Ket, “Ket will take you back by safe ways.”
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