What do you think about your existence now?
As morning crested the side of Tink Ravine, Mahofon stirred. He blinked but it hurt. He lay on his back, feeling a great tension in his muscles. Very cautiously, he turned his head to either side, testing his diminished strength. With him lay Dulkatra, who clutched his hammer as he slept. The tents were cramped and unsuited for the two of them. Light filtered through the thin hide of the tent, highlighting the patchwork and stitches that kept it functional. Other than some scattered belongings, that was all that resided in their shared home.
Mahofon worked the courage to sit up, and eventually he gathered himself and his drooping staff to face the sun once more. His skin felt sensitive to the change of light intensity as he pushed the cover of the tent and stepped outside; the aftereffects of his far sight disaster, he knew, would be felt through the following, trying days. He had pushed it too far – it was an arduous task regardless, but he had tried to sense something far beyond his understanding. He had been punished. He questioned what could be capable of such immense power, that it could attack him without contact, in fact with a sizable distance between the two. It was magic he had never before seen, even as the leading magician of the tribe. His mind was far from at rest, filled with dread as to what exactly existed is this wasteland.
He gazed around the small campsite. The smoldering remains of the fire sent wisps of trailing smoke skyward. The few that had awoken lounged around, eating foul smelling meats or talking – once they saw Mahofon however, silence prevailed. No one dared asked what had happened, and a steady fear seemed to creep to each one’s eyes. After some time, the chatter returned. Tents began to be rolled and strung to packs, and before the sun reached midday, their steady march went on. It wasn’t long before irregularities began to appear in the terrain.
Mahofon clambered down the last of the cliff-face. To his estimation, it must have been a sixty-metre drop, but with such unchanging weather, safety could be gathered through time. There is little risk or rain, he mused, otherwise these smooth rocks could have been fatal. He held a staff as he descended, a twisted green cedar intertwined with a single, smooth brown branch. It concluded, at the end, with a purple eye. As he touched the floor of the ravine, he gazed out across the new plain that stretched before him. I have merely descended the step of a giant’s staircase, he thought. It was a vast ravine, and the rocks found now in the basin were smoothed. He ran and caught up with the remainder of the group that had gathered away from the giant’s step, “retreating from the dangers of falling rock” as Mombulu had stated.
The troop began to erect a camp. Several tents crafted from a rough hide were placed on polls high, and pegged down. The fall of Dulkatra’s hammer could be heard amidst the general chatter that had gathered from the others, and, of course, the incessant wind. He was pressing the pegs into the ghastly ground. The sun set behind them as others ventured to collect wood. Its final rays were snuffed out by the step they had taken, and a pile of tortured wood was formed at the center, now in almost complete darkness. Mombulu called Mahofon over, and requested a flame from his staff. Unlike Cescar’s own staff, Mahofon’s blinked now with the request uttered. Mombulu stared somewhat worriedly at the staff – he often wondered if it could feel.
Mahofon strolled up to the firewood, and with a small utterance of his own, the dead wood spluttered into new life. Flames licked the heavens and embers danced among the dark expanses before falling back to the brown soil. He retreated somewhat, and sat on the outskirts of the flickering light. The exhaustion of the day caught up to him now; his legs almost collapsed under the aches of marching.
“The genesis of our journey,” she stated, turning her back to group as she did so, “Begins ahead!” She rose both her arms as she spoke, and the feathers at her back quivered at the spectacle. “May the generations of Earthend observe kindly our transit across this burial ground.” She spoke as if it were still in use, yet no Cefira had set foot here for centuries. “We should tread lightly,” continued Cescar, “Respectfully, for our sagacious ancestors watch both action and intention.” With the end of her short speech, she marched on wards to the sound of a not so distant drumming. It would be several more hours until the mere patch of dark in the distance would expand to evidently become the vast gulley they searched for. The sunlight had showered what little remained of the cowering plants as early morning appeared, causing a rout within the ranks of darkness and death among the sparse droplets of dew. The band ventured, now in the fall glaring capacity of the sun, towards the cliff edge that halted their otherwise incessant advance. A few strolled to the edge, glanced over at the dizzying canyon below, and scuttled back. After spying a point of cliff edge that entailed a somewhat easier descent, Cescar stepped ahead of the crowd she had fallen behind once more, saying “Under the scrutiny of this scorching sun, who will descend first unto this hallowed land?”
