Shasta’s sprit needed to be healed. Her wounding and near death had left her broken, and it was decided that those who could go would venture out in search of the wellspring. Shadrach, Ben, Addle and Hawk prepare and pack and venture out into the sands.
The journey is not as strange as is our guide, who only Shadrach can see and talk with. The journey he had to take just to be able to find her was long enough, though maybe not so long for him. She seems a bit of a jealous lover more than a guide, but the rest of the group can only trust him in this.
We come upon some brigands who seem very interested in talking, which seems rather at odds with their being brigands but is still better than the alternative. They also seem quite happy to furnish us with the name and location of a rival band, and move us along.
What they seemed and what they were collide that first night in the very same spot we have chosen to make camp. Attacking on Hawk’s watch they are quickly dealt with, and the leader left only maimed. This is rather a miracle, as Addle decided dropping a live grenade amongst our company during the defense might liven things up a bit.
Interrogating the survivor proves rather easy, and isn’t without benefit. Bruises, as he is called, knows the area and its pitfalls well. He is happy to trade this information for his freedom as we patch him up. We are just has happy to have him along to ensure his information is correct. He will have to come along with only the one arm, as we lack the skill to mend that.
That morning a shortcut is proposed. Bruises must be attempting to get this business over quickly. Of course, he could be quite ready to die as well. The new route will bring us to our destination much faster, but is a way rarely taken, and for good reason.
The valley stretching out ahead of us now is the stuff of stories. Sand and wind become living things, where no other living things will last. Navigating the twisters themselves might not much of an impediment, but attempting it with your head wrapped so that you might preserve your face and eyes has proven to be a task not many are up for. Leaving the animals and taking only what we might need, we wrap ourselves and clasp hands. Ben, with timing and precision, steers true.
Our human chain emerges through roaring winds and pelting sands, and into the entrance of a great catacomb. The twisting path leads down and down, leaving us eventually in a vast chamber littered with sarcophagus and a single pillar that stretches up and out of sight. As the rest of us wonder and wander, Shad reaches the top of the pillar to find a large piece of amber. Feeling as if he has no other choice, Shad takes the stone, and choice is indeed removed from us.
At once this solid pillar turns to salt and dust while all around the dust and sarcophagus turn out mummies like some dark tale. Grinning like a fool, Shad leads us a merry chase, amber in hand, to a room not unlike the first. In fact, it is exactly like the first, only there is no glint of amber from above to entice Shadrach to climb. Wincing still from his fall off the first pillar, he climbs anyways as chaos ensues in this dark room.
No matter who is shooting, the mummies still pursue us. Stone or not, Shad is still trying to climb, though what he plans to do only he has had time to contemplate. Just as things look dire, Hawk levels a shot that eases some pressure. Shad takes the opportunity to collect himself and push for the top of the pillar. Upon doing so, he places the amber atop this second pillar. A sigh filled with dust and time echoes through the hall as the mummies return to dust.
Ensuring everyone still had all of their pieces (which elicits a dark stare from Bruises), Shadrach limps to the door moving us on.
The next challenge is less of a mystery. At least to Addle. The rest of us are happy to leave him to it. A few of us do watch with mild interest as he calculates his way through a sand powered Babbage Machine. Watching or not, everyone is caught off guard when the flowing noises build quickly to a crescendo. There is a moment only where all of our eyes meet in confusion before we are overwhelmed by sand.
The twisting and turning ride is not without its bumps and scrapes. The hard part, as anyone who surfs the sands will tell you, is the landing. Addle, probably still lost in thought about that daft machine, would not have fared so well without Shadrach’s supporting hand.
While the others are dusting themselves off and testing their limbs, Hawk rises up, spits out a wad of sand, and keenly assesses the situation. While the sand continues to settle, noise is actually building, and that has Hawk worried.
His caution proves contagious, and the group naturally moves into a defensive position. Even still, nobody is ready for the sands to rise up once more. It seems as if the core of the earth is banking its fires into this room, but what is taking shaping and life deep in this cave like space it truly what has everyone worried.
It seems to take hours, though only seconds pass. What stands before us, be it maggoty flesh or writhing sand, is a boar with huge tusks and fiery eyes. There is a moment of complete silence only, and then the great boar sets upon us.
It seems maddened. Perhaps we have awoken it from peaceful slumber, or perhaps not. Regardless, it charges around attacking any of us that it may reach. Each of us tries to buy time for the others to get a shot, though bullets only seem to enrage it more. We are all tossed around, and Hawk, holding out for a better shot is caught once badly in the leg. Rushing his next shot from the ground, he takes the boar through the eye.
Slowly, it is unknit before our eyes. As the sands swallow it back up, the tusks fall, still solid, to the floor of the cave.
After a time, we move on, to find an opening at the back of the cave, and the grotto that opened up beyond was breathtaking. There was a feeling of peace and healing, transmuted through the light bouncing off the water and dancing on the ceiling. There was a sleeping power that began to slowly uncoil itself, and coalesce above the gently moving water in a vaguely human form.
We had assumed that our challenge was won, having passed through much harrowing and unknown danger. We had assumed wrong. The source of power in this wellspring was a capricious spirit who had been much entertained by our trials in reaching it's spring. It was Hawk's feeling that our adventures and success aided us in this encounter, but how would any of us ever apprehend that.
What was set before us was a wager. Each of us could make a wager and pass through the pool, knowing not how the dice were weighted.
What happened for each man in that time was very personal, and time passed very differently for each there.
Shadrach, used to the lively exuberant life of the circus, wagered his injured leg in the hopes that he would be healed. Addle wagered his telegraphic knowledge for knowledge of the books that we have been seeking. Both won their wagers, Shadrach walking smoothly from the pool and Addle emerging with a curious map of sorts upon his skin.
Ben, having come up against the harsh reality of a situation much the same as this, passed on the wager.
Hawk wagered the dark side of his fears against the light side of the same. He submerged slowly in the pool, but fought its power, thrashing in blind panic. After a mighty exertion, he crawled, exhausted, from the pool, with both a blessing and a curse bestowed upon him.
Bruises, the noble thief, marveled at the arc his life had seemed to scribe upon the sky that day. His life, taken and given more than once that day, was wagered for the life spark we sought for Shasta. His wager was well won.
We left the sands, returning to Shasta and the rest of the group.