Awkward shuffles emanated from the group – heads went down, fingers traced the handles of weapons and eyes adverted the gaze of their guide. It was only after an excruciating silence that the figure clasped in robes and a lightening mask stepped fourth; now even the slight bustle was halted, as he silenced the band with a look of disdain. “Myamsar?” Cescar asked. It was his permission to speak; “A display hardly worthy of that name. I shall go!” He growled, making distinct eye contact with each apparent warrior whom he stood before. It was revealed, like the first rays of sun piercing a fog, that it would only be the brave that would survive this journey. Perhaps all would make it through this ravine unharmed, but many had fallen, and many knew they could. In the grasp of common sense, it should have been apparent that it was the withholding or withdrawal of confidence that would cause the Cefira’s failure. One of them should have volunteered; perhaps all of them should have. Afterall, it will be the brave souls that shift through the next altercation unharmed, not the dead.
“Honour has a height of forty-eight thousand feet, and it only one’s self that holds them back from the ascent.” Myamsar spoke in a low tone, his eyes staring into the distance. It was but a blink of an eye, however, before he was racing down the side of the cliff. Spectators rushed to the edge to the see the sight. He bounded from rock to verge, from edge to outcrop, descending for several minutes until he reached the foot of the cliff. His landing threw up the faint sound of a drum. One by one then, they traced the path Myamsar had followed, Cescar last, assisted by her staff, and the Cefiras, the warriors, most burdened by their embarrassment.
The desolate visage stretched as far as the days felt long. Spread was a fine saline dust that painted the flat landscape. The earth cracked under the pressures of parchedness, and only the sporadic appearance of shrubbery suspended the otherwise repetitive atmosphere. Bare were the brown bushes that sprouted from the mosaiced ground, between splits and trenches that the arid air had carved. It was a portrait of repulsion, and a scene of despair, and brave were the souls that skimmed across its terrible surface. They would be glad when they left the dreadful silence behind. A most spacious cell was where they found themselves, marching to a distant drum. They pondered at the fleeting beauty of the clear sky only to be dragged back to reality as they stumbled over the brown rocks that littered the land. The vastness of the barren plain was second only to the expansive sky that appeared as a speckled veil thrown over blue-black.
Kicking up a screen of dust as they went, the band marched on wards. The metal of weapons could be heard scraping; the rustling of hide bags and their contents was also audible. Standing proud was the standard ahead of the group, a flag bristling in the wind, attached to a blemished wooden staff. The cotton banner itself was entirely black, save for the white orbit that decorated its surface, followed by a black orbit, and then a white circle center – it resembled that of a colourless eye. It was supported by Mombulu, who held nothing else for it was his sole purpose. He was shortly tailed by a more mysterious figure. His face bore an orange mask with a red strike down the center, and strung to his belt were two curved blades. They were a steely grey with streaks of yellow; they glinted ominously in the starlight. He seemingly surfed across the alkaline sand; his movements were gracious yet timely. His whole being would impose a dreadful fear into his adversaries – he knew this well.
With the others shuffling behind the standard, Mombulu turned and called over the gentle chatter of the band, “I can see the ravine ahead”. At his mention of Tink Ravine, a stillness spread through the crowd. It was a nervous hush that instigated the sound of the sands shifting into the limelight. Bustling through the remainder of the crowd came their religious oracle, Cescar. In one ancient hand she held an even more antiquated staff. It was the same, albeit slightly short, height as her, with several circles of wood carved from the cedar it was shaped from. Like a tree weathered by the relentless storms of dust, the staff was scarred by age, with the surprisingly agile woman showing no sign of her own fragility in her confident movement – she thrust the staff forward. Her green cape dragged across the floor, frayed, whilst her collar contained a collage of feathers that rose above her head high. As she barged her way through the bundle of veracious warriors, she came to a halt and gestured to the far distance